More than a
dozen men armed with assault rifles marched in the backdrop of snowscape in a
video circulated online, announcing them as the soldiers for Ghazwa-e-Hind, the
prophesied battle for India in Islamic traditions. A subsequent frame closes in
on three jihadists, the snowscape missing; two flags behind them announced
their allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent, or the AQIS.
jihadist in the middle, unmasked but his face pixelated beyond recognition,
identified himself as Faisal Ishfaq Bhat, a resident of Srinagar in the Kashmir
Valley, and indicated that he was in Afghanistan. The nearly thirty minute-long
address that used Quranic justification for jihad but sharply turned attention
to a south Asian sentiment increasingly finding resonance in Kashmir:
Pakistan’s betrayal of jihad for its own interests.
It was this
betrayal that was cited by Musa when he rebelled against the pro-Pakistan
Hizbul Mujahideen and aligned his splinter group with the Afghanistan-based
AQIS, naming it the Ansar Ghazwatul Hind. The video featuring Bhat along with
the a rare audio eulogy for Zakir Musa released separately, last week, by
senior jihadist leader of the AQIS, Ustadh Usama Mehmood, is the strongest
evidence of a link between Kashmiri and global jihadists.
said that Musa sought guidance from “jihadi scholars in matters of jihad”, an
indication that Ansar chief was in contact with the Al Qaeda, at least in
matters of consultation and advice, and ranked the Kashmiri jihadist at par
with Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 2001 attacks in the
United States, and the Afghan Taliban's Mullah Muhammad Omar, a rare honour for
as the fortress of Islam in south Asia, Pakistan was a safe haven for jihadist
groups operating in the region, primarily focussed on Afghanistan and Kashmir.
However, following an increasing scrutiny in the wake of the September 2001
attacks in the United States, Pakistan cracked the whip on jihadist outfits,
including those operating in Kashmir, leading to a sense of betrayal.
year, Bhat had crossed over to Pakistan and, in what could be called a case of
the grass seeming greener on the other side, began being disillusioned. “The
reality about the (Pakistan) army that aides the jihad in Kashmir and the ISI
began to be revealed to us from the moment we reached (Pakistan),” he said. “We
also saw how much Islam was in practice here.”
have witnessed closely how jihadist outfits were “helpless” before and taken
“hostage” by the “hypocrite” Pakistani intelligence services, Bhat was in a
state of “mixed feelings”.
interest and foreign policy was “dearer” to Pakistan than the actual objectives
of jihad, according to Bhat. He said that Pakistan saw jihad as merely “a
policy for international bank balances and strategic depth”, and a policy aimed
at, among other regional objectives, keeping pressure on India. “It’s a game, a
part of the policy,” Bhat denounced Pakistan. “To achieve these goals they need
human resources, they need foot soldiers. And for that, they used a cause for
which the conscientious Muslims of the Ummah could be manipulated.”
that his group was prevented from carrying out attacks in Kashmir as it would
lead to “deterioration of the political situation in Pakistan”. If the numbers
of jihadists killed in Kashmir is an indicator of Pakistan controlling the
tempo, according to the figures compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal,
from 2,850 jihadists killed by Indian forces in 2001, the numbers fell to 84 in
2012. It is around this time that, Bhat said, Pakistan’s intelligence services
caused rifts within the various jihadist outfits operating in Kashmir and the
subsequent breakaway factions, many on sectarian lines, exposing internal differences
leading to infighting. By 2013, the number of active jihadists in Kashmir
nosedived to only about 78, the lowest since the eruption of violence.
aftermath of the September 2001 attacks and Pakistan’s involvement in the
“global war on terror”, faultlines emerged in the regional jihad and the
emerging splinter cells stood against their once-patrons. At the same time,
Kashmir-focussed groups made public their resentment albeit without crossing
frictions began emerging on the ground since Adil Mir took control of the
'jihad' in 2010 and later the death of his cousin Burhan Wani in 2016
galvanised the resurgence of a strong sympathy for jihadists and mobilised the
civilian population against the Indian state, taking away the levers of control
from Pakistan as smaller modules of the jihadists outfits also began operating
public in the Valley and sympathisers of the jihadist groups remained isolated
from these events post the September 2001 attacks owing to the lack of
reporting in the local press that is seen by observers as inclined towards
Pakistani interests. The emergence of social media ensured that Musa’s
rebellion could not be brushed under the carpet. At the same time, the Islamic
State emerged, professing links to the Afghanistan-based division of the
jihadist outfit that had overtaken Al-Qaeda as the leading global jihadist
outfit since 2014.
rebellion paved the way for many other jihadists to defect to his AQIS-affiliated
outfit. “Whoever gives pinpoint (locations), becomes dear to Allah...I don't
understand what is going on,” rued a Pakistani jihadist known as Abu Dujana in
a 2017 conversation with Zakir Musa, recorded some time after the latter’s
rebellion against the pro-Pakistan leadership in May, but a month before the
announcement of the Ansar Ghazwatul Hind in July and released three months
after Dujana’s death in August. Dujana was among the first jihadists in Kashmir
to defect to Al-Qaeda.
Pakistani jihadist broke his silence to join Musa and was eventually killed in
a gunfight on the outskirts of Srinagar in March 2018. In a video released
after his death, Abu Hamas said that he wanted to “free the jihad” from
“Taghuti Nizam” — man-made ruling systems considered idolatrous — after
witnessing Pakistan’s duplicity since his recruitment in 2012. Later in the
video, Hamas spoke of doubts over a crackdown in Pakistan against those “who
speak of Khilafat and Shariat” while Kashmiri jihadists who were loyal to
Pakistan’s interests were receiving “security and protocol” from the Pakistani
state. “A lot of questions would come, but we would console ourselves saying we
were going to help the oppressed in Kashmir,” he said.
mentioned senior figures of the Hizbul Mujahideen and Jamaat-e-Islami based in
Pakistan having defected to Al-Qaeda as reassurance for his decision. Prominent
among those who defected was the Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir-based Hizb trainer
who became a senior Al Qaeda operative, Ahsan Aziz. Hamas also cited another
slain jihadist, Afzal, who defected from the Al-Badr over apprehensions that
the jihad in Kashmir had been reduced to “agency work”.
attempts to end this jihad and put the Mujahideen in cold storage,” Musa had
said in a 15-minute video released on 7 April this year, attacking the Pakistan
premier Imran Khan’s statement on “dialogue on terrorism” in the wake of the
Pulwama suicide bombing, the most significant attack in the three decade-long
violence in Kashmir. Buoyed by the perseverance of the Afghan Taliban and the
United States' pulling out of troops from the region, Musa also mentioned that
more jihadists were joining them with each passing day.
In an audio
released after Zakir Musa's death, the militant leader is heard imploring a
Hizb jihadist to seek knowledge even if he does not wish to quit his outfit.
His advice to the Hizb jihadist was, "Find the truth, without looking up
to individuals, and you will yourself see the righteous (path)."
In the AQIS
eulogy for Musa, Mehmood said that the “Mujahideen in Afghanistan were
overwhelmed with grief” over his death and that now was a test of faith given
that “Pakistan had long traded Kashmiri Muslims” for its interests. If the
Kashmir jihad was dependent on Pakistan intelligence services, Mehmood said, “Azadi
would never be achieved even if sacrifices go one for a thousand years”.
first public statement, too, echoed Musa and Mehmood: “We see in the Mujahideen
in general and their leaders in particular, a yearning to free Kashmir and
enforce Sharia,” he says. “The Mujahideen here are desperate to meet their
brothers and in the near future will join their brothers in Kashmir and will
target the oppressive (Indian) army and police from the trenches of Kashmir”.