The world’s highly militarized zone Jammu and Kashmir region constitutes a long-running territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, which has triggered at least three wars. The region also hosts some popular militant groups like Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) & Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) which historically have been linked to elements of the Pakistani state and favor Pakistan.
In early 2016, the global terror outfit Islamic State announced its intention to expand into Indian Controlled Kashmir.Islamic State movement may have severe negative consequences in the already volatile environment of Indian Controlled Kashmir, such as increased rivalry amongst militant groups and sectarian violence, which could destabilise both India as well as Pakistan.
However, the region of J&K has long been home to numerous militant groups, with many allegedly benefiting from Pakistan’s active sponsorship or passive tolerance. Historically, such groups have tended to pursue either a separatist or a pro-Pakistan agenda, and it is only more recently that transnational terrorist outfits such as the Islamic State have attempted to infuse the Kashmiri jihad with pan-Islamist ideology. While some have shrugged off such efforts as mere propaganda, the possibility of an ISJK has generated anxiety amongst others.
The presence of Islamic State in J&K progressed gradually during 2017, starting with reports of Islamic State flags being waved during rallies and protests around the valley. While this claim is still pending official verification, Islamic State’s Amaq news agency claimed responsibility for an attack in Srinagar on November 17, 2017, which killed an Indian policeman. The militant killed in the attack, Mugees Ahmed Mir, is suspected to have been inspired by the Islamic State’s online propaganda and was found wearing an Islamic State T-shirt at the time of the attack.
In December 2017, a pro-Islamic State video in Urdu was shared via its Telegram channel, using the hashtag “Wilayat Kashmir,” in which a masked man representing “Mujahididin in Kashmir” pledges allegiance to the Islamic State and specifically invites the al-Qa`ida-affiliated group Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind to join the caliphate.
Although videos and pictures are a part of ISJK’s online effort, more substantive materials have also been produced.The more detailed writings distributed by Al-Qaraar entitled “Realities of Jihad in Kashmir and Role of Pakistani Agencies” and “Apostasy of Syed Ali Shah Gheelani and others” provide deeper insights into the nature of the jihad that the Islamic State seeks to promote amongst Kashmiris followers.
The Presence Of ISJK has not been confirmed official but it would be unwise to completely dismiss the threat associated with the potential popularity of ISJK’s ideology. ISJK’s social media campaign indicates that its goal is not to win the hearts and minds of Kashmir’s hardened militants. Rather, its pan-Islamist message and extensive use of social media suggests that ISJK seeks to inspire the new generation of tech-savvy Kashmiris who may be dissatisfied with the status quo but have yet to engage in militancy. While existing J&K militant groups do recruit locally, they also include a large proportion of fighters from Pakistani provinces outside of Kashmir.
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