On May 10, after a gun battle in South Kashmir’s Shopian district in which an alleged militant belonging to the Islamic State (IS) aka ISIS, Ishfaq Sofi from Sopore in North Kashmir, was killed, the group’s news magazine Al-Amaq claimed it had established a “wilayah of Hind” (province in India). It owned up to the militant killed during the encounter and also falsely claimed to have inflicted casualties on the government forces.
Police and other security agencies have refuted the IS claims, dismissing these as pure propaganda. According to the Jammu and Kashmir police, most of the militants in Kashmir owing allegiance to IS have been killed in the past two years and only one militant from the group survives now. However, the police have acknowledged that a significant number of militants, although much less in number compared with the main indigenous militant group, Hizbul Mujahideen, are to some extent influenced by the ideology of global terror groups like IS and Al-Qaeda. And the poster boy of these militants, inspired by IS and Al-Qaeda, is Zakir Musa, who broke away from Hizbul Mujahideen and formed his own Ansarul Gazwatul Hind. Although the presence of these groups in the Valley is extremely limited, it should worry us all in a place like Kashmir where alienation and vacuum often resulting from unbridled State repression has the potential of acting as a catalyst for such ideologies to take root.
It is a fact that after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government adopted a repressive policy in Kashmir post-2014, disenchanted youth like Musa and Sofi have been swayed by the fundamentalist ideology of global groups like IS and Al-Qaeda. As can be analysed from social media and also the Friday protests in downtown Srinagar, this kind of extreme ideology is trying to make inroads among the already alienated and repressed Kashmiri youth.
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It is highly disturbing, of course, but at the same time it’s important for these enraged Kashmiris to know that aligning with groups like these is to essentially do what the Indian state has been wanting them to do rather unsuccessfully — to deny and malign the primacy of their historical struggle and sacrifices which date back several decades. Youth in Kashmir need to understand that groups like IS and Al-Qaeda are the illegal products and binaries of the dirty world of US imperialism, whose sole aim is to maintain its political, economic and military hegemony in the world through direct interference or through proxies.
In 1979, it was a person named Zbigniew Brzezinski, the then US National Security Advisor, who is said to have conceived the plan of American proxies going to hit the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and defeat the communist bloc by turning Afghanistan into USSR’s “Vietnam”. Brezinzski is sometimes regarded as the Godfather of Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.
Brzezinski visited Afghanistan in the same year and met Bin Laden, the pictures of which are still preserved. He is reported to have conveyed to the mujahideen: “We know of your deep belief in God, and we are confident your struggle will succeed. That land over there is yours, you’ll go back to it one day because your fight will prevail, and you’ll have your homes and your mosques back again. Because your cause is right and God is on your side.” Imagine the ludicrousness of American imperial interests coinciding with sacred jihadi/religious goals; it is nothing but pure imperial deceit.
To hurt the USSR, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), with help from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, funded, organised, armed and trained radical recruits to fight the Soviet Army in a manufactured holy war in Afghanistan. In this way, the foundation of Al-Qaeda was laid by the CIA and its head was none else than one of the more trusted CIA operatives, Osama Bin Laden.
Al-Qaeda was created to serve as a CIA proxy in Afghanistan and as such, it had nothing to do with Islam and Muslims. Many informed analysts, authors, journalists, secret agents, intelligence chiefs, and leaders have substantiated the claim that Al-Qaeda was funded, armed and trained by the CIA to fulfil the US imperialist objectives—the first of which was to fight the communist bloc and later on, when this goal was achieved, to create a binary and enemy among Muslims which will allow the US to perpetuate and justify wars in the Muslim countries.
Since much of US attention is focused on the oil resources of the Middle East, it thinks that it will invade directly where it can and where it cannot, it will use its satellite state Israel and also other well nurtured proxies like Al-Qaeda and ISIS. According to a report in the Independent newspaper, and as also documented by others, US President Donald Trump's former National Security Advisor, Lt. Gen Michael Flynn, who was heading the US Defense Intelligence Agency in the Middle East during ISIS’ rise and establishment of capital in Raqqa, refused to act against the group for unknown reasons under the Obama administration.
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As eminent author and Marxist activist Tariq Ali says, the role of such groups is also to create widespread destabilisation and destruction of progressive people and governments within the Islamic world. A case in study is Syria and much of the Middle East.
ISIS, as the new avatar of global Islamic fundamentalism, had declared a self-styled Islamic Caliphate in the areas it captured in Syria and Northern Iraq in 2014 with its capital in Raqqa, Syria. It came into existence in the form of an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group named Al-Furqan after the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 by the US and the UK. The former Baathists who were loyal to the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, made up the bulk of its members initially.
Gradually, the group was overtaken by the hardcore Salafis, who received ideological and military assistance from Saudi Arabia. After the 2011 uprising in Syria, which continued for many years and took the shape of a civil war, the group appeared stunningly as Islamic State and made rapid advancements across northern Iraq and portions of Syria known as Levant. It was aided by the funds and weapons it received from countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel and the US whose goal of overthrowing Bashar Assad and fighting the so-called "Shia Axis" converged.
In reality, this fight against the so-called "Shia Axis" was against the sole Resistance Axis in the Middle East (Iran, Syria and Hezbollah). But even the sponsors of IS would not have estimated the magnitude of the monster they were feeding. As early as 2007, one US government defence consultant was quoted as saying: “It is not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs. It is who they throw them at — Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.” What is intriguing is that despite being only some distance away from Israel, ISIS hasn’t carried out a single attack against it and that too when it believes in the complete annihilation of the so-called “infidels” and "enemies" of Muslims.
Even though the territories it once occupied have been retrieved and it has largely been decimated in Iraq and Syria, IS continues to give repeated calls asking Muslims across the world to show their allegiance to it. The group has also carried out attacks in different countries, most notably in Sri Lanka on Easter. Many leading Islamic scholars and clerics have denounced its terrible acts in which it has indulged in brutal massacres of minorities like Shias, Sufis, Yazidis and Christians. In the areas it once controlled in Syria and Iraq, the ISIS demolished hundreds of shrines of various Islamic Prophets and saints who are revered by both Sunnis and Shias.
ISIS is a hardcore Wahabi group that believes in Salafi supremacy and the most stringent interpretations of the Quran. This also pits it against the major Islamic sect—the Hanafis who form around 80% of the sub-continent’s Muslims, including in Kashmir. ISIS may have been physically defeated in Iraq and Syria, but its ideological footprints have remained intact and have only spread among many Muslim youth across the world who are often victims of their totalitarian regimes backed by US imperialism — as also among those immigrant Muslim youth who face increasing marginalisation and racist exclusion in western societies.
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The drift of some Kashmiri youth, howsoever small, towards the ideology of ISIS and Al-Qaeda, is certainly a disturbing trend. These youth adore militant Salafi groups and figures like Al-Qaeda’s Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri and also Iraqi Abu Musaib al Zaraqawi, who is the original forefather of ISIS. In the winter during one Friday congregation, a group of these youth hurled the ISIS flag inside the Grand Mosque in Srinagar and shouted slogans in the groups’ favour, which was later condemned by most people in Kashmir, including Hurriyat and militant groups, like Hizbul Mujahideen. As had been observed previously, youth in Srinagar would be often seen holding ISIS flags during several protests, notably on Fridays.
Musa and his fellow militants identify themselves with the puritan Salafi ideology of IS and Al-Qaeda. Besides calling for jihad in the entire Indian subcontinent, the group has also repeatedly bashed Hurriyat for what the group calls “anti-Islam” programme and constitution. It calls upon Hurriyat and militant groups to stop bidding for "infidel" ideas like self-determination and independence since the ISIS believes in global caliphate. The now dead militants like Mugees and Isa Fazili of Srinagar also subscribed to this ideology. In simple terms, the Musa group or ISIS inspired militants call upon other militants, Hurriyat and Kashmiri youth to join their global jihad for the establishment of a global caliphate and to stop favouring Pakistan or any other nation-state.
Also read: ISIS and al-Qaeda: Similarities and Differences
It is for those misled youth to think that the authenticity of Kashmir’s political struggle needs to be maintained. There is no need to get trapped into radicalism or the so-called caliphate glory even if a Right-wing frenzy is fast overtaking the Indian polity and society alike. In these circumstances, maintaining political authenticity will make the Kashmir struggle morally more credible. On the contrary, efforts should be made to broaden its scope by making it more plural and comprehensive. That can be done by forming solidarity consensus with other struggling people in India and elsewhere. There is also a need to recalibrate the different social movements of different sections like peasants, workers and students within the broader political movement.
Instead of falling into the trap of an illusionary enterprise of global fundamentalism driven by Imperialists, there is ample scope to calibrate and the energise the Kashmiri political struggle by incorporating these class-based struggles to make it truly a mass movement aimed at political and social emancipation in real and concrete terms.
Basharat Shameem is a writer and a blogger based in Kulgam, Jammu & Kashmir.