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New cloud over Jammu & Kashmir?
Reports of Islamic State and Al Qaeda becoming active in the State require serious global attention
One of the three terrorists killed by the security forces in Anantnag, Kashmir, on March 12, has been identified by Telangana police as a Telugu radicalised by Islamic State (IS) ideology through the social media and had ventured forth to participate in the IS' terrorist activities. This has reportedly given credence to the statement made by it — as well as the Al Qaeda (AQ) — that the three belonged to its ranks. Though Jammu & Kashmir police has been denying for some time that either organisation was active in the State, stone pelters and other trouble-makers in Jammu & Kashmir have been increasingly waving IS and AQ flags during demonstrations and rioting.
The fact is that the IS, in particular, has been gaining in strength though not as fast as many would think. According to reports, between 7,000 to 8,000 persons are under its influence. 52 out of the 64 arrested by the National Investigation Agency in all terror-related cases from January 2015 to January 2017, had links with it. Of these, 12, 11 and 10 were arrested from Maharashtra, Kerala and Telangana respectively. About 50 are said to have left India to fight in jihad the organisation had been waging.
Given the unrest in Jammu & Kashmir, the fear that the IS and AQ would quickly attract substantial followings in the State would seem warranted, particularly since a high percentage of those arrested have had formal education, which can enhance proficiency in propaganda work and engineering terror strikes. Besides, IS has been ousted from Syria and Iraq — and AQ from north Africa and west Asia — over which it had come to control. Both have to find new areas to operate from or perish. The inevitable question is: How far are they likely to succeed?
Three questions arise here. How would IS and AQ's respective efforts affect their mutual ties that are already murderously hostile? What impact would these have on the continuing violence in the State and the lives of its people? What can the government do in these circumstances? As is well-known, the IS and AQ have been intensely hostile to each other and their conflicts have been marked by numerous and savage killings by both sides. There is no reason why things will be different in Jammu & Kashmir.
Besides, both IS and AQ will have to contend with organisations like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Hizb-ul Mujahideen (HuM), which are already involved in cross-border terror strikes in Jammu & Kashmir. There is likely to be the conflict since these have been spawned by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate — and are its tools — while both IS and AQ are intensely anti-Pakistan, which is unlikely to countenance their growth there.
Commonplace wisdom suggests that conflict between the IS and AQ, and between each of them and Pakistan-sponsored terrorist outfits, would work to the Government's advantage as it will leave all of them weakened. It, however, would be unwise to accept it without reservation. Conflict among these organisations and the need to attract support by each by projecting itself as the most uncompromising organisation against the Government, will raise the level of violence and horrendously escalate the general level of violence in the State.
Assuming that such a conflict will undermine each of the organisations, it would be tempting to believe that the Government should do no more protect its own establishments and the public utilities and let the terrorist outfits bleed one another. It, however, is also possible that one of them-alone or in the alliance — can emerge victorious from the savage churning and confront the Government as the sole adversary, much stronger than any before.
The first task is to prevent this from happening. For this, there should be an adequate deployment of security forces and the framing of an effective strategy to aggravate the mutual hostilities among the terror outfits and preventing any one of them to assume a position of supremacy.
Also, the flow of funds and weapons and explosives need to be stanched. This would require sharp vigil along the Line of Control and the international border between Jammu & Kashmir and Pakistan, besides blocking clandestine flow of funds through the clandestine channels like hawala. Further, Islamist propaganda should be theologically countered, showing how IS and AQ's views go against Islam itself. And, of course, everything should be done to prevent a sense of victimhood from spreading among India's Muslim population.
(The writer is Consultant Editor, The Pioneer, and an author)
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