What After Zakir Musa’s Killing?


Srinagar: On July 27, 2017, for the first time since the outbreak of militancy in Kashmir in 1989, Al Qaeda formally announced  establishment of its affiliate Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind in Kashmir. And its chief was a  local militant Zakir Rasheed Bhat aka Zakir Musa, who was killed in an encounter with the security forces on May 23, coinciding with the outcome of the general elections which returned the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power. Kashmir has since observed a two-day shutdown marked by the protests and the sporadic clashes. 

With Musa’s death, security agencies have declared the end of Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind in Kashmir. Musa was the last militant of the global outfit in the state, being the first one too. In between, he had been able to recruit about a dozen militants from around the Tral area of South Kashmir, his native place, who were killed over the past two years. The outfit has also not been found involved in an attack on the security forces. However, it was reported to have been behind a grenade attack in Punjab in November last year. And for a while Punjab police even claimed to have spotted him in the state. 

In fact, Firozabad and Bathinda regions were put on high alert  after  Musa was reported to have been spotted in the state. Reports claimed that he had been seen wearing a Sikh turban. Punjab police in Gurdaspur had even pasted posters of Musa to enable people to identify him.

Musa joined militancy in 2013 when he was a student of engineering at Chandigarh. He rose to become a close confidante of the slain Hizbul Mujahedeen commander Burhan Wani and was also chosen his successor. But he soon fell out with his Pakistan based superiors when he publicly disagreed with them on the goal of the separatist movement in the state. Musa wanted the goal of  the struggle to be the establishment of an Islamic government in an independent Kashmir rather than merger with what he deemed a “secular Pakistan”. 

In his then frequent audio messages he argued that only a pursuit of an Islamic caliphate qualified the Kashmir struggle as a jihad and the dying of militants in this jihad as martyrdom. He also threatened the state’s separatist political leadership for terming Kashmir movement a political struggle, saying he will chop off their heads and hang these in the city square.

But after being censored by the top Hizb leadership in Pakistan, Musa quit the outfit and decided to strike on his own. It was then that the Al Qaeda announced its presence in Kashmir with Musa as the chief. 

The announcement was made by Global Islamic Media Front, a media wing of Al Qaeda. 

“The Muslim nation of Kashmir has committed to carry flag of jihad to repel the aggression of tyrant Indian invaders and through jihad with the aid of Allah (swt) only, we will liberate our homeland Kashmir,” the Al Qaeda statement read. “For this goal, a new movement of jihad has been founded by the companions of martyr Burhan Wani (rh) under the leadership of Mujahid “Zakir Musa”  (May Allah Almighty protect him)”.

But as Gazwat-ul-Hind chief, Musa was never heard again. His audio messages stopped. Gazwat-ul-Hind hardly figured in news about the ongoing violence  in the state. That is until his death in an encounter on Wednesday. 

Will Musa’s killing be a setback for the Kashmir militancy? Unlikely. For one, he was the lone remaining militant in his outfit, others having either been killed or having moved on to join Islamic State (Daesh) which too, police recently claimed to have wiped out after killing of its last militant. The Daesh has more or less followed a similar trajectory, boasting of no fewer than half a dozen militants with an odd attack on the security forces to their credit. 

“Incidentally both outfits have lost many of their militants in the last month,” according to police claims. “But this shouldn’t make much of a difference. The outfits had little more than a symbolic presence in Kashmir”.

The militancy in Kashmir is largely led by Hizbul Mujahedin followed by Lashkar-i-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Pakistan based group which claimed to have carried out Pulwama bombing killing over 40 CRPF personnel. 

According to General Officer Commanding, Northern Command, Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh this year so far forty Kashmiri youth have joined militancy and the last year 217 youth took up arms.  

A police estimate has put the number of active militants in Kashmir Valley at around 200 and most of them belong to Hizbul Mujahedin. 

Police sources say, with local recruitment continuing, the militancy is unlikely to come to an end anytime soon and killing of Zakir Musa will not change this reality.

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