Kashmir- The New Battlefield for ‘Jihad’?

“We will go to Kashmir and will liberate the Kashmiris … We will also establish an Islamic Shariah in Kashmir. The registered jihad that Pakistan had started in Kashmir can't liberate it -- and even if does, it cannot change its system. Only the Taliban can establish Islamic system in Kashmir.”

Wali-ur Rehman, Deputy Chief TTP (December 2011)

Addressing a press conference after his return from Pakistan, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said that “During our visit to Pakistan, we found that there is an element of fear in the political leadership, media and civil society in the country that if the Kashmir dispute was not resolved before America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, Taliban, who, except Kabul virtually rule Afghanistan might turn to Kashmir.” While skeptics may dismiss this observation as being either too farfetched, alarmist or grossly exaggerated, it nevertheless deserves serious thought as there are other indications which suggest that such a situation may actually come to pass!

Though the Kashmir problem is basically an ideological issue sprouting from the desire of a people to exercise their ‘right to self determination’, it is fast attracting the attention of radical Islamic groups since it is unfortunately being perceived as communal issue. This is because even though militancy in J&K was pioneered as a ‘freedom struggle’ by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in the 80s, certain forces found it more convenient to accord this ‘armed rebellion’ the status of ‘jihad’ so that the religious sentiments of the community could be exploited to participate in and support militancy as well sanctify the violence it ushered into a peace loving society. This naturally attracted the attention of the Lashkar-e – Taiba, which in a pamphlet titled "Why Are We Waging Jihad?" defined its agenda as the restoration of Islamic rule over all parts of India, declaring India, Israel and the United States as existential enemies of Islam.

However, it was Osama bin Laden, who in a statement aired by Al Jazeera in April 2006, was the first to give the Kashmir imbroglio the communal perception of being a ‘Zionist-Hindu conspiracy’ against Muslims.  Stating that, "A UN resolution passed more than half a century ago gave Muslim Kashmir the liberty of choosing independence from India. George Bush, the leader of the crusaders' campaign, announced a few days ago that he will order his converted agent Musharraf to shut down the Kashmir Mujahideen camps, thus affirming that it is a Zionist-Hindu war against Muslims," he  declared that "It is the duty for the Umma with all its categories, men, women and youths, to give away themselves, their money, experiences and all types of material support, enough to establish jihad particularly in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Sudan, Kashmir and Chechnya."

Though there is no evidence of the presence of either Al Qaida or Taliban militants in J&K, speculation to this effect have been rife. First there were rumours that Osama bin Laden was hiding in Kashmir and subsequently, no less than US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld himself was quoted as saying in 2002 that ''I have seen indications that there in fact are Al Qaida in the area (Kashmir)'' even though he clarified that ‘‘I do not have hard evidence of how many or who or where.'' However, New Delhi has continuously and confidently ruled out the presence of Al Qaida or Taliban cadres in J&K. But some analysts are of the opinion that while there may not be any presence of the Al Qaida and Taliban in Kashmir at present, the situation may change once America withdraws from Afghanistan. The Tehreek- e- Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has made no secret of its imminent interest in Kashmir.  In 2010, Tahir Ali, an Islamabad based journalist quoted TTP spokesperson Azam Tariq as saying in a telephonic interview that "India is our jageer (domain) and we will attack to take possession of it. We are training lots of fighters and suicide bombers who will be used for this purpose." During this interview, Tariq also boasted that "If Pakistan changes its anti-Taliban policies, not only can the mujahedeen free Kashmir from India, but can also capture India itself."

In the latest video released by the TTP, its chief Hakimullah Mehsud and his deputy Wali-ur Rehman, while answering queries from media persons, have made rather disturbing references to Kashmir. Some of these are:

India and Pakistan are running their businesses in the name of Kashmir. Pakistan has played havoc with Kashmiris in the name of freedom. We condemn this policy in the same way as we abhor the brutality of Indian government.

The war that we fight in Kashmir is under the banner of Ghazwa-e-Hind (battle of Hindustan). Our jihad is not just limited to tribal areas, but it covers the whole of Pakistan, Kashmir and India.

We will go to Kashmir and will liberate the Kashmiris.

Like our grandparents made sacrifices for liberation of Azad Kashmir we too will fight for the people of Indian-held Kashmir.

We will also establish an Islamic Shariah in Kashmir. The registered jihad that Pakistan had started in Kashmir can't liberate it -- and even if does, it cannot change its system. Only the Taliban can establish Islamic system in Kashmir.

Some analysts are of the view that due to deep ideological differences, the TTP which espouses a radical brand of Islam will not find favour with the Kashmiri militants or separatists. In a well researched article titled “Taliban Threat for Kashmir,” Zafar Iqbal, Executive Director of Press for Peace (PFP) has highlighted the same and concluded that “With the availability of already trained local force and large number of sympathizers of Jihad, Pakistani Kashmir is a soft and easy zone for terrorist operations for Taliban; however, it seems hard that Taliban can trigger the surge of suicide bombings in Indian part of Kashmir”. However, while the learned author is right in determining that the TTP may not be welcome by the majority in Kashmir, he has overlooked the fact that there is a powerful lobby within Kashmir which vociferously advocates the establishment of an “Islamic State’. And given the religious fervor the TTP attaches to establishment of “an Islamic Shariah in Kashmir”, this sentiment in itself is reason enough for it to make its way into Kashmir. The only question is ‘when’?

The American withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 will create a vacuum that will have to be filled by the Pakistan army and to overcome this, it may be forced to shift a sizeable size of troops to its border with Afghanistan which will pose tremendous strain on the Pakistan army in curtailing the activities of the TTP. Though Pakistan may not have any direct control over the TPP, it is no secret this group has considerable sympathy within sections of the Pakistani establishment as well as the radical elements within its army. And in the face of spiraling violence perpetuated by the TTP, diverting the attention of the TTP towards Kashmir may well become an expedient politico- military decision which Islamabad is forced to take in order to ease pressure within Pakistan. So, this possibility certainly cannot be wished away. But will the TPP be alone?

The TTP Chief Hakimullah Mehsud has stated that “Al Qaeda's members are our brothers, they are our guests. We are ready to make any sacrifice for them”. And when one relates this goodwill gesture with Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri recent call urging Muslims to work together to liberate 'Muslim lands', including Indian-administered Kashmir, from ‘occupiers’, a ‘commonality of purpose’ between the TTP and Al Qaida clearly emerges. This could well translate into a combined ‘jihad’ in Kashmir by the Al Qaida and TTP assisted by other ‘like-minded’ militant organisations, since the TTP has clarified that “as far as the use of foreigners is concerned, there is no concept of foreigner or local in jihad”.

The entry of radicals in Kashmir would be unfortunate as it will replace the ongoing ideological struggle for the ‘right of self determination’ with a purely communal movement having a strong sectarian bias in which the voices of reason will be the first victim! The Kashmir issue has already been complicated due to divergent views and uncompromising attitudes and arrival of radicals could well prove to be the proverbial ‘last nail in the coffin’ of Kashmir. But, it could also prove to be a silver lining if India and Pakistan realise that if unchecked, the scourge of the TTP and the Al Qaida will ultimately destroy both countries and they mutually decide to put their differences into the ‘back burner’ to jointly fight these forces. And if this happens then, who knows, maybe the two countries could come closer and finally realising that the bitterness of the past has only brought grief and destruction, may find it more prudent to resolve all outstanding issues including that of Kashmir. Though this may sound outlandish, but then, isn’t there is an old saying that ‘a common enemy can turn adversaries into friends’?

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