Al Zawahiri Video: Al Qaeda Isn’t In Kashmir Yet – Its Ideology Is
The Al Qaeda chief’s video won’t bring the terror group to Kashmir yet, but its ideology is spreading rapidly.
Al Qaeda Chief Ayman Al Zawahiri’s 14-minute video that was released on Wednesday, 10 July, asking his cadre and followers to inflict “unrelenting blows” on the Indian security forces and the government in Kashmir, has little scope of replacing the three-decades-long Pakistan-controlled conventional insurgency in the Valley.
It could however, eventually prove to be a game-changer – for the worse.
Significantly, there has been no reaction to Al Zawahiri’s appeal either from the Valley’s separatist leadership, or from its intellectual support structure which has been vociferously asserting through write-ups, speeches and tweets, that the pan-Islamic extremist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS have no room in Kashmir. They have been emphatically projecting the separatist-militant combo as an “indigenous political movement with only the moral support from Pakistan”.
Even as a group of local lawyers had performed Osama Bin Laden’s namaz-e-janazah in the Batmaloo neighbourhood of the capital city of Srinagar, the Kashmir Valley was silent on the Al Qaeda founder’s death in the US Navy strike on his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on 2 May 2011.
“We lost the game that day. 9/11 was the first turning point. 2/5 was the second, as it pasted the label of terrorism on Pakistan’s forehead —our only committed supporter among 200-odd UN members,” said a middle-rung separatist leader, upon condition of anonymity.
Separatists In Suspended Animation
Al Qaeda’s unprecedented Kashmir video has surfaced at a time when New Delhi’s multi-pronged crackdown, launched after the Pulwama attack on the CRPF convoy in February 2019, has turned ferocious. Most of the top and middle-rung leaders have been arrested and booked in serious criminal matters. Others are, day in and day out, being summoned by the NIA, the ED, the Income Tax Department, CBI, and other agencies in New Delhi for “questioning” in terror-related offences. Scores of militants are being eliminated every month by security forces, in operations and encounters.
As the people across Kashmir Valley have been by and large calm, stone-pelting has remarkably diminished, and there has been no significant resistance to the crackdown under the Governor’s and President’s Rule in the last one year.
Those not arrested so far seem to be in total chaos and confusion. Even in 2017, most of the separatists, including the Pakistan-based Hizbul Mujahideen and United Jihad Council supremo, Salahuddin, had dismissed Al Qaeda and ISIS as “international terrorist groups with no stake or presence in Kashmir”.
Azadi & Caliphate: A Dichotomy
The dichotomy in the separatist-militant stand vis-à-vis the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate—the distinct slogan of Al Qaeda and ISIS—dates back to August 2015, when Hizbul poster boy Burhan Wani made it unambiguously clear in a video, that the guerrillas’ motive was to set up khilafat (Islamic State) in Kashmir. Wani’s death in an encounter with security forces in July 2016 triggered Valley-wide turmoil that continues to this day. Zakir Rashid Bhat alias Zakir Musa was appointed Hizbul’s chief and Wani’s successor.
The separatists-militant combo orchestrated weeks of shutdown after Wani’s death, calling him “the most popular leader of Azadi”.
Even the then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif described Wani as “Kashmiris’ popular leader” in his UN speech in 2016.
On 13 May 2017, Zakir Musa released an audio, asserting that Kashmir’s separatist and militant struggle was essentially Islamist. He audaciously warned the Hurriyat leaders against continuing their refrain of “political issue”, and assailed them for “giving a secular colour to the movement”. Unprecedented in Kashmir in 27 years of militancy, Musa threatened to chop off the heads of the separatist leaders if they did not stop interfering with the militant movement. He said he could potentially hang their heads in Lal Chowk.
Al Qaeda’s Birth in Kashmir
Minutes after the Hizbul spokesman Saleem Hashmi dismissed Musa’s statement as his “personal opinion”, and disowned it on behalf of his organisation on 14 May 2017, Musa announced his resignation. In July 2017, Global Islamic Media Front declared that Al Qaeda had launched its Kashmir unit by the title of Ansar Ghazwatul Hind and appointed Zakir Musa as its chief. Separately, ISIS too launched its Kashmir branch, namely, the Islamic State of Jammu and Kashmir (ISJK) in December 2017.
Interestingly, when Musa was killed in an encounter with security forces at Dadsar in Tral on 24 May, 2019, the senior-most separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani called for a shutdown in Kashmir, and most of the leaders paid tribute to him and his ideology.
The War Within Guerrillas
Al Zawahiri’s video came days after the Caliphate cadres alleged that the militants of Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba had “trapped and killed” their leader Adil Ahmad Dass on the outskirts of Bijbehara township in South Kashmir. It triggered an internecine clash among the pro-Azadi groups, believed to be controlled by Pakistan, and the Caliphate cadres, perceived to be operating independently.
Officials believe that the total number of Ansar Ghazwatul Hind cadre in the Valley is around 30, as against over 200 pro-Azadi and pro-Pakistan guerrillas.
Residents of Bijbehara view the anti-Hizb and anti-LeT videos of Adil’s brother, as also those of his relative and militant associate Khateeb Dass, as “worrying”, but they also believe these would not lead to a civil war among the guerrillas in South Kashmir or the rest of the Valley.
“It’ll die down soon. Those running it from abroad have handled such situations several times in the past,” Mubashir Wani of Bijbehara told The Quint.
Al Zawahiri does not straightaway mention Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, but the video displays Musa’s images, as also those of the Kashmiri youths engaging the security forces in violent clashes, waving Al Qaeda and ISIS banners. He says the militants must “liberate the Kashmiri jihad from the clutches of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies”, adding that the war is “for the sake of Allah”, and not a struggle “for the sake of international criminals”.
MEA Spokesman Says ‘Chalta Hai’
In his reaction, Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar, asserted that the security forces were well-equipped and capable of maintaining India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Kumar had told reporters in New Delhi, “Aisi dhamkiyaan jo hai na hum sunte rehte hain, mujhe nahi lagta inko seriously lena chahiye.” (We are used to such threats. I don’t think we should take them seriously).
J&K Police Fears ‘Boost To An Ideology’
An officer of the rank of Inspector General in Jammu and Kashmir Police endorsed the MEA spokesman’s statement, but added that continued absence of a well-coordinated nation-wide de-radicalisation programme could prove “dangerously beneficial” to Al Qaeda and ISIS. “Their Sultanate is the internet, through which it is operating with impunity across India including Kashmir,” he told The Quint.
He added that notwithstanding reversals on the political and the guerrilla front, separatists were effectively running their infrastructure of indoctrination.
“This video will definitely not replace the so-called Azadi and Pakistan-sponsored militancy overnight. It will not create a parallel Caliphate, but will definitely boost an already existing ideology. They won’t be fighting us with guns and grenades, but in three or four years from now, you will see suicide bombers killing their ideological rivals in dozens and scores. Unfortunately, Kashmir is now heading to that phase of destruction, as the support of that ideology is growing menacingly across the Valley,” said the officer.
(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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