Srinagar: Hundreds of Kashmiri users took to social media on Thursday to condemn the carnage that unfolded in Kabul, Afghanistan where terrorists stormed a gurdwara, packed with worshippers, and killed 25 of them. The attackers also took worshippers hostage before Afghan forces killed them and ended the siege. At least one of the victims is a child.
The attack has been claimed by Islamic State’s Khorasan Province. Mina al Lami, a specialist on jihadist media at BBC Monitoring, tweeted about the group’s claim.
#ISIS claims responsibility for a deadly attack on a #Sikh temple in Kabul. Possibly the first time IS specifically targets the Sikh community. IS’s attack of Jul 2018 in Jalalabad had targeted security forces, politicians and members of the Sikh & Hindu minority in Afghanistan
— Mina Al-Lami (@Minalami) March 25, 2020
This was followed by the fresh tweet detailing the ISIS claim that the Kabul attack was retaliatory in nature, in response the situation in Kashmir.
— Mina Al-Lami (@Minalami) March 25, 2020
Previously, Taliban had denied its involvement in the attack.
But minutes after the news appeared, hundreds of Kashmiri users flooded the internet with strong denunciations. “We Kashmiris strongly condemn such atrocities. Killing innocents in no way supports our struggle for existence,” wrote Munir Mufti, a Kashmiri user. “High time such people are identified and neutralised for centuries to come.”
Another user noted: “It was Sikhs who stood for the Kashmiri Muslims after Pulwama attack,” referring to the instances where Sikh volunteers had come to the aid of Kashmiri Muslims last year, when they faced evictions from landlords across the country and were also subjected to violence. As a means to reciprocate the generosity, Kashmiri Muslims had responded with offers of free bike rides, free medical check-ups, free hostel accommodations and even free admission in tuition centres.
Kashmiris have time and again disowned ISIS and their role is Kashmir cause. They are not us and they don’t belong to us. They are beasts and don’t belong to any religion and territory. #notinmyname 🙏 https://t.co/IU7lAKRDGt
— kabir. (@kabwrites) March 26, 2020
By Thursday afternoon, Kashmiri users were seen trending #NotInMyName on Twitter.
The fact that sikhs have been the most helpful to kashmiris and indian muslims and deserve only love but got bombs from ISIS is enough evidence that ISIS fights for anyone but muslims and islam. https://t.co/Eqc8U3tEny
— Aadil (@daraaadil709) March 26, 2020
ISIS speaks for Muslims and Islam in the same way as Christchurch killer Brenton Tarrant, who killed 51 Muslims in New Zealand, speaks for all Christians and wider Western world – which is none. #NotInMyName https://t.co/4vjqnNsLND
— Mir S (@Meenwhile) March 26, 2020
ISIS has been trying to raise its profile in Kashmir and also across many parts of the world, in the wake of the depletion of territories under its control in the Middle East. Its formal presence ended in Syria and Iraq, where the group first reared its head in 2014, last year.
In May last year, ISIS introduced a separate branch dedicated to its operations in Kashmir named Wilayat-al-Hind. The announcement happened on the same day that one of the groups’ last surviving militants, Ishfaq Ahmad Sofi of Sopore, was killed by security forces.
ISIS flags have frequently surfaced at the funeral of slain militants. In November 2017, Mugees Mir who belongs to the outskirts of Srinagar city became the first militant whose body was draped with the ISIS flag. Mir was a deserter from Tehreek ul Mujahideen (TuM), a group from which numerous cadres changed affiliation to boost ISIS presence in Kashmir.
The emergence of ISIS in Kashmir had surprisingly been timed with the reappearance of the TuM – whose role had declined during the early 2000s after many of its commanders were killed. Incidentally, many members of the ISJK killed so far during different gunfights in Kashmir have been at one point of time associated with the TuM. This also led the police to speculate whether the TuM was a shadow front designed to gradually introduce ISIS in Kashmir.
On June 22, 2018, security forces killed four ISIS militants during a gunfight at Srigufwara village in south Kashmir. They were Dawood Sofi from Zainakoot, Srinagar, Maajid Manzoor from Talangam, Pulwama, Ashraf Itoo and Aadil Hasan Mir from Srigufwara. Dawood, like Mugees Mir, had first joined TuM before he switched to the ISJK.
Recently, Delhi police raided on a house in Okhla, rounding up a Kashmiri married couple on allegations that they were affiliated ISIS’s Khorasan group – a charge their families have vehemently denied.
Kashmiri separatists have blasted ISIS in the past, saying it has no role to play in Kashmir dispute. In January last year, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq declared a day of mourning ‘Youm – e – Taqadus’ when purported ISIS supporters ‘desecrated’ the pulpit of mosque at Jama Masjid in Srinagar.
Kashmiri scholars and academics believe that even while Islam has remained an idiom of political mobilisation in Kashmir, it does not naturally translate into global jihadist ambitions. “Daesh [ISIS] has global ambitions, and by its very nature it is a perpetual war machine, which needs causes to latch on to and expand it footprints through local recruitment,” explains Muhammad Tahir, who teaches at the School of Law and Government, Dublin City University, Ireland and specialises in the Kashmir conflict.
“But, while it has had some success in a few African countries, and volatile Middle East (where it originated), Kashmir is not susceptible to its ideology because of peculiar social dynamics of Kashmir and the history and political orientation of the Kashmiri self-determination movement, which started in the early 20th century as a civil and political rights campaign under the slogan of “Responsible Government”, turned into a secular national liberation movement in the 1940s under the banner of Naya Kashmir manifesto, and after 1947 become a popular struggle for plebiscite,” he continues.
Islamist groups made inroads into Kashmir during the 1990s and attempted to blend in with the regional political movement which predates Partition. Yet, taking the religion-politics dichotomy for granted might be a slippery slope here.
“Muslims were lacking political consciousness in Kashmir and could not have been mobilised on complex political-economic grounds,” explained Altaf Hussian, a Kashmiri historian who authored the book The Making of Modern Kashmir. “Hence religion was effective instrument here. Also the Dogra state not only drew on the symbols of the Hindu religion to bolster its right to rule but also categorised its subjects on the basis of their religious affiliation. Naturally, as Muslims came to challenge it, they defined themselves on oppositional terms to it, emphasising their ‘Islamic identity.’ It continues to this day.”
Kashmir’s slide towards more radical Islamic vocabulary came as a consequence of the 1975 accord that Sheikh Abdullah signed with Indira Gandhi, which constrained his powers and bound up the former state more tightly with the Indian Union, complicating its resolution as per the UN-backed referendum.
The decision sent shockwaves across Kashmir and Sheikh, who once epitomised the politics of self-determination, became a reviled figure. His contemporaries were the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) that had no political capital at the time. They won only one seat in the 1977 elections. Yet, the JeI slowly filled this political vacuum and its armed wing Hizbul Mujahideen later managed to decimate the non-sectarian Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) from the armed arena during the 1990s when the insurgency erupted.
During the 1920s, when the Khilafat movement emerged in India, there was little to no reaction in Kashmir to the Ottoman caliphate’s abrogation, let alone attempts to restore it. As scholar Chitralekha Zutshi has noted in Languages of Belonging, “Despite the preponderantly Muslim population, the Khilafat slogan did not seem to arouse the passions it did in the other parts of British India.”
But today, smalltime groups are placing Khilafat at the centre of their political appeal. There is a more complex interplay of politics involved here than just ‘religious radicalisation.’
When this reporter inquired at the house of Ishfaq Sofi as to the reasons for his enrolment into militancy, his family alleged that the Special Operations Group (SOG) has tortured him once due to which his arm never healed. His mother also died of a heart attack in 2007, when the forces came to pick him off. In the case of Dawood Sofi, the TuM deserter-turned-IS militant, observers suspect he might have been angry over the killing of his cousin Gowhar Nazir, who was hit by bullet during a protest in 2016.
“Idiom of religion allowed political expression in the absence of political space, which was tightly controlled by the state,” Tahir says. “Even when the idiom of jihad was employed by the Kashmiri insurgency, it was a localised phenomenon, whose objectives remained confined to the framework of Kashmiri self-determination.”