Chief Minister Omar Abdullah may be right in rubbishing the undue concern expressed by some TV channels regarding the speculation on the ominous possibilities arising from the frequent sighting of ISIS flags during the recent protests in Kashmir. His assessment of this being the handiwork of “some idiots” and that it “does not mean that ISIS has any presence in Kashmir,” too may be correct, as presently there is no evidence of this group having made any inroads into Kashmir. Yet, considering the disconcerting fact that despite its regressive and anti Islamic ideology, the ISIS has still been able to attract thousands of ‘volunteers’ from all over the world, including a few from India, it is surprising as to how can Omar Abdullah be so unperturbed and confident that Kashmir will forever remain impervious to ISIS influence or ideology?
While Omar Abdullah and the separatists may not see eye to eye, but on the issue of ISIS, both share the common opinion that like the Taliban, the ISIS too has no role in Kashmir. If you come to think about it, then both the Chief Minister and separatists are not entirely wrong in concluding that the ISIS has no scope in Kashmir as in true sense, the struggle here is based on the ideological issue of attaining the ‘right to self determination’ and does not have any communal bias. Unfortunately, those spearheading the peaceful movement for the ‘right to self determination’ have made two cardinal errors of judgment. Firstly, while presenting their case before the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for intervention, the Hurriyat, perhaps in its exuberance, has unwittingly given the Kashmir issue a communal bias by talking about State sponsored atrocities being directed against the Muslims of Kashmir. Secondly, it has accepted the services of Lashkar-e-Toiba, which is a foreign militant outfit and like the ISIS, is fighting for the establishment of ‘Islamic rule’.
Militancy in Kashmir started off well with the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) waging a ‘war for independence’ against India. However, since the JKLF stood for ‘azadi’(freedom) and did not toe the line of its mentors in supporting the idea of Kashmir’s ‘merger’ with Pakistan, it expectedly fell out of favour and the Pakistan army created the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) as an alternative outfit that would play ball. The HM clearly defined Kashmir’s ‘merger’ with Pakistan as its objective and soon wiped out the militant wing of the JKLF. While this fledgling militant group did perform well, its mentors remained apprehensive about the capability of the HM to deliver and so, the early nineties, J&K saw the influx of foreign terrorist groups and militancy took a more radical form and the age old custom of offering obeisance at dargahs in Kashmir was declared un-Islamic.
Soon, practice of defiling the sanctity of religious shrines became commonplace with foreign militants using these as safe sanctuaries as they had no qualms in turning these revered shrines into veritable battlegrounds. Though who was responsible for the unfortunate gutting of the historic Charar-e-Sharif in 1995 remains debatable, there is no doubt that the same could have been avoided had the foreign militants within, who were led by Mast Gul had accepted the offer of a ‘safe passage’. This practice was repeated again in the next year when militants occupied the most revered Hazratbal shrine but luckily, no damage was caused this time as they did finally accept the offer of a ‘free passage’ and vacated the shrine after a prolonged standoff.
Due to objections by the HM whose influence in Kashmir was being marginalised by foreign militants as well as widespread complaints from the people regarding their highhandedness, these ‘mehman mujahideen’ or ‘guest fighters’ (as they were euphemistically referred to) were gradually withdrawn from the scene by their mentors. However, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) has remained. By its own admission, the LeT has unambiguously defined its agenda as the restoration of ‘Islamic rule’ over all parts of India, declaring India (alongwith Israel and the United States), existential enemies of Islam. Thus it is crystal clear that the actual aim of the LeT in J&K is not fighting for the ‘right to self determination’ of the Kashmiris, but for destroying the Indian republic and annihilating Hinduism.
Even though its objectives are not Kashmir-centric, the separatists have no objections to the LeT fighting here. So, the precedent of foreign militant groups fighting in Kashmir for the establishment of ‘Islamic rule’ in the Indian subcontinent already exists. Thus, while the separatists may see no role for the ISIS in Kashmir, how can they object to the ISIS, which has a similar, (albeit a more regressive) agenda as that of the LeT from entering? And even if they do express their resentment, will a highly autocratic and extremely fundamentalist organisation like the ISIS will ever pay heed? Thus, merely concluding that the ISIS will not come into Kashmir because they are not welcome here is wishful thinking and prudence demands introspection on this issue.
Now that the Pakistan based Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) has announced its allegiance with the ISIS and has also volunteered to provide it with TTP fighters, the situation has indeed become all the more worrisome. This is because, unlike the ‘mehman mujahideen’ of the nineties or the LeT and HM of today over which the Pakistan army has control, the TTP is its arch enemy. And so, should the TTP-ISIS nexus fructify, there would be no one who can stop the ISIS from entering Kashmir or controlling its activities. Today, this eventuality may appear to be mere conjecture, but it is a point to ponder upon and perhaps this is probably why General Officer Commanding of Srinagar based XIV Corps, Lt Gen Subrata Saha has stated that the issue of ISIS entering Kashmir “deserves the highest attention.”
Due to large army presence on the borders, the possibility of the ISIS fighters physically coming into Kashmir in large numbers may be remote. However, at a time when we have accepted violence as a ‘legitimate’ tool for achieving the ‘right to self determination’, Lt Gen Saha’s apprehension that ISIS ideology may find takers in Kashmir no longer remains within the realms of speculation but becomes a distinct possibility. So, the core issue is not whether the ISIS will ultimately come into Kashmir or not, but whether the youth of Kashmir can be successfully insulated from ISIS ideology and this issue should be of utmost concern to all of us.
It should also be remembered that of late, sectarian disharmony has starting raising its ugly face in Kashmir. Even though incidents of sectarian violence have been quickly resolved due to mature handling by the elders and religious leaders from both communities, should the ISIS ideology gain acceptance in Kashmir, then it would only exacerbate sectarian divide. Therefore, while there is no harm in being optimistic, there is also no point in adopting an ostrich like approach by outrightly dismissing this threat as our honorable Chief Minister has done. The need of the hour is to act and not procrastinate. While our youth may be well meaning and sincere, but since they are lacking in experience, they are also gullible. Thus, perceiving it to be a ‘harmless’ and infallible way of attaining the ‘right to self determination’, they could unwittingly fall prey to ISIS ideology. Therefore, educating the youth on the dangers and pitfalls of the communally divisive ISIS philosophy is something that cannot be put-off for another day, unless we want to cut off the nose just to spite the face!
Tailpiece: With so many problems already on hand, the last thing that the people of Kashmir can afford is the emergence of an ideology that promotes sectarian divide and turns brother against brother! So, while we must continue to hope for the best, we must also take strong steps to discourage the youth from hero-worshiping the ISIS or getting influenced by its ideology!