Don’t you call us ISIS

  • Publish Date: Jun 11 2017 3:09PM
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  • Updated Date: Jun 11 2017 3:09PM
Don’t you call us ISIS

In Valley, being Islamic or secular is incidental to a struggle that is taking a daily humanitarian toll in terms of the lives lost and the economy of the state


The deportation of a Kashmiri youth Afshan Pervaz from Turkey for allegedly trying to join ISIS has come handy for some sections of the media in India to raise alarm about the changing ideological direction of the Kashmir movement.

A Kashmiri youth and an ISIS association fits snugly into a longstanding narrative in the country that tends to see Kashmir through Islamist prism for its massive propaganda value.

In fact, ‘Islamist’ has become such a handy term to describe any Muslim struggle in the world. It is one of the important pillars of the phraseological construct conveniently manufactured after 9/11 to make a sense of Muslim affairs. In fact,  there are two such terms doing the hectic rounds: ‘Islamic’ and ‘Islamist’. But it is Islamist which now more or less rules the description in comparison with its slightly more moderate but by  no means perceived to be desirable, ‘Islamic’. 

Over the past many  years the term Islamist has been subject to such overuse that hardly any major Muslim upheaval around the world has escaped this absolutist definition. And Kashmir, as is the case, is no exception. This is despite the fact that Kashmir as an unalloyed  political problem predates by far the 9/11, Iranian revolution and other prominent Islamist movements before that and survives as an abiding legacy of the end of the colonial era in the world. But first let us see if the ISIS has any connection with the ongoing movement in Kashmir. If we go by the number of Kashmiris who have joined ISIS, there is no more than one – albeit shrouded in some doubt. On August 5, 2015, the then J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in reply to a question revealed that a  Kashmiri youth based in Australia had joined ISIS, the first Kashmiri to do so.  “Heard that a Kashmiri youth from Australia has joined ISIS,” Omar told reporters after inaugurating a rehabilitation complex at Jehangir Chowk area. However, he denied that anyone from Kashmir had joined the terrorist organization. “According to my knowledge, so far no one from Kashmir has joined the group or gone to Syria or Iraq. There are no such inputs.” 

The youth was later identified as Adil Fayaz Vaid from Srinagar’s upscale Jawahar Nagar locality. He had been to Australia to pursue his MBA degree from Queensland University. After finishing his degree, Vaid had told his family that he had got a job in Turkey after unsuccessfully trying to get one in Australia, Dubai and Qatar. In January, 2016, a 23-yearold  youth from Preng village of Ganderbal district Sheikh Azhar Ul Islam was deported from UAEfor being an alleged ISIS sympathiser along with two other Indians Adnan Hussain from Karnataka and Mohammad Farhan from Maharashtra. On their return, they were arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. And now Afshan Pervaz, 21, a resident of Khanyar, a downtown Srinagar locality has been deported from Turkey for allegedly trying to join ISIS. According to police, Pervaz had told his family that he wanted to go to Iran for higher studies and had

booked a seat on a flight to Tehran on March 23 from where, according to the J&K DGP S P Vaid, he had moved to Turkey.

This makes Vaid the only Kashmiri who has allegedly joined ISIS  so far – second being a sympathiser and the third caught in the act of allegedly trying to join the group. However, the families of all the three have strongly refuted the charge. The worry in Kashmir, as security experts will tell you, is not about Kashmiris joining ISIS which is seen as a highly unlikely scenario but an apprehended 

“ISIS-like turn” in the ongoing Azadi struggle. And stoking these fears is the recent ideological strain within the militant ranks triggered by the former Hizbul Mujahideen commander Zakir Musa’s branding of Kashmir movement as Islamic In Valley, being Islamic or secular is incidental to a struggle that is taking a daily humanitarian toll in terms of the lives lost and the economy of the state

Don’t you call us  ISIS 6 4 June, 2017 to 10 june, 2017 in nature. He had threatened to chop off the heads of the Hurriyat leaders  should they continue to insist that the struggle in Kashmir was  political. And on being rebuffed by the PoK based Hizb leadership, Musa quit as the commander of the outfit and hinted at striking on his own. Announcing his exit from an audio slideshow, complete with the sayings of the Al Qaeda leaders like Imam Anwar Awlaki and Abu Bakr Bashir, Musa said that although he had nothing to do with ISIS and Al Qaeda, he was not against them. But he made

it clear that he won’t budge from his stand that the goal of the Kashmir movement was the creation of an Islamic state and that he would prefer to fight its secularist champions now than after Azadi.

However, in Kashmir, Zakir’s Islamist preference became a cause for grave concern. Some of this concern was also expressed across social media where many subscribers insisted that the movement in Kashmir was essentially political and not religious.  In fact, the Facebook page “Zakir Musa ka kya Paigam, Kashmir Banega Darul Islam (What is the message of Zakir Musa?  Kashmir will become the abode of Islam)” has just eight likes.  In Kashmir, the debate about ISIS takeover of the militancy has become inherently suspect. People generally do not look at it through the prism of a pursuit of Islamist versus secular  state. In the everyday discourse, being Islamic or secular is incidental to a struggle that is taking a daily humanitarian toll in terms of the lives lost 

and the economy of the state. The only thing that weighs heavy on the minds of people is a dignified end to the problem. So, people tend to look askance at the attempts to ideologize the movement, more so, when the attempt is to bring in Islam, ISIS or Al Qaeda into the discourse.

“This is seen as a dubious move to tarnish the Kashmiri movement with a hardline Islamist label to ensure the world doesn’t warm up to it,” says the commentator Gowhar Geelani. “And people don’t like such an attempt, real or imagined”. And that is why whenever ISIS flags were recurrently hoisted by a few masked youth in downtown Srinagar, people generally suspected the hand of “Indian intelligence agencies” behind it. But when contacted by the media, some of the youth who either witnessed the hoisting of these flags or approved of the practice explained its sole purpose was to  “offend New Delhi” rather than emulate the terror  outfit about which they generally knew little. Besides, more often than not, such flag hoistings are the outcome of the attempt to draw media  attention. 

Earlier, the youth in Valley also flew flags of Lashker, Taliban, Al Qaeda in keeping with the changing jihadist trends in the neighbourhood and across the globe. And now with Al Qaeda successor 

ISIS in the ascendant, the flags of the group for a while became a constant with the new protests. For now the only thing that points to some apparent ideological shift in the militant struggle is the Islamist observations of Musa and his consequent exit from the Hizb to pursue an independent religious goal. However, according to eye-witnesses, Musa was present at the funeral of the slain Hizb commander Sabzar Bhat and he broke down on seeing the body. Has he returned to Hizb? Has there been a patch-up? Nobody knows.

However, things are likely to become clear in the weeks and months ahead. So, a sweeping Islamist label is nothing but a motivated deployment of vocabulary, rather a frame that has become unfalsifiable as it has now a predominant world-wide audience that is already converted to the belief. The belief that any Muslim struggle in any form cannot but be Islamist in nature. The job of the so called experts on Islam has, for once, become the easiest.  What is needed is to tap into a pre-existing deep-rooted global prejudice without  bothering to provide an analytic context or an accurate picture of the  everyday socio-political discourse of any  Muslim crisis being written about. A few stray incidents, even of doubtful nature, are suffice to pull  off a bunch of pre-meditated generalizations about the situation and be regarded as an objective analysis.