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Islamic State inspires caliphate campaign in Kashmir

Kashmiri militants are shifting their ideology from nationalism to extreme Islamism  

Umar Manzoor Shah, Srinagar

Umar Manzoor Shah, Srinagar

Published: April 19, 2017 05:23 AM GMT
Islamic State inspires caliphate campaign in Kashmir

Students waive Islamic State flags in Srinagar on April 17 as hundreds of them took to streets to protest a police raid in a college in southern Pulwama town which injured some 50 students two days earlier. (Photo by Umer Asif)

Militants in Jammu and Kashmir state have asked their supporters to fight to establish a caliphate instead of mere independence from India, mirroring the philosophy of the so-called Islamic State (IS).

Hundreds of college students waved IS flags while protesting a police raid on a college in southern Pulwama town on April 15 that injured at least 50 students. Increasing numbers of students and young people in the region have been throwing stones at police and creating road blocks to help militant groups, according to local media reports.

Until now, separatists have been fighting Indian security forces on a political basis, demanding Kashmir merge with Pakistan or for it to become an independent country. However, on April 8, some militants addressed a procession in south Kashmir and shouted "Shariyat ya Shahadat" (Islamic rule or martyrdom).

They also rejected the waving of Pakistani flags and justified the Taliban's war against the neighboring country. "This war is for Shariyat [Islamic rule] or Shahadat [martyrdom]. The Pakistani flag is not part of Shariyat … Why do you wave the Pakistani flag? Anyone who waves the flag will be our enemy," said a militant in a video taken April 7. The video later went viral on social media sites.

The slogan of "Shariyat ya Shahadat" is the hallmark of global militant groups who reject the idea of nation states and fight to establish an Islamic caliphate. 

The same militants in south Kashmir also asked people to shout pro-Taliban slogans and wave IS-style black flags. "We have to go to India also to implement Islam's rule there. There is no Islamic system in Pakistan and we have to implement the Islamic system there also," they said in the video.

Earlier, on March 15, a commander of the militant outfit Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Zakir Musa distanced the region's militant movement from the nationalist cause and said they were fighting for the "supremacy of Islam."

"I see that many people in Kashmir are engaged in a war of nationalism which is forbidden in Islam. It should be exclusively for Islam so that Shariah law is established here," said Zakir, who became the face of militant forces after former commander Burhan Wani was killed on July 8, 2016.


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Thousands of people gathered for the funeral of a local militant of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, after he was killed in a gun fight in central Kashmir in March. (Photo by Umer Asif)


Countering radicalization

Bharatiya Janata Party executive member Subramanian Swamy in an April 9 statement said that the possibility of IS involvement in Kashmir is "a serious issue" and that the government "needs to deal with an iron hand."

"This outfit has launched its propaganda in Kashmir and we need to eliminate it. We must take the help of the United States and Israel. The U.S. has the advanced weapons and Israel has the intelligence," Swamy said. "With the involvement of IS in Kashmir this is no longer a problem between India and Pakistan."

Kashmir's top police officer and former intelligence chief S.M. Sahai said an ideological shift was visible in the militant's strategy. Sahai, while speaking at March 6-8 Asian Security Conference in New Delhi on Combating Terrorism, said the narrative in Kashmir is changing from politics to religion. "There has been ideological shift in the youth of Kashmir ... The youth have new role models to follow," he said.

The police officer also suggested re-establishing Sufi seminaries in Kashmir to counter radicalization. Sufism, a spiritual discipline within Islam that stresses self-purification through love, can counter radicalism among Kashmir's youth, he said.

Kashmir's chief religious cleric and separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told ucanews.com that neither IS or the Taliban have a role in the Kashmir movement. However, he said young people could still be influenced by extremist ideology.

"We are really worried. Kashmir is a conflict-torn state and the youth here can get radicalized easily. It is our duty to educate people not to tread any such path," Mirwaiz said. 

Rights activist Shakeel Qalandar said if the emerging situation is left unattended "it could be dangerous. Though the people of Kashmir never supported any terror group, the frustration among the youth could take ugly turn any time," Qalandar told ucanews.com.

He said the government must revoke the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act that grants unchecked powers to security forces in disturbed areas of India to crush resistance.

Army atrocities, human rights violations and the continuing violence over the past two decades makes normal life impossible and frustrates people, especially the young who feel their dreams are destroyed, Qalandar said.

"Though I don't think the people of Kashmir would go the IS way, an approach should be developed so that youth here would feel their voices are heard," Qalandar added. 

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