Militancy in Kashmir is completing three decades and its reign will have far-reaching consequences for Delhi, Islamabad and Srinagar.
What started with the gun-wielding men of the J&K Liberation Front in 1988 demanding the complete independence of Jammu and Kashmir from both India and Pakistan became even more deadly with the Hizbul Mujahideen and other Pro-Pakistan groups in early 1990s. Subsequently, they were reinforced by Pakistani extremist groups like Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.
With the advent of every new militant group, the religious phraseology, slogans, flags and public narrative in Kashmir changed. The baseline of these groups, however, remained the same. They all wanted Kashmir to become part of Pakistan. The idea of a wholly Independent Kashmir (including PoK) as propagated by the JKLF was overrun and replaced by Pakistani flags and slogans like “Jeevay Jeevay Pakistan” and “Hum Pakistani Hain”.
That too now is being challenged. The chickens have come home to roost for pro-Pakistan ideology. The weapon, that is Islam, that they used to crush pro-Azadi militants is being turned against them.
“Where is Islam in Pakistan?” and “How are you a martyr if you die for Pakistan?” is the new refrain. “Sharia or Shahadat” (implementation of Sharia Law or martyrdom) is the new slogan. The black flags of ISIS which shocked with their appearance in the Valley a few years ago are no longer a huge anomaly. Originally, the ISIS flags were dismissed by intel agencies and the administration as misguided youthful exuberance. Then the men carrying them and others wielding guns declared their allegiance to dreaded global terror groups. Al-Qaeda affiliate leader Zakir Musa has become a new militant heartthrob and is raised in the sloganeering of every protest and procession. This despite him threatening to hang top separatist leaders at the Clock Tower of Lal Chowk. Audio and videos recordings of ISIS describe these leaders as apostates and slaves of Pakistan’s ISI.
Two recent encounters – one at Balhama on the outskirts of Srinagar, and the other in the Anantnag district nearby have a frightening message. Radicalised youth influenced by the Jihadi syndicate in India and Pakistan are turning their attention and efforts to Kashmir.
At Balhama, among the three jihadis killed two weeks ago was Abu Hamas, a Pakistani national who crossed the Line of Control a year ago as a Lashkar operative but switched to the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Kashmir. In Anantnag, Mohammad Taufeeq from Telangana was killed along with Eisa Fazili, a local ISIS ‘poster-boy’ during a fierce encounter. According to the police, Taufeeq was radicalised into ISIS ideology through online chat rooms and then travelled to Kashmir to participate in ISIS attacks.