Kashmir is potentially attractive to ISIS, with a large community of radicalized youth, mountainous territory, and a long-established insurgency that could potentially be co-opted
The ongoing conflict in Kashmir is a tempting prospect for global Islamic militant groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda, according to an American journalist and writer.
“For more than two decades several domestic militant groups, demanding either independence for Kashmir or for the area to become part of Pakistan, have fought Indian security forces. Now, into this volatile mix comes a new, potentially more significant threat: al Qaeda and ISIS,” writes Tim Lister in an article on CNN’s blog on Tuesday.
ISIS first declared its intention to move into Kashmir in 2016, describing it as part of its Khorasan province. But only in the past few months have there been the first signs of activity there.
In February, ISIS claimed the killing of a police officer in Srinagar through a Telegram channel called ‘Kashmir Villayah.’ It was the second ISIS claim in Kashmir in three months. In November, the Qaraar media outlet claiming to represent the “mujahideen of the Islamic Caliphate in the gateway of India” posted a photograph of a militant, Mugees Ahmad Mir who was killed in an attack in Srinagar that left a policeman dead. At his funeral, the militant’s body was wrapped in an ISIS flag.
Lister writes that officials in New Delhi have flatly denied that ISIS exists in Kashmir. But there is concern that ISIS’ ideology may attract Kashmiri youth.
Lister quotes Amira Jadoon of the Combating Center at West Point who says that unlike their predecessors of the 1990s, this generation of Kashmiri youth is educated and highly active on social media, a powerful recruitment tool for the Islamic State.
“Militant cells in Kashmir benefit from widespread support among young Kashmiri men. On several occasions in recent months, hundreds of them have pelted security forces with stones in an effort to shield militants. The situation has been exacerbated by the lack of any political progress on Kashmir’s future,” writes Lister who has covered international news for 25 years as a producer and reporter for the BBC and CNN and has worked in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“Two Pakistan-based groups – Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed — have long been the main jihadi networks in Kashmir, and they are viscerally opposed to ISIS. No surprise, perhaps, that the pro-ISIS media outlet al-Qaraar has urged Muslims to abandon these groups and wage “pure jihad” under its banner, while describing Pakistan as an “enemy of Islam.”
“ISIS may find it difficult to challenge the Pakistan-based groups because — in the eyes of the US and other western governments — they enjoy the support of Pakistani military intelligence,” writes Lister.
He says Kashmir is potentially attractive to ISIS, “with a large community of radicalized youth, mountainous territory, and a long-established insurgency that could potentially be co-opted.”
Now that it has lost virtually all its territory in Iraq and Syria, ISIS is looking for areas in which to regenerate, from the Philippines to Pakistan to West Africa (as well as inside Iraq), he says. It has established a presence in Afghanistan, and across the border in the Pakistani province of Balochistan. On Monday, it claimed responsibility for murdering four Christians in the Balochi capital, Quetta.
“Preventing ISIS from establishing a foothold in the region would be one of the very few things on which India and Pakistan could agree,” Lister adds.