Kashmir turmoil: Proxy war is only means to an end

Brig Anil Gupta
The latest revelation of the Pakistani Terrorist Bahadur Ali alias Saiffullah, who was captured alive by the Security Forces (SF) in Kupwara sector, that he had met Hafiz Saeed twice in the Muzzafarabad training camp has cleared all the mist surrounding the recent Kashmir turmoil. The involvement of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), a jihadi terror organisation, in the current impasse has been established beyond doubt. A close scrutiny of the videos featuring Hafiz Saeed that have gone viral on the social media and his interviews to the Pakistani media have established the fact that he is the organiser in chief of the current turmoil. His revelations that include; talking with Burhan Wani and latter’s admission that “he is ready to die” a few days before the Kokernag encounter in which he was killed, telephonic call from Ashiya Andrabi seeking help from Hafiz Saeed and Pakistani brothers and plan to help being finalised in just three days by the LET, presence of an Amir of LET in the funeral procession of Burhan Wani, seeking of Indian visa by Jamat-ud-Dawa (JUD), a cover outfit of LET, for carrying out relief operations in Valley and collection of donations in name of Kashmiris by JUD volunteers in Pakistan are indicative of the level of involvement of LET in the ongoing unrest in Kashmir Valley. LET as mentioned earlier is a jihadi terror organisation embedded with Salafi-Wahabi ideology and subscribes to the philosophy of establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. Pakistan’s ISI is the main facilitator and coordinator for the fulfilment of this ambitious aim of the jihadists. The proposed caliphate in South Asia is referred to as Caliphate of Khorasan. In order to achieve this aim ISI has postured its resources strategically. While Afghan-centric terror outfits like Haqqani network, ISIS and Afghan Taliban operate from Khyber-Pakhtunwa, India-centric outfits operate both from the Western and the Eastern borders with India, with organisations like LET and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) operating from Punjab and POJK and ISIS, Al Qaeda in South Asia operating from Bangla Desh. ISI has succeeded to straddle India from both flanks with the western flank more active in the current scenario.
Zia-ul-Haq, the Pakistani dictator, is credited with radicalising Pakistan and its Army. He is the author of the strategy of ‘bleeding India through thousand cuts’ and is the mastermind of ‘Operation Topaz’ launched by Pakistan in 1989 to destabilise India. Kashmir was chosen as the battle ground and designated as the centre of gravity, ISI was designated as the agency to supervise the operation. It all began with fuelling an insurgency followed by a proxy-war. One of the major components of Operation Topaz was the radicalisation of Kashmir, while the Indian nation remained busy in fighting the proxy-war. Pakistan slowly and gradually unleashed its systematic campaign of radicalisation. While the SF were busy in anti-terrorist operations and the proxy-war, the state apparatus failed to appreciate the ominous threat of radicalisation launched simultaneously by the ISI. With the emergence of global terror outfits with the avowed aim of establishment of Islamic Caliphate, ISI also shifted the goalpost in Kashmir by including total Islamisation of Kashmir as the end result with the hope that an Islamised Kashmir will naturally be attracted towards Pakistan.
Unfortunately, despite enough indicators the emerging threat continued to be ignored or underestimated. We failed to realise that the proxy-war is only a means to an end and not the end itself. Post 2010, there was decline in cross-border terrorism but raising of Pak flags, celebration of independence day of Pakistan, anti-India tirade by Hurriyat leaders, rise of a new cult of local terrorists and unfolding of new wave of militancy referred to as ‘New Militancy’ became more pronounced. Simultaneously, the Kashmiri landscape and social milieu was undergoing another type of change, Sufism was gradually side lined by the radical Salafi-Wahabi Islam coupled with mushrooming of mosques and madarsas (religious seminaries) with liberal funding of petro-dollars from Saudi Arabia and a few European nations duly sponsored by ISI. Zia was laughing in his grave as he could see his dream of radicalising Kashmir come true and ISI top brass was patting itself on the back for inching closer to the ultimate aim of establishing an “Islamic State” in Kashmir.
Has the present situation taken us by surprise? Did we fail to anticipate? Were we too divorced from the ground reality or as usual we are going to blame the intelligence apparatus for its failure. The answer is in the negative. There were enough indicators especially after the emergence of ISIS and declaration of the Islamic caliphate by its then chief Baghdadi who gave himself the title of Caliph. Defence analyst Alok Bansal had warned, “No doubt, it’s a major concern in terms of the country’s internal security. The IS jihadists have already announced a war in future from the soil of Khorasan that includes India. For the IS, their ultimate battle for global jihad will be on this land of Khorasan. They have also talked about Kashmir. The unfurling of IS flags will give a boost to the radicalisation in Kashmir valley, as more number of educated youth are joining militancy.” “It’s a matter of serious concern for Indian intelligence and internal security. The unfurling of IS flags doesn’t mean that they have made penetration in India, but it’s going to have an impact on local militants in Kashmir, who have been trying to control the valley since long. ISI through the Hurriyat leaders has been successful in creating disturbances in the valley.
The IS flag is symbolic for the youths who are attracted to the IS ideology of brutal extremism,” counter-terrorism analyst, Anil Kamboj had said.
Even the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval after his visit to Srinagar to take stock of the situation arising out of the unrest due to burning of an ISIS flag had observed that the situation in Valley is not normal and radicalisation of educated Kashmiri youth by the militant outfits is a matter of great concern.
Despite all this the state government and the central Home Ministry remained in constant denial mode. Perhaps, they were looking for ISIS presence in the Valley ignoring the fact that waiving of ISIS flags was only symbolic yet an indicator of ‘take over’ of Kashmir by the Salafi-Wahabi radical Islamists thus pushing to oblivion the Sufism and Kashmiriyat, the hall-mark of a tolerant Kashmiri society that gave supremacy to cultural identity over religious identity. Their assessment of no presence of ISIS was correct but the conclusion that there was no spread of ISIS ideology was flawed because the ISIS and Salafi-Wahabi ideologies were common except that ISIS used brutal means to enforce its will. ISI once again had succeeded in hoodwinking our intelligence apparatus. Unfortunately, they ignored the fact that presence of ISIS was not mandatory because all jihadi terror outfits shared the common goal of ‘establishing supremacy of Salafi-Wahabi Islam’ and ISI was an important cog in the wheel of jihadi terror. ISI had also succeeded in surreptitiously passing on the mantle of leadership to radicalised educated Kashmiri youth reducing its dependence solely on the Hurriyat.
Let us come out of the misplaced notion that the current unrest in Kashmir is an outburst of expression of anger by the Kashmiris against the killing of Burhan Wani by the SF. Neither it is due to alienation of the Kashmiris because of poor governance, lack of outreach by the elected representatives nor due to trust-deficit and sense of betrayal between the youth and the government. New wave of militancy, proxy-war, mass protests and demand for ‘Azadi’ are only the means for achieving the ultimate end and that is turning Kashmir into a hegemonic Islamic state duly aided and abetted by Pakistani deep state. Even Burhan Wani’s father in various interviews to media-persons had admitted that his son was fighting for Islam. Any further delay in acknowledging the harsh reality will prove extremely dear. Hafiz Saeed is the visible face of ISI and doing its bidding. Hope that ‘Kashmiriyat may be down but not out’ also seems to have been dashed to the ground. Radical measures to de-radicalise Kashmir for honourable return of Sufism, ‘Kashmiriyat’ and ‘Insaniyat’ are needed. Freezing of foreign aids to salafi mosques, stopping the flow of ‘Hawala’ money, audit of madrasas including their modernisation and to prevent misuse of religious places for anti-national activities as well as to stop broadcasting the ‘taranas’ (songs/ballads) of ‘Azadi’ from the ramparts of mosques are some of the immediate measures required.
State has to be firm in its resolve. Half-hearted measures will only complicate the matters further. Last but not the least, the deep trust that Hafiz Saeed enjoys in the Pakistani deep state confirms complicity of the deep state. India should demand immediate UN sanctions against Pakistan and its declaration as a ‘terror state’.
(The author is a Jammu based columnist, political commentator and security and strategic analyst. He can be contacted at anil5457@gmail.com)

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