Is there an ISIS in Jammu and Kashmir?

New Delhi: It does not take long or very much for peace to be disturbed in Jammu and Kashmir. Till mid-summer, the feeling was one of peace with tourism in full swing, hotels fully booked and flights packed with tourists. Suddenly it began to change. In June ISIS and Pakistani flags made an appearance once again. The last time when ISIS flags appeared in Srinagar was in June last year.

Recent incidents following the burning of the ISIS flag by Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal in Rajouri activists are a case in point. The Rajouri incident has led to a chain of protests by Muslim youth and events that have threatened to get out of control.

The Army has been called out to carry out flag marches. Angered youth were protesting against the burning of the ISIS flag saying they were offended because the flag has the Kalimah Tayyiba (or the Shahada) scribed on the flag. Their contention was that as it is the flag was made out of ordinary paper with the inscription done with a chalk. This was enough cause for tension and the burning of the flag on Eid was further aggravation.

The demand in Rajouri is that the matter be investigated and the accused apprehended by Monday otherwise there will be a bandh in the entire district. In anticipation youth have been assembling and raising road blocks by burning tyres. The VHP has asserted that there was no intention to hurt Muslim sentiments.

Pakistani flags along with those of Lashkar-e Tayyaba and ISIS had appeared in different parts of the Kashmir valley earlier this month after Eid prayers. This phenomenon by itself is not new and many take it in their stride. However, the ISIS phenomenon is relatively new. Kashmiri youth had unfurled the ISIS flag even last year but what makes it more ominous is the beliefs of ISIS, its leadership, its rapid successes and its tactics.

ISIS can be traced back to its original form in 2002 when the Jordanian ex-Al Qaeda associate, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had formed his group Tawhid wal-jihad. Later it transformed into the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or Daesh,(aka Dawah al-Islamiyah fi I 'il Iraq was sa-Shams) led by the mercurial Abu Bakr el-Baghdadi who dramatically announced the formation of the Caliphate of the Islamic State in the summer of 2014.

This marked a break with Al Qaeda too. The ISIS hold is marked by unimaginable brutalities towards non-believers and other Muslims seen to have wavered from the puritanical interpretations and of the ISIS ideologues. The ISIS has been responsible for extreme violence throughout the month of Ramzan. ISIS now holds territory, holds oil wells and their revenue and considerable weaponry snatched from Iraqi and Syrian armies. It was reported to have received assistance from the Saudi Arabians and the Emirates and Qatar.

The ISIS now constitutes a grave threat not only to its neighbourhood but also beyond as far as Algeria in the West, into Africa up to Nigeria and up to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The ISIS is fast becoming the major and immediate threat to those it considers its opponents. Such organisations like the ISIS operating outside their own territories need local support.

It is believed that ISIS may have local support in southern Afghanistan and in Balochistan. The Baloch, however, allege that groups have been sent by the Pakistani state to counter rising nationalist sentiment. The US now believes that Pakistani assistance would again be required to tackle ISIS in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Pakistan, with its innumerable terrorist organisations, some of them now working on their own, would provide enough fertile ground for organisations like ISIS to thrive within and spread outwards from here. It must be remembered that Al Qaeda leadership is still based in the FATA of Pakistan from where it continues to give directions.

The ISIS flag has the same banner as the flag of Boko Haram, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - Shahada or Kalimah Tayyiba. This has alarming implications. Any inadvertent taking down of the flag would be deemed as an affront. The display of the ISIS flag in Srinagar in the past would be a cause for some concern in the Indian security establishment.

At one end it may be seen as an attempt to seek attention by a group of angry and disgruntled youth but no security establishment will assume that to be the final truth. There may never be any direct evidence of ISIS involvement but sympathy to the cause, a desire to express anger against New Delhi and the tendency of Pakistan to fish in troubled waters will always be factors. The goals seeking vague solutions or demands like sovereignty or independence, can easily be mixed with demands for a caliphate as the Kashmiri youth tends towards radical beliefs.

Many Kashmiris, however, point out that Kashmir and Jammu have been witness to atrocities of the ISIS kind in the past. It all started in the winter of 1989 with gruesome killings of the Hindus in the Kashmir Valley, including brutalities like the Lalru bus murders, and the acts of Bitta Karate, Noor Khan, Mushtaq Lutrum, and Yasin Malik still remembered with horror. Hizbul Mujahedeen terrorists pumped scores of bullets into Lassa Koul of Doordarshan and left him to die on the streets of Srinagar. Mohammed Shaban VAkil had to pay with his life for his views.

ISIS flags and slogans may be useful to attract attention but they are not good news for those very people who want to use these slogans. Kashmiris need to see what has been happening to the Syrians, Yezidis, Kurds, and Shias because they follow a different Islam. The ISIS may not have arrived but possibly the thought has begun to flicker. The security agencies would be concerned.

The views expressed in the above article are that of Mr. Vikram Sood, former Secretary R and AW, Government of India, and currently an adviser to the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation.

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