Niloofar Qureshi

Shades of ‘Jihad’

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At a time when educated boys picking up guns are being brandished as ‘trophies’ by both the Hurriyat as well as militant groups in Kashmir, news of Khanyar resident of downtown Srinagar Ehtesham Bilal who was pursuing his Bachelor of Imaging Technology course from Sharda University in Noida should have taken social media in the Valley by a storm. A good student with a bright future ahead, Ehtesham gave up his studies and joined militant ranks after he was supposedly roughed up by fellow students. Even though this incident appears to be a case of mistaken identity, Ehtesham still had all the pre-requisites of being projected as a victim of “oppression” making him the poster boy for the ‘armed struggle’ in Kashmir. And coming at a point when the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) has recently lost two highly educated scholars turned militants in gunfights with security forces, the timing of his decision to pick up the gun was most perfect!

The photograph of Ehtesham wielding a gun and his purported audio message did go viral on social media. However, perhaps it is for the first time in the history of the ‘armed struggle’ in Kashmir that pro Pak militant groups as well as the separatist conglomerate have maintained stoic silence on a scholar abandoning the pen and picking up a gun. However the reason for this is not hard to find; instead of joining one of the many militant groups fighting with the aim of achieving Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan, Ehtesham has gone ahead and joined the Islamic State of Jammu and Kashmir (ISJK) which believes that the Kashmir struggle should be for the creation of an Islamic state and not ‘self determination’. And with the IS stating that it aims “expanding to Kashmir to fight the cow-worshipping Hindus and the apostates from factions allied to the idol-worshippers of Pakistan, such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba,” Ehtesham’s decision comes as a major embarrassment to the Hurriyat as well as other militant groups fighting in Kashmir.

In an interview, IS Khorasan branch chief Hafiz Saeed Khan had explained that the IS would succeed in Kashmir because of Pakistan’s duplicitous Kashmir policy. According to him, “The idol-worshippers of Pakistan and specifically their army and intelligence, would exploit the various Islamic organisations on the issue of Kashmir for their despicable personal interests. They also exploited the zeal of the people of Kashmir for the sake of their own interests… when the preservation of their interests required that they cease fire, withdraw and retreat, the intelligence agencies left the people of Kashmir in the middle of the road and in the worst of situations.…because of this, many of the people of Kashmir and the soldiers of the factions left and made the journey to Wilayat Khorasan (area from northeastern Iran to the Indus). For us, there’s a big opportunity, with Allah’s permission, to establish the religion of Allah there and for the Islamic State to expand to it.”

Ehtesham’s joining ISJK is a matter of grave concerns both for the Hurriyat and militant groups for a number of reasons. Firstly, it has disproved their repeated assertions that now educated boys are more willingly to give up studies and join militancy only for fighting against the “occupational forces” in Kashmir. Secondly, this decision also disproves the claim being made by the Hurriyat as well as United Jihad Council (UJC) chief and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) supremo Syed Salahuddin that there is no presence of the Islamic State (IS) in Kashmir and of how New Delhi has just created this bogey to malign the ongoing “freedom struggle.” Thirdly, with Ehtesham spurning other militant groups and instead joining the ISJK it is apparent that despite the Hurriyat’s univocal condemnation of the IS philosophy which it says is “un-Islamic,” the ISJK still seems to be attracting Kashmiri youth. Dr Amira Jadoon, an assistant professor at the Combating Terrorism Center and Department of Social Sciences at US Military Academy, West Point believes that “The likelihood that ISJK inspires a sufficiently large number of young Kashmiris to stimulate an entire new wave of jihad in Jammu and Kashmir seems unlikely, at least in the short term.” However, she warns that “The real threat lies in ISJK effectively radicalising Kashmiri youth via its social media campaign and coordinating activity through digital networks, which can give way to heightened terrorism, extreme tactics, and sectarian attacks.”

During an interview, Sonia Sarkar of The Telegraph asked Syed Salahuddin why the Kashmir movement was being Islamised. His forthright reply was that “The Kashmiri movement was Islamised from day one. Why do you think an educated young man, who has a bright future otherwise, is willing to die? Is he mad? ‘Azadi’ (freedom) is not his objective. What will he do with ‘azadi’ if he dies during the struggle? He is into militancy because he knows that if he dies for a noble cause, he would become a martyr, as per Islam. We tell him that he would get into the “real life” after this death and he would get peace.” This revelation confirms that the ‘armed struggle’ in Kashmir is being presented to the youth as ‘jihad’ (holy war) which makes their participation both obligatory and rewarding. Ironically, the ISJK is also luring Kashmiri youth by giving a jihad call and if a well read person like Ehtesham chooses the ISJK over other militant groups fighting for Kashmir then the situation is really serious as it confirms Dr Amira Jadoon’s apprehensions of our youth being radicalised by ISJK “via its social media campaign and coordinating activity through digital networks.”

Tailpiece: Salahuddin sahib deserves appreciation for accepting that the youth are being told that ‘armed struggle’ in Kashmir is ‘jihad’ and those who lay down their lives while participating in it will reap the fruits entitled to ‘martyrs’. Though this theme is undoubtedly a very attractive proposition for attracting youth, but it also has a downside as it makes impressionable minds extremely vulnerable to being influenced by the various shades of ‘jihad’s being propagated on social media today. And thus, when given the option a Kashmiri fed on religious half-truths will obviously chose to fight the brighter shade ‘global jihad’ for the purported sake Islam rather than participate in the relatively dull shaded ‘small-scale jihad’ limited only to Kashmir!

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