Al-Qaeda’s foray into Kashmir poses challenge because of Zakir Musa's potential to mobilise youth

Srinagar: The announcement by Al-Qaeda to make former Hizbul Mujahedeen commander Zakir Musa as head of its cell in Kashmir is seen as a major security challenge, as the global jihadi organisation could pull a number of youths into its ranks. Within three months of breaking away from the Hizbul Mujahedeen, Musa has managed to head a group of at least 12 other militants including former Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) chief Abu Dujana. But given the Islamic appeal Musa has delivered in his earlier videos, security agencies are worried that the outfit could be a formidable challenge and draw more young people towards its ranks.

Since its formation in 1988, Al-Qaeda has never operated in Kashmir before; none of its earlier attempts to garner support in the area worked. In 2014, Al-Qaeda had warned of attacks on the government forces in Kashmir, but the threat had not raised alarm as it did not have any militant operations in Kashmir. A similar warning was also issued earlier in 2000, but that had no impact on the security situation either. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri had warned of operations in Kashmir in 2014, through a video.

Director General of Police SP Vaid said that they are investigating the veracity of the announcement by Al-Qaeda to open a cell in Kashmir, which has been named Ansar Ghazwat-ul- Hind. He said Zakir Musa has at least nine other militants associated with him, adding that they are trying to track him down.

After he broke up from Hizbul Mujahedeen, Musa became the first militant commander in Kashmir to defy his own outfit publicly and be critical against it. But despite his differences, he had invoked an Islamic appeal, which has always remained the founding principle of the militant outfits operating in Kashmir after the 'freedom struggle' started in 1989. A senior security official said that the rallying cry for the militants in Kashmir in early 1990s was that "the Kashmir war is a holy war and they are fighting for martyrdom." He said that the situation changed after the 9/11 attacks in the United States; the militants operating in Kashmir distanced themselves from global jihadi organisations.

 Al-Qaeda’s foray into Kashmir poses challenge because of Zakir Musas potential to mobilise youth

File image of former Hizbul Mujahideen commander Zakir Musa. News18

Musa, in his last video which was released on 15 May, had reminded the Hurriyat and the other militants of the call for Islam, which had been a rallying cry for drawing youth towards militancy in the state. He said that he was not fighting for nationalism and only for the creation of an Islamic state.

However, the announcement of the opening of Al-Qaeda cells has drawn the severest criticism from both militant outfits and separatists. Hizbul Mujahedeen, LeT and Hurriyat have all stated that Al-Qaeda has no role in Kashmir. The Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), comprising of separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, has said the movement in Kashmir has no global agenda. Referring to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, the leadership said that such organisations were "extremely dangerous for the Kashmir movement".

"The struggle in Jammu and Kashmir is purely a local movement. All peace-loving countries in the world are well aware of the disputed nature of Kashmir. We want this issue to be resolved peacefully. Al-Qaeda and Islamic State have carried out the massacre of Muslims on the pretext of jehad and sharia. They never acted against the occupational forces," they said.

Before being announced as the head of Al-Qaeda in Kashmir, Musa had been emulating the global militant outfit to spread his message by releasing videos to connect with people. His praise for Al-Qaeda had come after the six-month-long protests in Kashmir following the killing of former Hizbul Mujahedeen commander Burhan Muzafar Wani, in July 2016. Following the protests, posters of Hizbul Mujahedeen and LeT remained pasted in different areas of south Kashmir through which militants asked the people to observe Islamic laws and to ensure that the strike against Wani’s killing was successful. Those posters laid thrust on the Islamic appeal for continuing the unrest and stressed on creation of an Islamic Caliphate.

During the 2016 unrest, defiance and anger had escalated so much among the people, especially the youth, that they had been ensuring a much harder schedule of strikes and didn’t allow vehicles to pass on roads even during relaxation of the shutdown that was announced by the Hurriyat Conference. A security official said, "Musa may be hoping to cash in on the growing support among the local people for militancy."

However, the fact that Musa has talked against Pakistan is seen as a "reprieve" by the security agencies in Kashmir. A top police official said that Musa was unlikely to depend on the usual infiltration route for "arms and ammunition", and would depend on training the local youth in the forest ranges in south Kashmir. He said that Musa didn’t carry out any militant activity after he broke away from Hizbul Mujahedeen.

A senior police official said that he had been trying to establish his own group during the time, rather than indulge in militant activities. "His strategy could be to draw in more men into militant ranks before launching any attacks," he said. Another official said that "given the support that Musa may raise through his video messages, the death of militants could only trigger a fresh unrest."

"The focus will shift towards the runing of anti-militancy operations and it will make any calls for dialogue less relevant,’’ said a police official. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has already warned that the intervention of China and United States in Kashmir would make things as bad in Kashmir as in Syria and Afghanistan.

State Congress vice-president GN Monga, however, said that the PDP-BJP government was to be held responsible for deterioration in security scenario and the increasing number of youth drawing towards militancy.

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Updated Date: Jul 29, 2017 13:04:53 IST