By Aejaz Ahmad & M. Rafiq Wani
Introduction: Theoretical Prelude
It took the medieval societies several hundred years to become what is called a ‘state’, but Islamic State (IS) took just few years to be called so, thanks to some journalistic adventures. The rise of Islamic State on the ground, midwife by the Western powers in the Middle East, has re-casted many debates about identity, culture and the civilizations at large. Towards the end of 20th Century, Samuel Huntington famously propounded his ‘Clash of Civilizations Theses’ that proposes the inevitable clash between various civilizations. However, his locus and focus were Islamic and the Western Civilizations. Subsequently, Edward Said and Amartya Sen’s critique of the ‘Clash Theses’ demolished its very cardinal assumptions on which it was grounded. In addition, some globalists pointed out that the ‘Clash Theses’ was an abrasive idea that came and disappeared and that globalization was bringing civilizations together, rather than sharpening differences inter se. However, the second decade of the 21st century saw the rise of a monstrous ISIS in the backdrop of an unprecedented destruction caused by the West in the Middle East. The strategies adopted by ISIS throw up numerous reasons to believe that it wants to engender such clashes that Huntington had written about.
What is unprecedented about this ‘terrorist industry’ is its manpower, weaponry, resources, all-pervasive internet accessibility and a pernicious ideology extrapolated from the ‘Islamic doctrine’. It seems that ISIS is hell-bent upon sharpening the differences between the so-called “unencumbered Islamic culture” and other cultures. The destruction caused by the West in the ‘Muslim World’, ostensibly in the Middle-East and Afghanistan, is increasingly used as an ontological justification for resorting to violence and mindless destruction, directed particularly against the West. Here lies the objective of the ISIS in its diabolical attempt to polarize the cultures. By generating this sort of propaganda and terrorist attacks, what ISIS is anticipating is that Muslims across the world should become the victims of hate and disgust which would sharpen their ‘Muslim nerve’. Apparently, ISIS is attempting to expand its industry to the areas in crisis where it feels it can manipulate the ‘Muslim nerve’ to rise in its favor. Kashmir is identified by them as one such area where it can garner its support.
‘Red Areas’ in Kashmir
In a recent interview to Volume 13 of Dabiq, former TTP commander, now affiliated to the ISIS, Hafiz Syeed Khan alais Mullah Syed Orkazai said, “…it won’t be long before that Kashmir will be run over by the organization…” He presently heads the Khorasan wing of the organization that is spread over to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkmenistan; it also includes certain parts of India and China. He also said, “…there’s a big opportunity, with Allah’s permission, to establish the religion of Allah there and for the Islamic State to expand to it.”
These statements have to be seen and understood in the context of the newest developments in Kashmir, such as a sudden resurgence of militancy in Kashmir since 2013, the rise of young and educated youth taking recourse to violent pursuit of their goals, coupled with sluggish political developments. Besides, media has recently reported the waiving of ISIS flag during some protests in Kashmir, raising real and serious speculation about the possibility of ISIS penetration into Kashmir for whom Kashmir conflict will serve as a ‘vibrant recruiting field’. We propose that there are certain potential areas in Kashmir that ISIS may attempt to manipulate and capitalize from its susceptibility and vulnerability.
First, Kashmir has been a hot-bed of struggles for decades now, with deep seated alienation, which can be a definite congenial condition for their operations. The persistence of gross human rights violations and the inability of successive governments to address them on time have created a mound of profound social, political as well as economic grievances. This pell-mell can be a serious condition that ISIS might be thinking to benefit from.
Second, the decline of a syncretic culture or the Sufi version of Islam, along with the emergence of its Wahabi/Salafist version in Kashmir over the decades, is one of the most unfortunate developments there. The radicalization of this sort may be a fodder for them or something they can possibly look for. It is pertinent to mention that such radicalization is not to be found there as of now.
Third, Kashmir is strategically located in such as manner that could be conducive for their operations in the Khorasan region where their presence is deep. Besides, by that logic, Kashmir can be a channel into mainland India that Syeed Hafiz keeps talking about in his venomous speeches. More recently, ISIS and other organizations, that already have a myriad presence in Pakistan, have been talking about their plans in India. The coalition of these terrorist organizations can have a ripple effect on Kashmir.
Fourth, the unemployment rate in Kashmir is catapulting to skies adding increasing frustration to the youth, who have suffered massively in a violent atmosphere over the decades. The ISIS has tremendously used its propaganda machines to focus on the unemployed youth. Given this condition, they might bank on the unemployed youth as the state enjoys youth bulge, providing them potential recruitment ground.
Why Will ISIS Find No Ground in Kashmir?
Notwithstanding the aforementioned ‘red areas’ where ISIS may possibly try its plot, thereby using the commotion that prevails in Kashmir to extend its reach there, Kashmir is not going to be a fertile part for their diabolical ambitions, at least not for now. Our contention is that the Islamic State may have superior men and money power and resources hitherto unknown to a terrorist organization, its ambitions will remain elusive here because of several reasons.
Firstly, the ISIS is banking on the concept of Khilafat which since the decline of Abbsaid Khilafat and its death at the hands of Mongols in the 12th century has only remained a fiction, until it was abolished by Kamal Ataturk. This, in effect, secularized Turkey. It is apparent to most of the Muslims that Khilafat, as espoused by Bhagdadi, doesn’t even resemble an iota with the Khilafat that was established immediately after the Prophet. It seems a fictitious idea at least for now and least attractive to imitate.
Second, the syncretic/Sufi Islam undoubtedly emanated in the Middle-East and from there it spread to elsewhere. Kashmir remained the singular place where Sufi Islam penetrated into the deepest layers of society. However, while the Middle-East currently has the least presence of Sufi Islam, Kashmir persisted in upholding this syncretic tradition, which is still pretty strong there. Notwithstanding its decline over the years, it still commands the religious behavior of a large proportion of the populace over there. One could perhaps say that the Middle-East didn’t have this strong syncretic tradition in the recent years as radicalization proceeded at a massive scale. It is worth mentioning that much of the skepticism about the syncretic potential of Kashmir come from the Kashmir conundrum and the associated issues.
Third, ISIS penetration in Kashmir will be the last bad thing to happen to Kashmir. The leaders of Hurriyat (G), most importantly the hardliners, believe that the ISIS involvement in Kashmir will divert the attention from the core issue of Kashmir and further delay its resolution. It will also justify the counter-violence by the state in which Kashmiris will be the first and the last losers. Thus, in a recent press release, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, patron of Hurriyat, who has a strong command and support in Kashmir, said “the chances of the organization spreading to Kashmir are almost zero.” He further said, “only thing it will do is give chance to the Government of India to defame the movement of Kashmiris.”
Fourth, ISIS has been identified with violence, sex slavery, beheading and what not. With no parallel in entire history in terms of ferocity and devastation, people in Kashmir, as elsewhere, believe that ISIS has brought ‘bad name’ to the religion of Islam. Some even doubt about their Muslim character. At many places in Kashmir, Friday sermons have focused on the evil nature of the activities of ISIS and the dangers it poses for the Muslim world. As such, the social acceptance of ISIS cannot be even imagined in Kashmir.
Finally, even if they succeed in breaching the thin line of violence for which they are infamously known, it will only alienate their main constituency. During the initial years of militancy in Kashmir in 1990s and before, militants received unprecedented support from the society. However, the mindless attacks and blasts at the public places made people repugnant about violence that eventually lost militants much ground in Kashmir. Therefore, violence has largely proved itself as a disapproved option there.
In the light of these factors, Kashmir is certainly not the ‘lush ground’ that ISIS has found in Syria and Iraq and elsewhere. Kashmir has seen violence for almost three decades now. There is a kind of fatigue that has developed among the youth regarding the violence. More people are taking to journalism and productive jobs through which they address their sufferings and problems. What remains to be seen is whether the volatility of political stability in Kashmir aggravates the tension that runs deep. The movement in Kashmir is not entire dead; it lives very much in the ‘Kashmiri mind’. It is now something that people wish to pursue politically rather than by violent means because there is a greater realization among the masses that in the absence of political will of the Indian government, no issue pertaining to the Kashmir conundrum can ever be solved.
Aejaz Ahmad studied Political Science at the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi. He is contributing author to Political Process in India and a forthcoming book, Modern South Asian Thinker, to be published by Sage.
Mohammad Rafiq Wani studied History at the Department of History, University of Kashmir. Now he works as an independent researcher.
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