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Islamic State in Kashmir? Here's why this notion is rooted solely in fiction, not fact

The Government of India last month issued an advisory to states and Union Territories warning of possible Islamic State-backed attacks in India. More recently, Kamlesh Tiwari’s incendiary statements sparked protests which turned nasty; Pro-Pakistan and pro-IS slogans were raised by protestors. Similarly, the waving of IS flags in Srinagar city — especially downtown Srinagar on Fridays — has given rise to speculation that IS may be present in Kashmir. While I cannot obviously speak for the rest of the country, given that I am based in Kashmir and hardly know anything about the broader Muslim sentiment in India, I can analyse and assess the possibilities of (or lack thereof) an IS presence in Kashmir.

First, a note on the nature of the IS.

The outfit has been termed a “pseudo state” — that is, a state which has the characteristics of a state but is not entirely a state. The larger aims and agenda of the IS is to establish a Caliphate across the world. The group was incubated in the post-Gulf War II conditions in parts of West Asia; it morphed from an Al-Qaeda offshoot into a full-fledged, deadly force. The key differentiating factor between the IS and Al-Qaeda is territorial focus; IS is as territorial as can be. Its military offensives have helped it gain territory and develop an organisational and logistics framework that allows it to function like a quasi or a pseudo state.

 Islamic State in Kashmir? Heres why this notion is rooted solely in fiction, not fact

Representational image. Reuters

Al-Qaeda, on the contrary, was a fluid, amoeba-like network. IS has an address, so to speak; Al-Qaeda was diffuse and amorphous. While the IS’ strike capability is deadly, efficient and effective —and it amplifies this with astute and deft use of the media, its ‘force multiplier’ is limited by the fact that it does not have many friends (states) other than obscure backers and supporters. All these factors add up to make IS’ reach rather limited.

What then explains the Paris attacks?

The Paris attacks were in the nature of “spectacular attacks” — using scarce means and resources to deadly effect. This is not war in the traditional sense of armies and combatants arrayed against each other. The aim appears to have been create insecurity in the West and make a statement or a point. There is every possibility of attacks of this nature recurring, but the scale will be limited. Essentially, while the IS may have the capability to attack other states, the magnitude of these attacks will be limited and circumscribed. Given that my unit of analysis is Kashmir, the question is does the IS have a presence in Kashmir and can it carry out attacks here? What are the downtown Srinagar kids trying to do when they wave IS flags? Why are they doing it?

Downtown Srinagar has historically been the hub of anti-state sentiment and activity. It continues to be so. It is the fulcrum of activity against the state. Every Friday and days when any semblance of normalcy is thrown out of gear in Kashmir due to some incident, downtown erupts: Young kids enter into ‘stone-throwing matches’ with the paramilitary forces and the police. In this hostile milieu, kids want to make a statement and ‘poke the state in the eye’. The waving of IS flags falls along this continuum. Downtown kids cock a snook at the state by waving these flags. I would posit this is the extent and scope of IS in Kashmir.

In other words, it is merely symbolic and the aim is to ruffle the state.

What makes me so confident?

Confidence in this assertion is premised on the very nature of IS and its modus operandi as I have come to understand it. Generically speaking, militant activity is ‘sub rosa’ – underground. Any militant group worth its salt wll not want to come under the scanner or attention of the state. The art of the secret and secrecy are key to militant outfits and militias. The moment a group comes under the scanner of the state, its abilities — logistical, operational and financial — are under threat.  The same would hold for the IS.

Moreover, the IS is in the nature of a cult; it is secretive, hardly any journalist or analyst has really come into close proximity of the IS. Its leaders, commanders and even foot-soldiers, even though they make deft use of all forms of media, are media-shy, so to speak. Only post-combat ops and beheadings are made public.  The group chooses to remain obscure except when attacks have been carried out.

If secrecy and obscurity are central to the IS, it would not want to announce its presence anywhere. It would want maximum logistical and operational freedom; not make ostentatious displays of its presence. This very fact makes an IS presence — or inference thereof — in Kashmir rather remote. Moreover, the ideology and ideational rubric of the IS may not find takers in Kashmir given the Sufi ethos that characterises Islam in Kashmir.

Overlaying this is the fact that conflict in and over Kashmir is an issue between states and the peoples of Kashmir.

In this sense, it does not have a pan-world component.

All these themes and factors point to the stark absence of the IS in Kashmir — an absence that might endure.

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Updated Date: Dec 14, 2015 11:57:03 IST