Niloofar Qureshi

The Looming Threat of Fundamentalism in Kashmir!

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Last week, people in Sopore observed a two day shutdown to mourn the death of a local militant named Ishfaq Ahmad Sofi who was killed during a brief encounter with the security forces in Shopian district on Friday. While shutdowns marking death of militants are a common practice in Kashmir, yet there’s something about this case that’s unusual. Firstly, neither did Hurriyat nor the United Jihad Council (UJC), which oversees militancy in Kashmir, offer any tributes to the deceased militant. Secondly, there were no appeals from joint resistance leadership (JRL) of the Hurriyat to hold funeral prayers in absentia for him and thirdly, the local media did not name the militant group with which Sofi was affiliated nor did it mention the atypical fact that the Pakistani flag draping Sofi’s coffin had been unceremoniously cast away and replaced by mourners.

However, it’s not apathy on the part of the JRL and UJC that is the reason for Sofi being denied a few kind words and customary adulation for sacrificing his life as well funeral prayers in absentia. Neither was lack of information the reason why local media failed to name the militant group to which he belonged. The fact is that Islamic State (IS) not only owned Sofi immediately after his death, but had also officially confirmed the existence of Islamic State of J&K (ISJK) in Kashmir named ‘Wilayah al Hind’. And since the issue of IS ideology attracting followers in Kashmir is something which the Hurriyat, UJC and local media have been playing down for quite some time, it appears that forsaking Sofi is an intentional act since ISJK follows a fundamentalist ideology that outrightly rejects the concept of ‘self determination’ and instead wants to establish a caliphate in Kashmir.

By treating Sofi’s death as a ‘non-event’, the Hurriyat and UJC may have sent a clear signal that it has no association with ISJK. Yet, this amounts to nothing much because from what one reads it’s quite clear that IS ideology does have substantial following in Kashmir. What else explains the unusually large gathering of mourners at Sofi’s funeral, replacement of the Pakistani flag adorning his coffin with that of the IS and a two day long shutdown? And the fact that all this happened in Sopore which has always been considered to be the unassailable bastion of Geelani sahib makes things even more disconcerting. And such shameful behaviour taking place in Hurriyat (G) chairman’s home turf is ironical because Geelani sahib was the first one to condemn the IS and calling its ideology “un-Islamic” had also appealed to the youth not to display IS flags during protests!

It’s now too late to start investigating as to how and why fundamentalist ideologies like that of IS and Al Qaida have managed to find a following in Kashmir. However, it needs to be mentioned the separatist and militant leadership have certainly been extremely complacent on this issue because despite specific incidents that clearly pointed towards the growing popularity of fundamentalist ideology in Kashmir they did not take any preventive measures or remedial actions. Instead, by declaring that “There are no chances of the presence of Daesh in this region” and claiming that New Delhi was playing the “Daesh card” only “to serve as a cover for the atrocities of its forces against innocent Kashmiris,” Hurriyat (G) chairman closed the scope of any discussion this issue for good. The UJC chief too dismissed discernable proliferation of IS ideology by declaring that “Al Qaeda, Daesh (IS) or Taliban have no involvement or role in Kashmir.”

Two years ago, when Global Islamic Front (an Al Qaida affiliate) confirmed the nomination of former HM commander Zakir ‘Musa’ as the head of the newly created Al Qaida cell in Kashmir named ‘Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind’ (AGuH), neither Hurriyat nor the UJC took this development seriously.  Even when Musa made it clear that the struggle in Kashmir in wasn’t for ‘azadi’ (liberation) but to establish a caliphate and issued a reprehensible threat to behead Hurriyat leaders, instead of taking action to discipline and de-radicalise Musa, both the Hurriyat and militant leadership sidetracked this grave issue by floating another ‘conspiracy theory’ that described Musa and AGuH as the creations of New Delhi to malign the image of the Kashmir struggle!

Soon after Musa was declared leader of AGuH, three militants of his group (Sajjad Ahmad Gilkar, Aaquib Gul and Javaid Ahmad) were killed in an encounter with security forces in Redbugh area of Budgam and four months later another AGuH militant named Mugees Ahmad Mir was gunned down by security forces in Zakoora area of Srinagar. In both these incidents, Pakistani flags draped over coffins of the terrorists were replaced by IS flags and during their funeral, slogans of “Na Hurriyat wali Shariat, na Hurriyat wali azadi, Kashmir banega Darul Islam (neither Hurriyat-type of Shariat, nor Hurriyat-type of liberation, Kashmir will become an Islamist nation) were raised. Yet, our leaders and the UJC chose to ignore these outrageous acts of defiance that openly mocked the ‘self determination’ movement in Kashmir.

Kashmir experienced an unimaginable low in December last year when some masked youth desecrated the historic Jamia Masjid in Srinagar by climbing atop the pulpit, raising pro IS slogans as well as waving Daesh flags and then posted videos of this offending act on social media. Sadly, instead of waking up and smelling the coffee, UJC spokesperson Syed  Sadaqat Hussain once again expounded the ‘conspiracy’ theory and said, “There is no presence of Daesh (ISIS) in Jammu and Kashmir, and those waving ISIS flags in Jamia Masjid are Indian agents.” Just denying the existence of an issue won’t make it disappear and that’s why both the Hurriyat and UJC need to go beyond words and take necessary action no matter how harsh they may be in order to eliminate the looming threat of fundamentalist IS ideology poisoning the minds of Kashmiris! And any further procrastination will only cause irreparable damage to the Kashmir movement!

The writer is a New Delhi based columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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