After last month’s devastating floods in Kashmir, the Valley is back on the media’s radar with discussions revolving round ISIS and its ‘potential’ connection with the region. Like their lopsided coverage during the floods, this time also the media discussions and arguments are full of sound and fury but little correct analysis.
It is true that a few ISIS flags were seen in Srinagar and this may happen in the future too. But these incidents do not mean that the terror group has/could spread its tentacles in the Valley. The militant group’s ideology is rooted in the one espoused by al Qaeda. Even though ISIS’ march in Syria and Iraq has stunned the world and its vow to kill all “infidels” should worry all stakeholders, two questions need to be answered before we jump to any conclusion: First, why would ISIS eye Kashmir? And second, how can an international terror network establish itself in a highly militarised state which is, according to the government, “free from militancy”? In the past 25 years of insurgency, there hasn’t been a shred of evidence that would suggest any connection between an international terror network and Kashmir.
Even though organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad are ideologically close to al Qaeda and the Taliban, they have always operated on their own in Kashmir. All this noise about ISIS in Kashmir is similar to that of the “concerns” raised by top Army officers some time ago when they suggested that the withdrawal of the Nato forces from Afghanistan will have an impact on Kashmir but failed to give a convincing argument about how the Taliban would make Kashmir its next battlefield. This argument was perhaps to legitimise the disproportionate presence of the Army in Kashmir and the continuance of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the Valley.
Similarly, ISIS’ threat in Kashmir is being over-estimated. The hoisting of the group’s flag is a manifestation of the deep anger and alienation the youth of the Valley harbour towards India, which TV channels often depict as “subversion”. Even during the floods, the Army’s rescue operations faced resistance as the locals do not see them as their “own Army”. From 2008 to 2010, Kashmiris have shown solidarity with the Palestinian cause and even mourned Saddam Hussein’s execution without knowing the background. Protests on issues like these only bring to the fore the youth’s political dissatisfaction. They can easily fall prey to alignments based on religion, without necessarily getting actively involved in terror networks. This is the reason why the Kashmiri youth resorted to armed rebellion but moved away when the insurgency was taken over by foreign-trained militants.
The raising of ISIS’ flags in the Valley is a result of the Centre’s decade-old policy of ignoring the political aspirations of the people. The raising of such flags does not reflect the Kashmiri’s political stand but tells a lot about the anger against the system and the alienation from the mainstream. The solution is in addressing the political problem rather than bracketing it with a particular ideology.
Shujaat Bukhari is the editor of Rising Kashmir
The views expressed by author are personal