Prospect of Islamic State in Kashmir is a frightening one in light of group's 'retreat' from Iraq, Syria

On Sunday, militants struck at the residence of Hurriyat Conference leader Fazal Haq Qureshi in the Soura area of Srinagar in the Kashmir Valley. One policeman Farooq Ahmad Yatoo was injured in the attack, and subsequently died in hospital. Attacks like these have become a daily affair in the Valley with militants targeting policemen for over a year now. While many such attacks have taken place, the attack on the separatist leader's residence has garnered attention particularly because this was an attack by the Islamic State. It has been designated a terrorist organisation by the United Nations and by many member countries individually.

A statement on the group's propaganda channel, Al-Amaq reportedly said, "Assassinated an element of police in firing near city of Srinagar in Kashmir yesterday (Sunday)".

Despite this, there seems to be confusion in the security establishment whether the IS is indeed responsible for the attack. The Central government has denied any existence of IS in the Valley. A Ministry of Home Affairs spokesperson in New Delhi has said, "There is no physical infrastructure or manpower of the Islamic State in the Valley. It does not exist in the Valley."  Meanwhile, the Jammu and Kashmir Police has asserted that it was indeed an IS attack. As per media reports, DGP, Jammu and Kashmir, SP Vaid said that it was now clear that the IS had carried out the attack and it was "indeed a worrying sign".

 Prospect of Islamic State in Kashmir is a frightening one in light of groups retreat from Iraq, Syria

Representational image, Reuters

If confirmed, this would be the second IS attack in Kashmir Valley — the first being in November 2017 in Srinagar's Zakura area, in which a sub-inspector of the Jammu and Kashmir Police was killed and another policeman was injured. That time too Al-Amaq reported that IS had claimed responsibility for the attack.

It is pertinent to note that earlier in 2015 and 2016, IS flags had surfaced at various places in the Valley, particularly after Friday prayers in Srinagar and at many militants' funerals.

But as far as IS' claims are concerned, authorities have brushed these aside in the past as well. The police had termed the November 2017 attack claimed by the IS as Al-Amaq's propaganda. The unfurling of IS flags too was termed as the handiwork of some mischievous elements and not as an indication of the presence of the global terrorist organisation in Kashmir. In January, Minister of State for Home Affairs Hansraj Ahir, in a written reply, had told the Rajya Sabha that "as per the report, nothing has been approved on the ground that IS is operating in any part of Kashmir".

If the claims made by the IS are indeed true, this could be a worrying sign for the authorities. The rise of the IS poses a challenge for the security agencies because even as they are fighting militants in encounters, they have to keep young Kashmiri boys from rushing to the encounter sites. Young boys have been rushing to the encounter sites for the past year-and-a-half to disrupt anti-militancy operations, and a civilian casualty in these operations has acted as a catalyst for new recruits to join militant ranks. This has been the phenomenon observed particularly after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander Burhan Wani in July 2016.

What makes the IS challenge even more pertinent for Kashmir is that with its 'retreat' from Iraq and Syria, the attacks in the Kashmir Valley can be seen as an attempt by the group to open new battlefields and thereby assert its relevance.

The IS' presence has also alarmed the local terrorist groups and separatists in the Valley, who have urged Kashmiris not to fall prey to the designs of the IS. Syed Salahuddin, the Pakistan-based head of the Hizbul Mujahidieen had released a video statement last year urging Kashmiris not to join any 'global jihadi movement'. "Some of our friends are playing in the hands of our enemy and trying to create a divide between people and their leadership. Our movement is an indigenous movement. The freedom movement of Jammu and Kashmir has no worldwide agenda, no links with organisations like Islamic State or Al-Qaeda," Salahuddin had asserted adding that "such organisations have no role in Kashmir".

Experts believe that the IS’ presence in Kashmir Valley cannot be downplayed.  "The arrival of the IS has naturally irked the local militant organisations, and can potentially spark a rivalry between these militant organisations, for recruits and carrying out more attacks. That in turn has the potential to complicate Valley's security situation," said Sameer Patil, a security analyst at Gateway House, a Mumbai-based foreign policy think-tank.

Updated Date: Feb 28, 2018 10:03:23 IST