By Arshad Alam*
During one of my visits to Srinagar a couple of years ago, a senior journalist shared that the next militant killed by the security forces would be draped in ISIS flag. He was not speaking with information which he had at hand, but told me that a senior figure in the military establishment told him this information. That time, I brushed it off as a mere figment of imagination of someone in the security apparatus. But I got reminded of this conversation when exactly two years ago, the first ISIS flag made its way from the streets of downtown Srinagar to drape the body of a slain militant. There has been no stopping ever since: slain militants, particularly youth, have been regularly draped in ISIS flags. The bodies of the three recently killed militants were similarly draped in ISIS flags. To put matters in perspective, pro-ISIS sites such as al-Amaq and agencies such as al-Qarar have hailed the martyrdom of these three slain militants. Does this point to a slow but surely growing footprint of the ISIS within the valley? Or is there another way of looking at the problem.
Two possibilities emerge from the conversation which I had with the journalist in Kashmir. One is a very straight forward one: that ultimately Islam lends itself to a violent interpretation and therefore the gravitating of Kashmir’s youth towards ISIS ideology was a foregone conclusion. The other, more insidious possibility, which was hinted at by my journalist acquaintance was that the Indian state was complicit in the propagation of the idea that ISIS was gaining a foothold in India. The reasons for this were simple. Any casual watcher of prime time TV news would know this. The news media is fed daily doses of selective leaks by the government and the media houses more than lap it up. Sitting with a cabal of largely uninformed panellists who are more there because of their religious identity rather than their knowledge of the subject, these ‘experts’ break down the Kashmir situation by constantly linking it with the spectre of radical Islam. The presence of ISIS fits neatly within their discourse.
These discussions are designed not to solve or debate the Kashmir problem but simply to magnify the already existing prejudices of those viewers who consume such news products. However, this performance within the TV studios does not end with the program. It actually links up with the existing discourse on radical Islam in an attempt to delegitimize even the genuine aspirations of the people of the valley. If the situation can be linked with global jihad, then diplomatically the ‘nation’ wins international sympathy as fighting Islamic terrorism. Thus there is every reason to believe that the presence of ISIS is helpful for some in the establishment. However, many would consider this strategy as myopic. In the long run, there is a real possibility that the present discourse on Kashmir can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There are signs ominous already. If the Islamic terrorists owning up the three slain militants are worrisome, what is more troubling are the videos posted by one of the slain militant, Eisa Fazili. Perhaps recorded just before the encounter, Fazili makes a plea for an Islamic jihad against what he calls the reign of Kufr. He argues that it is the religious duty of every Muslim to fight against the Kafirs and clearly identifies not just the Indian government but also those in power within Kashmir also as legitimate targets of attack.
The videos are also critical of those Ulema who side with the government and refuse to give the call of jihad against non-Muslims oppressors. Eisa Fazili reasons with these Ulema that one day they have to show their faces to Allah and God will punish them for failing in their duties to give a call for armed struggle. This emotion of being critical of the Ulema is not just specific to context of Kashmir but we saw the same articulations from the earliest messages posted by the Indian Mujahidin also. Moreover, the videos are critical of the leading the movement for Azadi in Kashmir. Fazili is categorical that this is a religious struggle and that by simply terming it as a political against India; the leadership is doing a great disservice to the cause of Islam. The prime objective of the Kashmir movement is not just freedom from Indian rule but to establish an Islamic regime which will implement the Sharia.
Those who knew Eisa have been surprised with the sudden change that this person went through. Most youths who have turned to militancy have done so after a loss of a personal nature. They have either lost a friend or a family member to the bullets of either the police or the military.
What also comes across in the narratives of the militants is that they have undergone personal humiliation at the hands of the security forces. In Eisa’s case, nothing of the sort happened. There was no personal trauma involved and he never had a brush with the security establishment. His conversion to the cause of militant Islam is therefore a purely personal journey of religious conversion which has troubled a lot of people within the Kashmir valley.
As it is, Zakir Musa, who was the first to gravitate towards the idea of Islamic jihad, had already criticised the political leadership for being too secular. The political class therefore has all the reasons to worry about this new crop of Jihadism breeding in the valley. It has the potential to change the entire dynamics of the game. And not just Kashmir, but the whole of India should pay attention to this shift that it taking place within the political discourse in the valley.
The fact that the bodies of all three militants were draped in ISIS flags, seems like a prophecy come true if we recall what my journalist friend told me a couple of year ago. Coupled with this were slogans demanding Nizam e Mustafa and hailing Zakir Musa. It is well known that the funeral of slain militants become sites of political protest. But unlike in the past where the symbolism was replete with icons from within the valley, this time the symbolism was of an imagined Islamic state. The very idea should trouble all those who are interested in peace coming to the valley.
*Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com, where this article was published.