Niloofar Qureshi

The Looming Threat

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Incidents involving multiple players are often very difficult to resolve due to conflicting interests of the parties involved. However, one such incident that had happy ending concerns 20 year old youth resident of Khanyar in downtown Srinagar named Ehtesham Bilal. Studying Radiography in Noida, he left the university premises without telling anyone after he was roughed up during a fight between two groups of students. A few days later his photograph appeared on social media in which he was wearing a black pathan suit with a grenade pouch and posing in front of an Islamic State (IS) flag. Everyone was shocked that Ehtesham had joined Zakir Musa’s Islamic State J&K (ISJK) as he had always been a focused student and had never shown any inclination towards militancy. Moreover, being the only son in the Sofi clan he wanted to live up to the expectations of his family by doing well in life.

On looking back one finds that there really wasn’t any provocation that could justify his taking the extreme step of joining militant ranks. There is no denying that Ehtesham had been attacked during a clash between two groups of students, but this was not because he was a Kashmiri. The fight was between Indian and Afghani students which turned violent and Ehtesham was roughed as he was mistaken to be an Afghani. Later on, when his attackers realised their mistake they apologised to him and that’s why everyone thought that having been resolved amicably, this matter was closed. However, Ehtesham surprised everyone.  While his decision to join militancy spread a pall of gloom over his shocked family members and friends but it came as a windfall for those in Kashmir who anxiously await (and perhaps even pray) for such incidents to happen so that they get another case to add to their narrative that oppression is forcing Kashmiri youth to pick up arms.

The tragedy of Kashmir is that news of a young boy picking up the gun doesn’t seem to bother anyone except the individual’s family, relatives and friends. Mainstream political parties do talk a lot about the sufferings of the Kashmiris but seldom go beyond sermonising and cleverly avoid supporting the appeals made by family members to militant groups to send their sons back. And this is evident from former Chief Minister’s tweet in which he borders on the philosophical by stating that “If what happened to him at #Sharda University has led him to choose such a destructive path, it’s even more tragic” and then conveniently washes off his hands with the pessimistic remark that “One more life on the path to ruin and one more family in turmoil.”

Separatists are no better as they too have avoided supporting any appeal of distraught parents asking militant groups to return their sons. However, whenever a militant is killed in a gunfight with security forces, the separatists suddenly appear to be filled with immense sorrow and they express great concern while lamenting loss of young lives. Yet, they never advise or appeal to the youth not to pick up arms but instead use such occasions to talk about how the blood of martyrs would never be allowed to go waste and that their mission would be taken to its ultimate conclusion. Though full of high-sounding words and thoughts, what our leaders actually convey to Kashmiri youth is that they should participate in the  ongoing cycle of deaths in Kashmir by picking up guns to avenge the deaths of  ‘freedom fighters’ martyred by security forces even if they too have to die.

Inspite of being alone, the Sofi family left no stone unturned to get Ehtesham back and for them support from an unexpected source.  It was the security forces and JK Police that assured Ehtesham’s family members that they would not persecute him if he returned. One doesn’t know for sure whether it was the appeals of his family members or the assurance given by the security forces and police that persuaded Ehtesham to abandon the path of certain death and return home. Yet, now that he is back home everyone would like to take credit but it doesn’t really matter. However, let us not forget that no amount of pleading by his family members or assurances that he wouldn’t be charged for joining a banned militant group would have worked had the ISJK not released him. And by not pressing charges against him JK Police has kept its promise.

There have been instances in the past when militant groups have allowed new entrants to return home and just last November Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) had permitted ace goalkeeper Majid Arshid Khan who had recently joined its ranks to leave LeT and go home. However, after his release LeT spokesperson Abdullah Ghaznavi made it clear that “from now on, no freedom fighter will ever return home.” Thus, in comparative terms, the ISJK which is despised by separatists and militant groups has shown greater compassion than the LeT.  The reason for allowing Ehtesham to leave ISJK may never be known but this move indicates that despite being a fledgling militant group the ISJK isn’t desperate in holding on to its cadres like the LeT.  And this in turn illustrates that ISJK doesn’t have any dearth of people wanting to join.

ISJK firmly believes that the Kashmir struggle is a religious war to establish a caliphate and is against the idea of it being an ideological issue related to ‘self determination’. Unfortunately, despite seeing how things are shaping in Kashmir, our leaders continue to turn a blind eye to the unbelievable speed with which ISJK is gaining ground here. Just last week an ISJK militant named Shakir Hassan who was a close aide of ISJK chief Musa was killed in an encounter. However, neither the Hurriyat nor the United Jihad Council chief Syed Salahuddin has spoken a word about the exceptionally large crowd of mourners who turned up to pay homage at his funeral. Neither has the media said anything much about Shakir’s body being draped in IS flag and ISJK militants giving their deceased comrade a ‘gun salute’ in Tral, which is incidentally a stronghold of Hizbul Mujahideen!

And so the big question that our Intelligentsia and civil society needs to answer is “Why is everyone silent on the growing influence of ISJK in Kashmir?” There is not a single person or organisation in Kashmir that approves of ISJK , but the irony is that despite this there is no one who is doing anything to stop IS ideology  that has already taken root in Kashmir from spreading. Earlier our leaders avoided this issue by saying that ISJK was the creation of government agencies, but now when security forces have started killing ISJK militants isn’t it time to start thinking how to isolate and destroy this fundamentalist terrorist group?

Tailpiece: The real threat in Kashmir today is that of radicalisation. If a dedicated and well  educated Hizbul Mujahideen commander like Zakir Musa can be brainwashed into giving up the morally and ethically justified ‘freedom struggle’ and instead be willing to die for the fundamentalist ideology being propagated by IS, then we shouldn’t be surprised if the lesser educated fall prey to IS propaganda. We are already late and our leaders should realise by now that mere assumptions doesn’t change reality and denying existence of a real problem doesn’t make it go away. If our leaders don’t take immediate steps to check IS ideology from spreading, then I’m afraid that we are in for some really very bad times ahead. Thus, while the hullabaloo about ‘self determination’ is fine but in its cacophony let’s not lose sight of the grave danger of radicalisation that is looming over our heads!

The writer is a Delhi based columnist and can be mailed at [email protected]

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