The Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba joined the anti-Musa chorus, accusing him of being part of an Indian conspiracy.
Militancy in Kashmir has stumbled upon an unexpected challenge in the form of Zakir Musa, a 23-year old gun-toting jihadi. He is a twist in the jihadi tale that has thrown the secessionist lobby into a tizzy.
For the first time in the history of the 28-year-old Kashmiri uprising, Musa, a militant commander, has admitted that their fight is not for political rights or accession to Pakistan but the supremacy of the Sharia and establishment of an Islamic caliphate. In May this year, Musa quit the terror outfit called Hizbul Mujahideen, controlled from across the border by the Pakistan Army, and went on to form “Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind”, the Kashmiri unit of Al Qaeda.
His defection and open Islamist challenge triggered a flood of condemnation from the separatist camp, which accused him of defaming the Kashmiri resistance movement.
Chief jihadi Syed Salahuddin, in a statement released from his roost in Muzaffarabad, fulminated: “Some of our friends, playing into the hands of our enemy, have been creating confusion in the leadership. These acts won’t benefit them… Daesh or Al Qaeda don’t have space or requirement in Jammu and Kashmir.”
The Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba joined the anti-Musa chorus, accusing him of being part of an Indian conspiracy. Srinagar’s separatist leadership, including Hurriyat Conference (G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, and JKLF chief Yasin Malik attacked Musa, arguing that their movement was political and not religious or communal.
Echoing Lashkar’s arguments, the trio declared Musa’s defection was a well-thought-out plan conceived by New Delhi to malign the Kashmiri freedom movement.
But why fault Musa for being explicit about the Islamist aims of the Kashmiri uprising? Is it because his incarnation as an Islamist zealot negates the separatists’ portrayal of their movement as a purely political and non-communal one?
History suggests that Musa might not be as completely off-track as the separatists would like the outside world to believe.
The seeds of the current uprising in Kashmir was sown in the late 1970s in the afterglow of the Islamic revolution in Iran and the beginning of the jihad in Afghanistan in the early 1980s.
The J&K chapter of the Jamaat-e-Islami began patiently watering the seeds of dissent following rising confrontation with the largely-secular National Conference. This conflict culminated in violent clashes between the two in 1978. The first feelers to Gen. Zia-ul Haq, the military dictator then running Pakistan, were sent shortly thereafter.
The growing Islamisation was most pronounced in south Kashmir and an indication of the coming storm was felt in Anantnag town in 1986 when communal riots broke out. The state government clamped down on news of that event and pretended that nothing had happened. The truth was that hundreds of Hindus were targeted and scores of temples all over south Kashmir were burnt or destroyed.
At around the same time, youth all over the Kashmir Valley began to raise Islamic slogans and when the state went to the polls next year, and the new face of Kashmiri politics was the Muslim United Front MUF). Supporting it from the background was the Jamaat.
Alarmed by the threat of an Islamist upsurge, New Delhi, in a moment of short-sightedness, went along with the National Conference plan to rig the Assembly polls. The MUF was trounced and although it managed to secure a third of the total votes polled, only four of its candidates won. The new government ordered a crackdown on MUF leaders and activists and jailed many of them. This prompted the beginning of the armed struggle as Kashmiri youth began to cross the border in droves to receive arms training in Pakistan.
In those early years, the Jamaat and its supporters piggybacked on the pro-freedom movement started by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). The JKLF spearheaded the Kashmir armed struggle during the first couple of years until the Jamaat-sponsored Hizbul Mujahideen became more powerful thanks to the Pakistan Army.
Some JKLF cadres crossed over to the Hizbul Mujahideen while others were murdered or betrayed. By the early 1990s, JKLF’s last man standing was its chairman, Yasin Malik.
The Hizbul Mujahideen, unlike JKLF, stood not for independence but for accession to Pakistan. The cross-border Jamaat link was the key in thrusting it to the forefront. This was also a time Pakistan’s generals were promoting Islamists to carry the Kashmir struggle forward, just as they had done in Afghanistan.
Then and now, Kashmiri fighters chanted Islamic slogans, claimed that India was anti-Muslim, encouraged the notion of jihad and from day one strove to impose Islamic values.
One of the insurgents’ first acts was to shut down cinemas, liquor shops, and impose a dress code across the Kashmir Valley.
The rising Islamist din sent shudders down the spines of the state’s Hindus, Buddhists and secular Kashmiris. Their fears were justified given that early on in the movement, virtually every one of the Valley’s original inhabitants, the Hindu Pandits, were driven out. No Kashmiri Muslim came out onto the streets in violent protest against this great tragedy that befell their ethnic brethren. Contrast this to the violent protests that are now taking place on the streets of Kashmir in response to the exodus of the Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar. There was deathly silence in Kashmir when the appalling exodus of over 200,000 Kashmiri Pandit men, women and children took place.
The Pandit exodus was preceded and followed by the killing of hundreds of National Conference activists. The idea was to root out secular and non-Muslim elements from the Valley. Not surprisingly, till today, no other religious community in J&K — neither Hindus nor Buddhists — supports the separatist movement.
Kashmir’s separatists have sought to obscure the essentially Islamist character of their movement by stressing on the alleged historical peculiarity of the undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Musa, by putting his finger on the politically sensitive spot, is a threat to their quest for global support. For, today the world has come to despise narrow xenophobic movements fuelled by religious sentiments. By exposing the Islamist nature of the Kashmir movement, Musa has written his own death warrant. It’s only a matter of time before he is betrayed as were hundreds of JKLF fighters before him.