A Kashmiri man carries an Islamic State group flag during clashes between protesters and Indian government forces in Srinagar on June 16. (Photo by Tauseef Mustafa/AFP)
The so-called Islamic State (IS) is gaining a foothold in India's only Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, the region's government has admitted.
On June 23, the state's administration for the first time made an official statement about the active presence of the terrorist group in the strife-torn Kashmir Valley.
The government and security agencies used to dismiss reports about an IS presence in the state as mere media propaganda.
The government confirmation come a day after the Indian army gunned down four Islamic secessionist militants and said they belonged to IS.
Barely hours after the encounter, the online propaganda wing of IS — Amaq News Agency — updated its news in Arabic by claiming that all the slain militants were its fighters.
Kashmir police chief S.P. Vaid said social media campaigns were inspiring local youth to join the terrorist outfit.
Vaid told media that at least eight IS militants have been gunned down by the army in Kashmir, where Islamic groups are fighting the army to free the region from Indian rule to establish a independent Islamic state or join it with the Islamic nation of Pakistan.
"It is nothing less than a nightmare that the dreaded terrorist organization is gaining a foothold in Kashmir," a police officer who wanted to remain anonymous told ucanews.com.
He said police are investigating the organization's infrastructure and manpower in Kashmir.
Radicalization of Kashmir youth has been debated in the media since March 2017 when Zakir Rashid Bhat, alias Musa, who became the face of Kashmiri militancy, released a video asking people to fight to establish Islamic law in the region.
"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 sharia law is established here," Zakir was heard saying in the video.
The militant later issued an open appeal to young people protesting army action in the state not to use slogans in support of a free nation but instead to support "Shariyat ya Shahadat" (Islamic law or martyrdom). Global militant groups reject the idea of nation states and are fighting to establish an Islamic caliphate.
However, Kashmir's separatist groups, who seek to achieve their ends through dialogue, continue to denounce the role of IS in the state.
The region's chief cleric and separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, said that though youths who are witnessing rights violations and killings could become radicalized, groups such as IS and the Taliban have no role in Kashmir.
"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," he told ucanews.com.
The state has been embroiled in a secessionist movement for the past 30 years. An estimated 100,000 people have died, including civilians, militants and army personnel.
India and Pakistan have fought over Kashmir twice, in 1947 and 1965, and had a smaller conflict in 1999.