By Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander, New Age Islam
27 May 2019
Om 23rd May, 2019 when whole India was celebrating the historic win of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) in general elections, a small decisive battle was being fought in a village of Tral. The face of new age Islamist militancy was holed up in a house with an encounter going on since last ten hours. It ultimately led to the killing of twenty five year old Zakir Rashid Bhat popularly known as Zakir Musa, chief of Ansar Ghazwatul Ul Hind (AGH), an affiliate of Al Qaeda. He has been active since 2013 as an insurgent and his violent activism has many lessons for people to take a cue about the ideological shifts of insurgency.
Zakir Musa was born in the violent prone South Kashmir’s Tral area of district Pulwama in 1994. Like many Kashmiri teenagers he was driven to the quagmire of conflict as police booked him for charges of stone pelting, an allegation denied by his family. So in the aftermath of 2010 agitation, he had to appear regularly before the court of law along with his father. The humiliation that he suffered at the hands of police and judiciary gave birth to a rage that ultimately made him embrace the gun. The story of most insurgents is similar with causes of police harassment, torture and humiliation ultimately leading to violent activism where gun becomes the only way to salvation.
In 2013 Zakir joined Hizbul Mujahideen (H.M) and grew quite close to its charismatic commander Burhan Wani whose death in 2016 lead to a massive peoples agitation resulting in more than one hundred deaths and thousands of injuries. After the agitation was over, Zakir appeared to be a changed man. He switched sides and rebelled against his parental organization (H.M) as he came out with a strong statement against Hurriyat Conference (H.C) in May 2017, “Our struggle is for implementation of Shariah. It is an Islamic struggle. I am warning them (H.C) not to play their politics. If they again try to become thorns in our path, the first thing we will do is behead you and hang you in Lal Chowk. We will leave the infidels and kill you first”.
H.M distanced itself from this statement and declared Zakir who now was known as Zakir Musa as an agent of India. Few claim that he modified his statement against H.C leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, but held it valid for Mirwaiz and chairman of Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Yasin Malik. H.C though had been sidelined by then as it was now Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) that was calling shots and Geelani, Mirwaiz and Malik were a part of it. H.C is a loose amalgam of religio-political parties that is a stakeholder in Kashmir dispute. The groups within Hurriyat are not bound by any ideological conviction but just they are linked through the common thread of demand for implementation of Right to Self Determination. The criticism of Hurriyat that too from a militant commander was something that created ripples across the quarters because H.C and its leaders enjoy the status of Holy cow. This statement also reignited the debate about the religious connotations of the Kashmir issue. In early 1990s the secular JKLF was decimated, disarmed and criticized as being unIslamic. The murder of its cadres was justified by Islamist ideologues of Jamaat e Islami (JeI) who declared them as infidels as they upheld the postulates of secularism and democracy. With time these ideological allegations and deviations were brushed under the carpet, but Zakir Musa again made them the centre of debate.
If Kashmiri insurgency was part of the global Jihad as Pakistan and JeI has professed it to be then it was obligatory for Muslims to participate in it and not let it to be hijacked by any group other than those fighting on the ground. With time Islamist ideologues like Geelani who had declared Kashmir issue as being religious in nature could not remain faithful to his original creed and with time did compromise with its ideological leanings. Now JKLF was not decried as being anti Islam and Pakistan but accommodated. So was the case with JeI that never officially supported Jihad but its official discourse was hijacked for sometime by ideologues like Geelani and militant commanders like Master Ahsan Dar who declared H.M as armed wing of JeI. Now Zakir Musa was trying to bring insurgency on its original path of Jihad, but H.M that believes originally in Jihad as a discourse but practically does everything opposite on ground was baffled by his brutally honest questions. It never had the grit to condemn Pakistan. Musa over the next few months would declare Pakistan too as serving the cause of infidels and no better than India. Zakir became a threat for Pakistan because he was condemning their hypocrisy. Some top militant commanders of Lashkar e Toiba (LeT) like Abu Dujana and Arif Lelhari also left LeT to join Musa and were killed on August 1, 2017. In an audio recording between Abu Dujana and Zakir Musa, Dujana appears to condemn Pakistan and alleges them of helping Indian forces to eliminate militants.
Soon after Musa left H.M the official propagating channel of Al Qaeda, Global Islamic Media Front declared that they have an affiliate group namely AGH in Kashmir headed by Zakir Musa. A number of youth got inspired by Musa and his name became a common slogan chanted on every occasion in most gatherings of Kashmir. Like his predecessor, Burhan Wani, Musa too made vigorous use of social media to reach out to people. AGH also established media wing named as Al Hurr. AGH is similar to Jamaat e Ansar e Shariah, the Pakistan affiliate of Al Qaeda. Through his audio and video messages Musa urged people to heed the call of Jihad, help militants escape during encounters, destroy CCTVs that help in identifying militants and decried the mob lynchings in India. During 2018 Musa remained mostly silent and it was rumored and alleged that he was working at the behest of Indian agencies, defaming the militancy by getting it affiliated with terrorist organizations and also criticizing Pakistan. All these issues were supposed to help Indian state build up its propaganda against insurgency being synonymous with terrorism. Some even termed AGH as affiliate of ISIS, a charge that Musa refuted strongly. Instead keeping in view the Sufi orientation of Kashmir milieu he invoked Syed Ali Hamdani, a Kashmiri Sufi known as Shah e Hamadan and urged people to follow his footsteps. Musa could very well gauge the difference between ISIS and Al Qaeda. Kashmir being deeply influenced by Sufism and revere shrines of saints and ISIS that is akin to destroying the same could never find a fertile ground in Kashmir, Further the level of violence that ISIS indulges in, is abhorrent to a Kashmiri who can never accept mass beheadings and murder in ISIS style. Musa was cautious and understood the local sensibilities, so he declared no affiliation with ISIS. Unlike ISIS, Al Qaeda was not expansionist in nature and fought occupations while confining their roles to the territorial grounds though they both are pan Islamist in nature, striving to establish caliphate but their concepts and notions about this institution are different. Al Qaeda did not have access to help Musa or his cadres on ground but they just helped his message to reach out to other bigger forums. Musa even at the height of his fame could not boast more than a dozen men in AGH. But despite that his appeal made him relevant.
In late 2018 there were rumours that he was seen in Punjab as he used to study in Chandigarh college wherefrom he dropped out from a course of civil engineering. So he was trying to expand his network in India too. Another important development in December 2018 was that H.M chief Riyaz Naikoo supported Musa and came down heavily on those who were condemning Musa for sabotaging insurgency. Naikoo called all those defaming Musa as Indian agents. It meant that H.M now was granting credence to Musa and the tables were turning against Pakistan.
In his latest fifteen minute audio clip Musa reiterates that if people will give up Jihad they have to meet the similar fate as that of nation of Prophet Lot (pbuh) who were doomed. Continuing his tirade against Pakistan Musa described its army and government as the biggest enemy of militants in Kashmir while urging Jihadis in Pakistan to join him for the struggle of establishing a global caliphate. While drawing out analogy from Balakot air strikes, he questioned Pakistan for going out with an all out war with India for their survival, but lamented that atrocities against Kashmiris never urged Pakistan to initiate a war against India. Musa also cautioned people that Indo-Pak with the help of USA is trying to end Jihad in Kashmir. He further described elections as a polytheistic exercise and impressed on people to stay away from them. His surmises seem correct too as Pakistan is shutting down its militant camps and recruitment.
The killing of Musa is being likely celebrated as a big success both by India and Pakistan. The Hurriyat and JRL also did not mention Musa in their press releases. Neither did they pay tributes to him, except Geelani, as they were against their brand of politics. Musa is dead, with little success achieved by him or his cadres militarily on ground but the idea of Ghazwatul Hind and Jihad that he propagated will continue to attract numerous youth for some time to come. Musa was a manifestation of the same ideological phenomenon that was witnessed during early 1990s, that led to internecine battles among H.M and JKLF consuming thousands of lives. The rise of Musa saw the resurgence of this debate again that those insurgents fighting in Kashmir are laying down their lives for Islam and Jihad not politics of Kashmir. H.M cadres also believe ideologically in the same but practical compulsions from Pakistan make them opt for hypocrisy. Musa was brave enough to question Pakistan, its state and exploitative use of religion that renders youth cannon fodder to its proxy war. Musa’s death will rekindle the debate again about the religious status and ideological moorings of Kashmir issue. It has the potential to expose all those vested interests that use youth to achieve their political goals.
The United Jihad Council (UJC) though described Musa as a great Mujahid but it was half hearted gesture. UJC intends to erase Musa’s memory from the collective conscience of people. Musa may not have killed anyone like Burhan, but unlike Burhan he had both charisma as well as was an ideologue of global call for establishing caliphate. Time will decide how much his death will have impact on ground, how many youth will follow his footsteps again and how many will have the courage to question Pakistan. But at this juncture AGH seems to be dismantled, dismembered and decimated with the death of its founder and chief ideologue Zakir Musa.
M.H.A. Sikander is Writer-Activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir
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