In a statement fraught with repercussions for militancy in the Kashmir Valley, Pakistan Occupied Kashmir based militant conglomerate United Jihad Council (UJC) has for the first time publicly branded Zakir Musa, the chief of the Al Qaeda affiliate in Kashmir, as an Indian agent. The UJC termed it “a deadly game” geared “to pit Kashmiri against Kashmiri”.
“Using the façade of Zakir Musa a new Ikhwan (pro-government insurgency group) is being created in the name of ISIS and Al Qaeda for the past several months. Paid Indian agents are being recruited for this brigade. They are being hailed by Indian media and impression is given these paid agents are the real heroes of the Kashmir freedom struggle,” UJC spokesman Syed Sadaqat Hussain said in a statement to a local news agency, CNS.
“Over the past few days, Indian print and electronic media is busy in cooking a cock and bull story claiming Zakir Musa’s meeting with militants who had managed to enter into Valley through the Gulmarg route. We appeal to people of Kashmir to be alert and expose such types of conspiracies”.
Hussain also said that India was “trying hard to paint the indigenous movement of Kashmir as ISIS and Al-Qaeda”.
Invoking the label of Ikhwan for the Ansar Gazwat-ul-Hind is a far-reaching comment for the UJC to make. It compares Gazwat-ul-Hind with the nineties pro-government insurgent group led by Kuka Parray which was responsible for the killings of separatist militants and became notorious for human rights excesses.
The UJC has thus decided to take the gloves off and confront Musa publicly, which is a break from its policy of restraint so far. Earlier UJC had tried to make a common cause with Musa by invoking their similar adherence to religion and the identical goal of establishing an Islamic state, something that gelled with the narrative of Al Qaeda. However, UJC commanders in Valley nuanced this goal with a recognition of Kashmir issue’s “legal, geographical, international and diplomatic foundations” which they stressed needed to be taken on board when militants formulated their policies and strategies.
Even the local commanders of the rival militant outfits Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and Jaish-e-Mohammad have been restrained in the reproach of Musa’s Islamism, stopping always short of suspecting the Al Qaeda commander’s credibility.
But Musa didn’t respond to such conciliatory overtures. His recent Eid message was trenchantly critical of Pakistan, blaming the country for withdrawing support to Kashmir militancy following 9/11 and also for letting New Delhi build the fence along the Line of Control which checked influx of militants and arms. This open bashing of Pakistan by a militant leader sat uneasily with the basic premise and purpose of Kashmir jihad whose fundamental goal has been the state’s merger with Pakistan as against the separatist politics, a shade of which demands an independent nation.
Now, it will be interesting to see how Musa will respond. And his response will determine the new equation between Gazwat-ul-Hind and Hizbul Mujahideen and possibly with Lashkar and Jaish also.
It will also be important to see how people react to Musa’s branding as an Indian agent. Ever since he parted way with the Hizb in May and later emerged as the chief of the Al Qaeda affiliate, Musa has cultivated some cult following among sections of youth. Slogans in his favour are a regular feature of the protests across the Valley. Even in the ongoing braid-cutting phenomenon, Musa-hailing slogans have been the toast of the masses.
Will UJC label make any difference? Now that the Musa’s image has been rendered ambivalent? Unlikely. On social media, reactions to his labelling have largely been critical of UJC and sympathetic to Musa.
“Musa is on Haq (right path) InshAllah,” posted one Shahzad Saleem on Facebook in response to the story.
“Anybody who takes right path in Kashmir will be opposed by many, so stay calm and #Support #ZakirMusa,” posted Shahri Shahid.
There are scores of other comments which are full of invective and abuse for UJC. The impression one gets is that the people in Valley largely trust the Musa’s bona fides. And far from UJC label doing any damage to his image, it is turning him into a victim.
This could confront UJC and the allied outfits like Lashkar and Jaish with a serious ideological challenge. More so, if Musa continues with his anti-Pakistan statements and ties the Kashmir movement in with Al Qaeda’s pan-Islamist agenda, something that also disrupts Pakistan’s stakes in the separatist struggle.
“We are watching the situation,” said a senior police officer. “Our goal is to see the end of militancy in the state. And we will carry on with our operations”.
By RIYAZ WANI