Fault-line Kashmir

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That the militancy in Kashmir is a monolith was always questioned by security experts. Now when black flags have started unfurling in parts of Kashmir Shams Irfan revisits the rise and the factionalism that has taken the rebellion to a global level, at least ideologically

A file pic of militants in early 90s at some undisclosed location in Kashmir valley.

Almost six-decades after Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan, fired the first gunshot at Neela Butt, a small hillock now in Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK); challenging despotic Dogra ruler, guns refuse to fall silent in Kashmir since. That was in 1947, shortly before Delhi flew troops to Srinagar to help Dogra army fight tribal raiders. After the creation of Pakistan and Kashmir’s accession to India, guns fell silent for a while.

Three decades later, in May 1977, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) was formed in the United Kingdom, by Amanullah Khan. JKLF was an offshoot of Jammu and Kashmir National Liberation Front (JKNLF), a forum originally created to press for the demand of conducting a plebiscite in Kashmir.

The forum was named Plebiscite Front, which was allegedly launched at the behest of Sheikh Mohammad after he fell out of favour with Delhi. However, after Sheikh-Indira (Gandhi) accord was signed, pro-independence groups walked out of the Plebiscite Front and continued with the demand.

By 1989, after state assembly elections (1987) were rigged and Sheikh Abdullah’s son Farooq Abdullah was made Chief Minister, an armed struggle against India’s authority in Kashmir erupted. But JKLF’s first came into limelight after its members kidnapped Rubiya Sayeed, the daughter of the then Home Minister of India, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed on December 8, 1989. It catapulted JKLF, which was largely supported by expatriates of Mirpur community, to the limelight instantly.

In August 1990, one of JKLF’s known faces Mohammad Yasin Malik, who had taken an active part in 1987 elections as Muslim United Front’s polling agent, was arrested from Srinagar. In his absence, JKLF was headed Shabbir Siddiqui.

Given the popularity of JKLF, especially after they managed to get five of their members released in exchange of Rubiya Sayeed, they sought complete independence from India.

By the time Yasin Malik walked out of the jail in May 1994, the situation on the ground had completely changed.

Now JKLF was not the only prominent militant organization operating in Kashmir, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) a militant outfit that was once owned by Jamat-e-Islami was now calling the shots. Ideologically Hizb propagated merger of Kashmir with Pakistan. This put JKLF and Hizb on the collusion path as they fought for different reasons.

Formed in September 1989, under the command of Master Ahsan Dar, who was arrested in mid-December 1993, Hizb enjoyed both moral and material support from Jamat’s vast cadre base. This helped Hizb push JKLF to the corner, both in Kashmir and Pakistan. For almost a year, the internecine fighting between Hizb and JKLF was the main news killing more than 400 people, mostly militants and their OGWs.

Hizb-ul-Mujahideen

Immediately after its formation, in June 1990, Hizb’s constitution was approved and Mohammed Yusuf Shah, alias Syed Salahuddin, who had fought 1987 election unsuccessfully from Batamaloo constituency, was appointed its patron and Hilal Ahmed Mir as amir (chief).

But within a short time, there were cracks in the leadership of Hizb over differences between Jamat and non-Jamat members. This led to the split of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, with one faction led by Salahuddin and the other faction called Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen, led by Hilal Ahmad Mir.

“During the early nineties, there were over a hundred militant groups operating in Kashmir,” said Noor, a former militant who refused to give his full name, who surrendered, now living a normal life. “These small splinter groups were either under JKLF or Hizb, as these were the only dominant ideologies in Kashmir then,” feels Noor.

But with the rise of counter-insurgency groups like Ikhwan in the mid-1990s, these groups vanished as quickly as they were formed. “Most of these small militant groups had just fifteen to twenty guys and a few weapons,” said Noor. “JKLF and Hizb survived as both had strong urban and rural presence.”

In September 1995, Yasin Malik parted ways with Amanullah Khan and headed a splinter group of JKLF. Apparently, Malik, announced modus Vivendi, wanted to use “non-violent” means and engage with Delhi politically in order to achieve the goal of independent Kashmir.

With JKLF out of the combat, it was Jamat and its unofficial militant outfit Hizb that ruled with complete authority. Jamat’s vast network helped Hizb find a sizeable footing in almost everywhere including Chenab and Pir Panchal valley’s. During its peak, Hizb would operate from five divisions: central division (Srinagar); northern division (Kupwara, Bandipora, Baramulla); southern division (Islamabad and Pulwama); Chenab division (Doda and Gool in Udhampur); and Pir Panjal division (Rajouri and Poonch). “Hizb’s strength was Jamat’s moral and material support. Without them they were as good as any other militant outfit,” feels Ali, who now runs a shop. “Besides they were always in good books of Pakistan as they wanted Kashmir’s merger with it.”

However, after the formation of Ikhwan and the subsequent prosecution of Hizb militants and their Jamat sympathisers, an era of uncertainty and chaos prevailed. “There was a complete lull in militancy as government unleashed Ikhwan on Kashmiris,” feels Ali.

Jasih-e-Mohammad

But the lull was soon to be broken by a bang. On April 19, 2000, Kashmir witnessed its first suicide bombing when a car full of explosives was blown outside Army’s 15 Corp headquarters stationed at Badami Bagh cantonment in Srinagar. This attack announced the arrival of Pakistan based militant outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), into Kashmir.

Founded by Masood Azhar in early 2000, JeM drew its strength and cadre from Harkat-ul-Mujahideen – a militant organization close to al Qaeda. Azhar reportedly fought against US troops with Harkat-ul-Mujahideen fighters in Somalia. In late 1993, Azhar visited Kashmir to help strengthen newly formed Harkat-ul-Ansar, which emerged after the merger of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami but was arrested. After Azhar’s arrest in February 1994, several attempts were made to free him. Then in July 1995, a shadowy militant organization named al Faran kidnapped five foreign tourists to secure Azhar’s freedom. But with the death of all five tourists (first one in August and remaining four in December 1995), the negotiations to release Azhar and other’s reached a dead-end. In response to the killings of foreign tourists, US government designated Harkat-ul-Ansar a terrorist organization in 1997. Within days Harkat-ul-Ansar renamed itself as Harkat-ul-Mujahideen.

On December 24, 1999, both Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Azhar were back in the international news when an Indian Airlines flight IC 814 was hijacked from Kathmandu and flown to Amritsar, Lahore, Dubai and then finally to Khandhar in Afghanistan.

This helped Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, secure release of Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Masood Azhar. Reportedly, after his release, Azhar travelled to Afghanistan and met Osama Bin Laden, and it was with his blessings that he formed Jaish-e-Mohammad.

It is said that formation of Jaish-e-Mohammad was supported by three major religious schools in Pakistan: Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai of the Majlis-e-Tawan-e-Islami, Maulana Mufti Rashid Ahmed of the Dar-ul Ifta-e-wal-Irshad, and Maulana Sher Ali of the Sheikh-ul-Hadith Dar-ul Haqqania.

Unlike other militant outfits present in Kashmir, Jaish-e-Mohammad often believed in carrying spectacular attacks. In October 2001, its members attacked legislative assembly building in Srinagar killing more than 30 people, mostly civilians. Driven by Deobandi Sunni school of thought Jaish-e-Mohammad aims to unite Kashmir with Pakistan, and implement Shariah law. Jaish-e-Mohammad’s ideology is in sync with that of al Qaida and Taliban.

Recently, on December 31, 2017, two Jaish-e-Mohammad, militants stormed a CRPF group centre in Lethpora village, some 17 km south of Srinagar. The 24 hour long gun-battle left five CRPF personnel and two militants dead.

Lashkar-e-Taiba

In early 1993, when a group of twelve heavily armed militants entered Kashmir, with the help of members of Islami Inquilabi Mahaz, a militant outfit then active in Poonch, nobody read much in their arrival. They were from Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a militant wing of Jama’at-ud-Da’awa, a socio-religious organization based in Muridke near Lahore, Pakistan. Jama’at-ud-Da’awa is headed by Hafiz Saeed.

In a pamphlet titled Why we are waging Jihad, LeT charts out its ideology and strategy. The ideology includes “restoration of Islamic rule over all parts of India”. It also seeks to unite all Muslim majority regions in countries surrounding Pakistan.

With an emphasis on suicide attacks by special squads, LeT cadre follow the Wahabi school of thought. In Kashmir, LeT over the years has successfully created a network of militants, both foreigners and locals, especially in north Kashmir. After the killing of its most known commander Abu Qasim in October 2015, there was a thinking within the security grid that the outfit is finally cornered, if not wiped out. But, the rise of abu Dujana, a young Pakistani national, who commanded LeT after Qasim, was meteoric.

With LeT often blamed for attacks outside Kashmir, it is perhaps the only organization with support base across many states in India. Since the killing of Hizb’s commander Burhan Wani in July 2016, LeT has successfully spread its base from north to south Kashmir. “Earlier LeT was mostly confined to north Kashmir, but now they are almost everywhere,” said Haider, an ex-militant.

On February 6, 2018, LeT shocked everyone when it managed to free one of its members, Naveed Jatt from Srinagar’s SMHS hospital. He escaped after killing two policemen guarding him. Naveed, who is believed to have entered Kashmir in 2012, was active in Pulwama, Kulgam and Shopian districts before his arrest in September 2014. After his dramatic escape, Naveed posted his pictures on social media with Hizb’s top rank including Saddam Padder, a Burhan era militant still active in Kulgam and Shopian belt.

Since 90s, despite Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar’s pan world Islamism and global Jihad, militant outfits in Kashmir largely remained loyal to either pro-freedom or pro-Pakistan camps. But after Burhan’s killing the ground situation in Kashmir was changing fast, so were the loyalties within the militant ranks. In order to steer clear of any confusion within the ranks, Hizb announced Mehmood Ghaznavi as Burhan’s successor. Mehmood Ghaznavi aka Yasin Itoo, was Hizb’s operational commander who enjoyed Robin Hood-like cult within the ranks for successfully faking his death in 2015. He was one of the longest surviving Hizb militants active in Kashmir since 1997. But in August 2016, Zakir Musa issued his first video message where he introduced himself as Wani’s successor. It is said that Mehmood Ghaznavi was one of Zakir’s aliases! But what Zakir Musa, who left civil engineering and joined Hizb under Burhan in 2013, did later, changed the course of militancy in Kashmir forever.

After his public spat with Hurriyat, he quit Hizb as its commander and launched al Qaida’s Kashmir chapter with an aim to create a khilafat in Kashmir. His “not a political but Islamic fight” forced Hizb’s Pakistan based leadership to expel him from the outfit. But Zakir Musa, who enjoys the massive public support and following across ideological and sectarian divides, refused to budge from his pan-Islamic outlook of Jihad. Zakir Musa now heads Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind since its creation on July 27, 2017.

What once started as a fight for a plebiscite, Azaadi, or even merger with Pakistan, and was controlled by indigenous groups like JKLF and Hizb, is now dwarfed by dominant ideologies like global Jihad, Shariyat, Khilafat, Ummah, Ghazva-e-Hind etc. “It has confused an ordinary Kashmir who was simply fighting for his rights,” said Haider.

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