Jammu: The rising dissonance between Kashmiri separatists and terrorists based in the Valley on the one hand and Pakistan-based terrorist commanders and cadres in Kashmir on the other has led Indian agencies to suspect that terror masterminds across the border may be covertly planning a new terrorist organisation in J&K, with focus on ex-Hizbul Mujahideen commander Zakir Musa.
According to intelligence sources, multiple statements over the past two weeks by Musa, the self-styled successor of slain Hizbul leader Burhan Wani, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Kashmiri separatists and United Jehad Council chief Syed Salahuddin, coupled with images, videos and audio clips circulated on social media, point to “a widening conflict between key stakeholders of violence in the Valley”.
Intelligence sources told TOI Pakistan may be attempting a repeat of its Kashmir strategy of the 1990s, when the only terror organisation — the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) — was supplanted and eventually replaced by many new outfits by 1993-94.
“The case for Pakistan encouraging a new terror organisation in Kashmir, with complete deniability for itself, is strong. Musa is speaking a new anti-separatist, anti-Hizb and anti-Pakistan line, targeted at the Kashmiri youth. He is advocating ‘Islamist uprising for freedom of Kashmir’, said an officer.
On May 3-4, photographs of nine masked militants with a black flag similar to that of terror group Islamic State were displayed on social media in J&K. However, unlike the IS flag, the one in the image only had Islamic Kalima inscribed with an AK-47 insignia below —the difference, agencies believe, reflecting the desire of local terrorists to remain distinct from the IS brand.
Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba as well as PoK-based Hizbul supreme commander Salahuddin, in statements issued on May 10 and 12, respectively, denounced the images. They claimed they had nothing to do with the IS and those waving IS flags and requested parents of Kashmiri youths as well as the youths themselves to avoid such influences.
On May 8, separatists Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Yasin Malik came together to counter the impression that the Kashmir movement was going the IS way. Agencies suspect they are concerned about their declining relevance in Kashmir and are worried that their outreach to international institutions may suffer if they they get overtly linked to violence.
On May 12, Musa issued an audio message, threatening to behead separatist leaders at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk for describing the movement as a freedom struggle. He claimed the movement was totally Islamic and based on “shariah and shahadat”. Hizbul was quick to distance itself from Musa’s views.
On May 15, Musa issued another audio message, dissociating from Hizbul Mujahideen. He paid his respect to al-Qaida but made no reference to IS. He criticised those who needed Pakistan to wage their freedom struggle. India suspects Pakistani agencies were trying to rebrand Kashmir struggle as “Islamist uprising for liberation of Kashmir” since the time of Burhan Wani. It took Pakistan 10 months after Wani’s killing to reorganise the branding campaign, focused on Musa, an intelligence source claimed.