By Bhopinder Singh
June 7, 2019
The Ummah or the Islamic world stretches from North-West Africa, parts of the Middle East, the Turkish-Central Asian countries, to the Indian subcontinent and further afield to the Indonesian- Philippino Islands. This vast area has been in the grip of religious extremism, while India has not been affected as certain other countries.
While India has to contend with the Kashmir insurgency, it is basically a regional uprising with its genesis in the terms of accession to India. To that can be added the meddling by Pakistan from across the Line of Control. However, unlike a factor like ‘Palestine’ that unites the Muslims and resonates across all Muslim countries of the world, the same sentiment is certainly not applicable to the Indian Muslims (190 million out of the 200 million who live outside of the state of J&K).
Even within the state of J&K, roughly 3 million Muslims of the nomadic Gujjar-Bakarwal ethnicity, Dogra Muslims and those in the Kargil/Leh sectors have had no role in the Kashmir Valley insurgency. Despite feverish attempts to co-opt these ethnicities and denominations into the insurgency, this section of the populace has stoutly refused all bait, coercion and religious edicts to participate. Additionally, while there have been stray instances of misguided youth from India joining the ISIS in the Middle East, there has been no incident of religiously indoctrinated youth joining the ranks of militants in J&K. This confirms the ‘regional’ status of the issue as opposed to the ‘religious’ underpinning. Globally, violence in the name of faith, intra-faith-sectarianism or even against the ‘others’ e.g. Uighur revolt in China or the Moro conflict in the Philippines is not the sort of religious conflagration that has ignited the insurgency in Kashmir.
While decades of generous assistance of the Wahhabism by Pakistan and the Gulf Sheikhdoms into the sub-conscience of the Kashmir Valley has resulted in the decline of the traditional Syncretic- Sufi Kashmiri sensibilities, the cultural moorings and societal underpinnings have not regressed to the level that they have as in the desert countries of Africa or the Middle East. The protection of India’s constitutional rights and privileges ~ some are unique to J&K ~ and the empowerment of participative democracy (despite temporary disruptions) affords societal ventilation that has ensured that the local grouse does not acquire irretrievable extremist tendencies, in the entire Kashmir Valley.
Despite the current situation of ‘Governor’s Rule’, the Lok Sabha elections were held and with the participation of most regional parties. Against this backdrop, the report by Amaq News Agency of ISIS to the effect that its supposed affiliate in the Kashmir Valley has established a ‘province’ or ‘Wilayah of Hind’ belies the ground realities. The ISIS claim was a follow-up to the killing of a local militant, who had professed his allegiance to the entity. While this particular militant had been active for many years, his joining the ISIS was a recent development, and in accord with the emergence of ISIS in public imagination and conscience.
Unlike other terror groups and political separatists in the Valley, that are ‘legitimised’, funded and armed by Pakistan, ISIS as an organisational concept is antithetical to the interests of Pakistan. The core idea of a Caliphate obviously repudiates the concept of nationalism, and thus militates against the idea of a nation-state like Pakistan and its structural axis like the civilian government, military, societal-sectarian distinguishers and even the clerical order, as it exists today.
Therefore, ISIS can only be an extremist ‘idea’ that appeals to some frustrated Kashmiri youth who have a sense of disillusionment with the abilities of the existing separatist groups as they believe them to be either ‘beholden’ to Pakistan or ‘diluted’ in terms of religion. Hence, they tend to imagine puritanical revisionism, bloody vengeance and redemption that is the immediate gratification of the ISIS philosophy. This had led to occasional waving of the black ISIS flag in odd protests, only to effect a shock-value.
There is no infrastructural set-up or organisational structure to sustain such an operational group. Now that ISIS has been decimated geographically, most particularly in the hinterland of Syria,- it will still exist as a virulent ideology that can inspire and motivate disgruntled elements into indulging in violence. This was manifest in the recent terror attack in Sri Lanka. The threat of ‘lone rangers’ operating under the ideological flag of ISIS cannot be ruled out. However, to suspect the emergence of an ISIS ‘province’ is far stretched, as let alone the Indian security forces, even the other operational terror groups would oppose such an evolution.
In the ensuing Afghan war, the Taliban is fighting the national government and is simultaneously locked in a deadly battle against the Islamic State of Khorasan. Essentially, the concerted efforts of the sovereign states and other separatist forces would not allow the emergence of an exclusivist entity like ISIS, which has a history of irreconcilability, barbarism and intolerance towards its own cadres as well.
The ISIS- held lands have shrunk to insignificance in the Middle East, curtailing its ability to generate finances to sustain itself, let alone its affiliates or new ‘provinces’. The threat of ISIS is in the realm of an ‘idea’, as opposed to an organisation. It calls for efforts towards societal de-radicalisation, socio-economic inputs to reduce vulnerabilities of youth, and the continued free-flow of democratic opportunities to ensure the mainstreaming of local angst.
A similar delegitimisation of Al Qaida was done earlier, entailing multiple state efforts towards solutions that included militaristic, religio-moral, societal and economic inputs. India needs to investigate the ISIS claim of having set up a ‘province’ from the perspective of its ideological appeal, as opposed to an organisational or geographical construct. The constitutional guarantees of inclusivity, equality and democracy have been the most effective safeguards against such regressive forces, and can continue to be so.
Bhopinder Singh Is Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry