By Brig. Anil Gupta*
The latest revelation of the Pakistani Terrorist Bahadur Ali alias Saiffullah, who was captured alive by the Indian security forces in Kupwara sector, that he had met Hafiz Saeed twice in the Muzzafarabad training camp, has dispelled the clouds of uncertainty and suspicion that had till now shrouded the ongoing turmoil in Kashmir. The involvement of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a jihadi terror organisation, in the current impasse has now been established beyond doubt.
A close scrutiny of the videos featuring Hafiz Saeed that have gone viral on the social media and his interviews to the Pakistani media have established the fact that he is indeed the organiser-in-chief of the current turmoil. Saifullah’s revelations that include, talking with Burhan Wani and latter’s admission that “he is ready to die” a few days before the Kokernag encounter in which he was killed; telephonic call from Ashiya Andrabi seeking help from Hafiz Saeed and her ‘Pakistani brothers’; presence of an amir (leader) of LeT in the funeral procession of Burhan Wani; seeking of Indian visa by Jamat-ud-Dawa (JUD) – a cover outfit of LeT – for carrying out relief operations in Valley and collection of donations in the name of Kashmiris by JUD volunteers in Pakistan are indicative of the level of involvement of LeT in the ongoing unrest in Kashmir Valley.
LeT, as mentioned earlier, is a jihadi terror organisation embedded in Salafi-Wahabi ideology and subscribes to a philosophy that seeks the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is the main facilitator and coordinator for the fulfillment of this ambitious aim of the jihadists. The proposed caliphate in South Asia is referred to as Khorasan. In order to achieve this aim, ISI has positioned its resources strategically. While the Afghan-centric terror outfits like Haqqani network, ISIS and Afghan Taliban operate from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, India-centric outfits operate both from the western and the eastern borders with India, with organisations like LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) operating from Punjab and Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK), while the ISIS, Al-Qaeda in South Asia (AQIS) operate out of Bangladesh. ISI has succeeded to engage India on both the sides, with the western flank more active in the current scenario.
Zia-ul-Haq, the Pakistani dictator, is credited with radicalising Pakistan and its army. He is the author of the strategy of ‘bleeding India through a thousand cuts’ and was the mastermind behind the ‘Operation Topaz’ that was put into action by Pakistan in 1989 with the intention to destabilise India. Kashmir was chosen as the battle ground and designated as the centre of gravity; ISI was designated as the agency to supervise the operation. It all began with fuelling an insurgency followed by a proxy-war.
One of the major components of Operation Topaz was the radicalisation of Kashmir that was to unfold as the other elements of this operation were to keep the Indian government and its security forces busy in fighting a proxy war. Thus, Pakistan, slowly and gradually, launched its systematic campaign of radicalisation. While the Indian security forces had their energies involved in conducting anti-terrorist operations and to fight a proxy-war that was being waged against the Indian state in Kashmir, the civilian-administrative apparatus did not take much cognizance of the ominous threat of radicalisation that was unleashed simultaneously by ISI.
With the emergence of global terror outfits with the avowed aim of establishment of an Islamic Caliphate, ISI also shifted the goalpost in Kashmir by including total Islamisation of Kashmir as the end result in the hope that an Islamised Kashmir will naturally be attracted towards Pakistan. Unfortunately, despite enough indicators, the emerging threat continued to be ignored or underestimated by those who were responsible for governing the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
India failed to realise that the proxy-war is only a means to an end and not the end in itself. Post 2010, there was a decline in cross-border terrorism, but the raising of Pakistan’s flag, celebration of the independence day of Pakistan, anti-India tirade by Hurriyat leaders, rise of a new cult of local terrorists and unfolding of a new wave of militancy referred to as ‘new militancy’ became more pronounced. Simultaneously, the Kashmiri landscape and social milieu underwent another type of change; Sufism was gradually sidelined by the radical Salafi-Wahabi Islam coupled with mushrooming of mosques and madarsas with liberal funding of petro-dollars from Saudi Arabia and a few European nations duly sponsored by ISI.
Today, Zia must have been laughing in his grave as he seed his dream of radicalising Kashmir come true and the ISI top-brass must be patting itself on the back for inching closer to the ultimate aim of establishing an “Islamic State” in Kashmir.
Has the present situation taken us by surprise? Did we fail to anticipate? Were we too divorced from the ground reality? The answer is in the negative. There were enough indicators especially after the emergence of ISIS and declaration of the Islamic caliphate by its then chief Baghdadi who gave himself the title of Caliph. Defence analyst Alok Bansal had warned, “no doubt, it is a major concern in terms of the country’s internal security. The IS jihadists have already announced a war in future from the soil of Khorasan that includes India. For the IS, their ultimate battle for global jihad will be on this land of Khorasan. They have also talked about Kashmir. The unfurling of IS flags will give a boost to the radicalisation in Kashmir valley, as more number of educated youth are joining militancy”.
“It is a matter of serious concern for Indian intelligence and internal security. The waving of IS flags does not mean that they have made penetration into India, but it is going to have an impact on local militants in Kashmir who have been trying to control the valley since long. ISI through the Hurriyat leaders has been successful in creating disturbances in the valley. The IS flag is symbolic for the youths who are attracted to the IS ideology of brutal extremism,” counter-terrorism analyst, Anil Kamboj had said.
Even the current National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, after his visit to Srinagar to take stock of the situation arising, observed that the situation in Valley is not normal and radicalisation of educated Kashmiri youth by the militant outfits is a matter of great concern. Despite all this, the state government and the central Home Ministry remained in constant denial mode. Perhaps, they were looking for ISIS presence in the Valley ignoring the fact that waving of ISIS flags was only symbolic but an indicator of ‘take over’ of Kashmir by the Salafi-Wahabi radical Islamists, nevertheless. Sufism and Kashmiriyat, which have been the hall-marks of a tolerant Kashmiri society that gave supremacy to cultural identity over religious identity, have been all but pushed behind the oblivion. The assessment made by many here on ‘no presence of ISIS’ was correct, but the conclusion that there was no spread of ISIS ideology was flawed because the ISIS and Salafi-Wahabi ideologies share common interests except that ISIS uses brutal means to enforce its will. ISI has once again succeeded in hoodwinking our intelligence apparatus. Unfortunately, they ignored the fact that presence of ISIS was not so mandatory to ring the alarm bells because all jihadi terror outfits shared the common goal of ‘establishing supremacy of Salafi-Wahabi Islam’ and ISI was an important cog in the wheel of this jihadi terror. ISI has also succeeded in surreptitiously passing on the mantle of leadership to radicalised educated Kashmiri youth reducing its dependence solely on the Hurriyat.
Let us come out of the misplaced notion that the current unrest in Kashmir is an outburst of expression of anger by the Kashmiris against the killing of Burhan Wani by the Indian security forces. Neither is it due to alienation of the Kashmiris because of poor governance, lack of outreach by the elected representatives nor due to trust-deficit and sense of betrayal between the youth and the government. New wave of militancy, proxy-war, mass protests and demand for ‘Azadi’ are only the means for achieving the ultimate end – one that has been imagined by ISI – and it is this that is turning Kashmir into a hegemonic Islamic state duly aided and abetted by Pakistani deep state.
Even Burhan Wani’s father in various interviews to media-persons had admitted that his son was fighting for Islam. Any further delay in acknowledging the harsh reality will prove extremely dear. Hafiz Saeed is the visible face of ISI and doing its bidding. Hope that ‘Kashmiriyat may be down but not out’ also seems to have been dashed to the ground. Radical measures to de-radicalise Kashmir and for the honourable return of Sufism, ‘Kashmiriyat’ and ‘Insaniyat’ are needed. Freezing of foreign aids to Salafi mosques, stopping the flow of ‘hawala’ money, audit of madrasas including their modernisation and to prevent misuse of religious places for anti-national activities as well as to stop broadcasting the ‘taranas’ (songs/ballads) of ‘azadi’ from the ramparts of mosques are some of the immediate measures required.
Indian state has to be firm in its resolve. Half-hearted measures will only complicate the matters further. Last but not the least, the deep trust that Hafiz Saeed enjoys in the Pakistani ‘deep state’ confirms complicity of the ‘deep state’ that continues to call the shots within the territory of India’s northern province. India should demand immediate UN sanctions against Pakistan and its declaration as a ‘terror state’.
*Brig. Anil Gupta is a Jammu based columnist, political commentator and security and strategic analyst. He can be contacted at [email protected]