Are ISIS Flags in Kashmir a Precursor of its Footprints?

Niloofar Qureshi

JUST a month ago, Hurriyat (G) chairman SAS Geelani had unequivocally disapproved of the recent trend of protesters displaying ISIS flags during demonstrations in Kashmir. Saying that Waving of ISIS flags during peaceful demonstrations is against the discipline and also negates our strategy, he took pains to explain how “New Delhi is using it as a tool at the global level to convey a message that the struggle in Kashmir is not for right of self-determination but a problem of terrorism.” 

That Geelani sahib seriously meant what he was saying became more than evident just a fortnight later. While addressing a religious conference that he held at his residence, he announced that The actions and course of action of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, ISIS and Boko Haram-like organisations are totally unIslamic. He blamed America, Israel and other anti- Islamic forces for secretly supporting such radical outfits in order to eliminate Muslims and weaken them by promoting divisive thinking. While one may or may not agree with Geelani sahibs assessment, no one can deny that the Hurriyat (G) chairmans observation regarding the negative effects of displaying ISIS flags during demonstrations in Kashmir. 

There can be no doubt that waving ISIS flags by protesters is bound to convey an erroneous impression to the international community regarding the struggle for right to self determination. As it is, this ideological movement which is backed by UN resolutions has lost much of its international appeal ever since militancy erupted in J&K and with every peaceful protest and demonstration turning violent, the situation has only worsened. For this sorry state of affairs, we have no one else but ourselves to blame as it is we who have legitimised violence by accepting it as an integral part of our struggle and at times, even eulogised it. Thus, we find that even though our leaders give explicit directions that all demonstrations should be peaceful, every protest invariably ends in a clash between demonstrators and the police. 

That ISIS flags were once again displayed during the recent protest against the detention of the very man who has so vehemently disapproved of this practice, though ironical, was expected all along. Though unfortunate, Geelani sahib would have to reconcile and accept the fact that just like his calls for peaceful protests go unheeded, displaying ISIS flags during protests and demonstrations is something that too has come to stay in Kashmir. However, while some people waving ISIS flags in itself may mean little, what is more dangerous is the likelihood of ISIS ideology finding acceptance amongst Kashmiri youth. 

The separatist leadership, intelligentsia and civil society have already rubbished this probability by contending that our inimitable cultural values and strong social bonding would never allow ISIS type of ideology to take roots here. They also claim that radicalism has no place whatsoever in Kashmir which has a long history and tradition of religious tolerance. However, the fact remains that when despite blatantly violating Islamic teachings, the ISIS is still drawing hordes of volunteers from all over the world, then how can any reasonable person ever conclude that ISIS ideology would find no takers in Kashmir?  

We all talk of being equal stakeholders in the Kashmir dispute and want our representation in any dialogue concerning its future. However, while we remain so concerned about something that has not even been accepted in principle, what are we doing about things in Kashmir that are very much in our hands? We accuse New Delhi of misleading the international community regarding the real character of the ongoing struggle in Kashmir but take no action to curb violent activities that are maligning the movement for the right to self determination. In trying to conceal our own failings by blaming others has been going on for too long in Kashmir we are only deceiving ourselves!

When was it the last time that someone with influence over the masses took positive steps for curbing violence during protests? Yes, in 2009 Jamiat-i-Ahlihadis president Moulana Showkat Ahmad Shah did so. Asking, How can we as Muslims declare lawful what our revered Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has declared unlawful? Shah went on to clarify that If anyone has argument in the light of holy Quran and Sunnah to prove stone pelting as a lawful act in Islam, he should come forward with it, I promise that I will take my words back and tender an apology. 

Though no one came forward to debate this issue, from the reactions that Shahs views evoked it became amply clear that many people were not happy with what he had said. Hurriyat (G) chairman SAS Geelani defended stone pelting by saying that “People throw stones when they are showered with the bullets. Under no circumstances can bullets be the answer to stones in a civilised state.” Dukhtaran-e-Milat chief Asiya Andrabi too justified stone pelting by saying that “People in Kashmir are fighting for their freedom and have no other means but to pelt stones to register protest.” So, while Shahs appeal asking people to desist from stone pelting fell on deaf ears, this solitary voice of reason was forever silenced in a bomb blast and no one has spoken again on this issue!

Media reports that militancy has once again started attracting Kashmiri youth in large numbers are disturbing as any swell in the intensity of armed resistance would proportionally increase freedom fighter fatalities. If this could get us azadi or for that matter, even set the stage for the same, then it would have been most welcome. Unfortunately, unlike the bygone eras, today armed resistance can no longer topple governments anymore. So, it is time to introspect and even though it may sound odd, but one may find something worth introspecting in what Udhampur based Northern Army Commander Lt Gen DS Hooda told PTI as his observations go beyond the military viewpoint and touch the human issue and realities concerning militancy. 

The General is forthright and honest in admitting that young Kashmiris are picking up the gun due to “alienation and lack of opportunity” and that these are issues which need to be addressed much more seriously rather than purely looking at the numbers- that we (security forces) have killed so many militants.” He views the spurt in numbers of those joining militancy as a tragedy since these boys get killed in encounters with security forces within days not in months as they are not very well trained. But, what really merits appreciation is General Hoodas observation that “Frankly, it is something that we need to introspect. For us (army), government here and national government, the parents and society, as to what are the reasons that the youth are going into this direction and is there some way to stop this.” 

Though it might sound blunt, but Gen Hoodas remark on militancy that Frankly, it is to bleed the young is the harsh truth that once again reminds us of our societal responsibilities and the need to prevent our youth from choosing a path that ultimately ends in their premature extinction. Violence has never done society any good and we must not forget that though it is very easy to promote, there is no way in which an ideology that glorifies or sanctifies violence can ever be controlled. Remember, how the famous freedom fighters Mast Gul (of Charar-e-Sharif fame) and Ilyas Kashmiri who both had once declared that liberation of Kashmir was their sole mission in life suddenly vanished from the scene as they found more sacred missions to pursue. Consequently, while the former joined the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and was involved in killing innocent people, the latter turned his guns on his own mentors and tried to assassinate President Mushrraf and army chief General Kayani!

So, let us not adopt an ostrich like approach by burying our heads in the sands of unjustifiable over optimism. We are seeing for ourselves how easily young people from all over the world are being lured into joining the ISIS and so to think and believe that our youth will prove to be an exception is a dangerous delusion! Therefore, instead of just relying on wishful thinking, let us take suitable actions to immunise our youth against the scourge of radicalism which is spreading across the globe like a wildfire and thereby save them and Kashmir from destruction. There is an immediate need to wean away our youth from violence by educating them on the futility of the same as acquiring a violent mindset would make them all the more vulnerable to radicalisation. 

It is time we finally wake up and smell the coffee! 

Author is a regular columnist. She can be reached at: [email protected]

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