Zakir Musa versus Syed Salahuddin: Is Al Qaeda taking limelight away from Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir?

Never before has the rift between United Jehad Council (UJC) led by Syed Salahuddin and the face of Al-Qaeda in Kashmir, Zakir Musa, been so visible and ominous as it is today.

The name of Musa, who became a household name in Kashmir after parting ways from Hizbul Mujahideen and subsequently being nominated as the head of the Kashmir unit of Al-Qaeda, is often invoked in protests and slogans are raised in his favour on almost every other occasion. Be it a protest over braid chopping or funeral of a militant, Musa has struck a chord with people that makes him relevant to the prevailing discourse on Kashmir.

On Thursday evening, the UJC, an umbrella group of more than 40 militant outfits operating out of Pakistan, issued a statement asking people to be “vigilant and cautious,’’ about the design of the agencies, who, according to the umbrella group, are "playing a dangerous game in the name of Islamic State and Al Qaeda using the façade of Zakir Musa.”

Syed Sadakat Hussain, a spokesperson for the United Jehad Council said in a statement to local news agency in capital Srinagar that “Indian Intelligence Agencies are busy in hatching conspiracies and are trying to use the paid agents and stooges to weaken the ongoing Freedom Struggle in Kashmir… and trying hard to give the Islamic State and Al Qaeda colour to indigenous movement of Kashmir."

"A new Ikhwan is being created for the past several months in the name of Islamic State and Al-Qaeda using the façade of Zakir Musa. Paid Indian agents are being recruited for this brigade. They are being hailed by Indian media and impression is given these paid agents are the real heroes of Kashmir Freedom Struggle,” he said.

Musa was named the head of Ansar Ghazwat-Ul-Hind, an offshoot of al-Qaeda, for the Valley in late July this year, after he parted ways with the Hizbul Mujahideen, comprising mostly of local Kashmiris, and threatening to behead the Hurriyat leaders in the main city centre of Srinagar, Lal Chowk, who describe the ongoing crisis in Kashmir as a political struggle.

Zakir Musa  versus Syed Salahuddin: Is Al Qaeda taking limelight away from Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir?

A file image of Zakir Musa. Image courtesy: News18

At that time Syed Salahuddin, the head of United Jihad Council, had said that “there is no scope or room for any international organisations like Islamic State and Al Qaeda, we don’t need them nor is there any necessity for their presence”.

The fresh statement has put the Hizbul in a tight spot, with the popularity of ‘Musa group', as it is widely known in Kashmir, increasing manifold while the man leading the group himself has caught public imagination, especially among the youngsters.

So is Musa taking away the limelight from Hizbul?

While the heads of security agencies in Kashmir have often stressed on the fact that Al Qaeda and Islamic State have no presence in Kashmir, the rise of Musa in the popularity graph is dispelling many myths and demolishing the narratives of convenience. Should there be a rethink?

The number of militants aligned to Musa’s group is not more than 12 and they have not carried out any major attack, according to police sources, but the scale of his popularity is moving from one high to another. If you want to witness it yourself, go and attend the funeral of the next militant killed either in north or south Kashmir. Go and watch the protests that follow, the madness that unfolds, the slogans that rhyme with the name ‘Musa', it is all surreal.

So much so that after a braid chopping incident recently in Srinagar and the subsequent protests, the protesters ended up raising “Musa Musa, Zakir Musa” slogans.

Politically conscious of their “struggle” getting wrongly bracketed with the so-called Islamism, Kashmiris loath the very name of Musa in private conversation and what he has come to preach. And many people have also openly opposed his idea of ‘Caliphate'.

The graph of his popularity is so strong and consistent that his way of speaking up against the traditional ways of separatist politics and Kashmiri militant outfits, who have time and again distanced themselves from the global pan Islamic militant outfits, has only soared his ratings.

Till now, the war of words has never been so open between the UJC and Zakir Musa group as it is today. The UJC has indirectly, if one goes by their press statement, branded Musa as an “Indian agent,” a phrase used for mainstream politicians in valley.

Director General of Police, S P Vaid told The New Indian Express that Musa is "following radical militant outfits like Islamic State and Al Qaeda is dangerous”.

“Musa isn’t close to us or working with us at all. As far as I know, I don’t think he is close to any of our agencies. If he comes in front of us, we won’t spare him. For us, anybody who holds a gun and opens fire at us is a terrorist,” Vaid told The New Indian Express.

The fresh war of words also comes at a time when the Hizb and Lashkar have faced the wrath of the operation ‘all-out’ launched by the Indian army in Kashmir in which Musa's group also has lost few comrades and the two outfits' backs have been “broken”. More than 160 militants have been in valley this year, the highest in almost a decade.

Inspector General of Police Munir Khan recently told Firstpost that the progress by the army in curbing the infiltration on the LoC next year as snow melts will help the force in “tackling the militants in hinterland.”

Musa has not yet responded to the allegations of the UJC. Given his past behaviour, he may not react at all. Whatever happens in the coming weeks and months in the valley will set the agenda for counter insurgency operations. But how will the fresh remarks against Musa play in the valley, and will it have an impact on the ground, only time will tell.

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Updated Date: Oct 20, 2017 15:03:31 IST

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