By Abhinav Pandya
Mar 12, 2019
Kashmir is going through an intense wave of Jihadi radicalization, of which the most significant proof is the volunteering of the local youth for a suicide mission, hitherto a domain of mainly foreign terrorists.
On 14 February 2019, a convoy of vehicles carrying CRPF security personnel on the Jammu- Srinagar National Highway was attacked by a car-borne suicide bomber at Lethpora in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir. The attack led to the deaths of 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and the attacker. Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack. However, the most disturbing aspect of this attack is that the suicide bomber was a local Kashmiri youth.
The very fact that the suicide bomber is a local Kashmiri youngster from Pulwama highlights the futility of confining the investigation to routine questions and mundane allegations of intelligence failure. The state of Jammu and Kashmir has seen militancy for the last three decades. The violent terrorist movement supported and financed by Pakistan has ruptured many institutions and majorly dented the liberal cultural traditions of Kashmiriyat. However, the foundations of Kashmiriyat are firm and profoundly rooted, so Kashmiriyat still holds sway on Kashmiri psyche. The liberal Kashmiriyat had so far prevented the entrenchment of Sunni extremist ideologies of Deoband and Wahhabism in Kashmir’s society. As a result, the emphasis was more on "Tahreek," i.e. separatist movement with a secular and political goal as a dominant strand with the religious rhetoric existing as an undercurrent. The local cadres hardly volunteered for suicide missions.
However, the recent Pulwama attack was a proper Fidayeen mission animated with the radical idea of violent jihad, involving a Kashmiri youngster. This development raises some basic but alarming questions about what is happening in South Kashmir in particular, and Kashmir in general, at both social and cultural level?
When a young man coming from a society with liberal traditions and Sufi history volunteers for a suicide attack then it is not a Tahreek (movement) for Azadi or freedom of Kashmir, it appears to be an ISIS-styled jihad where the youth was radicalized on religious lines and motivated to blow himself up.
South Kashmir has been a Jamaat-i-Islami stronghold for decades now. South Kashmir or the Kashmir valley, a fertile and economically prosperous zone due to its rich agriculture and apple orchards, witnessed the first moorings of the Jamaat-i-Islami, a religious organization set-up by Maulana Maududi, with a belief in the ideology of political Islam.
Today, in Kashmir, any lay observer can witness a strong faith in the idea of a caliphate. Incidents of youth displaying ISIS flags are a common phenomenon now. Islamic State of Jammu and Kashmir (ISJK) operates as a separate entity. The security forces neutralized many of its militants in 2017 and 2018. However, the appeal of the Caliphate and Islamism is taking deep roots in Kashmir. Zakir Musa, the commander of Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind openly talks of Caliphate and Islamic Kashmir. It is a matter of grave concern that he has a massive following in the youth and the teenagers. Further, I would also like to highlight that the incidents of stone-pelting in which boys and girls between the ages of 12 -30 are participating have an active element of religious belief.
Further, the fact that our agencies and most importantly the local police could not get inkling of what's going on, demonstrates that we as a state and its institutions hardly have any penetration and influence in the social and cultural milieu of South Kashmir. The alienation levels are high-may be because of the security-centric approach of the government, arrogance of the bureaucracy and lack of communication and in general an apathetic attitude. It appears that we have failed in providing an alternate narrative based on secular liberal democracy, multiculturalism, and good governance.
The appeal of caliphate ideology is increasing manifold in Kashmir. Further, apart from the Jamaat network, in a parallel development, a robust infrastructure of Salafi/Wahhabi radicalization has also come up in Kashmir. Even the traditional Sufis/Etqadis are drifting towards religious extremism.
In the younger generation, the fear of death has gone, and they tend to see glory in the idea of dying in jihad. If one looks at the videos of Burhan Wani, Zakir Musa, and the suicide bomber Adil Dar, the imagery used is of religion, jihad, Jannat and Sharia. These are not just outer trappings but the occasional outbursts of the phenomenon of pernicious religious radicalization happening at the grassroots level. Further, adding to our concerns, transnational Jihadi forces are waiting to prey upon this sentiment of jihad and caliphate. Also, if immediate attention is not paid to such deep-rooted socio-cultural changes, then Kashmir may become a fertile ground for recruiting Fidayeen squads.
However, this requires us to look beyond a typical intelligence and security-centric approach and develop a holistic programme addressing the alienation, trust-deficit, pessimism, and radicalization.
Abhinav Pandya is a policy analyst who specializes in counterterrorism, Indian foreign policy and Af-Pak geopolitics. A graduate in public affairs from Cornell University, he has more than seven years of experience in public policy, counterterrorism, electoral politics and the development sector in India and the US.