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Don't fall in that trap: Hizbul commander Naikoo takes on Al-Qaeda & Zakir Musa

Riyaz Wani | Updated on: 31 July 2017, 18:24 IST
Representational Photo: Kashmiri villagers offer prayers for a rebel over his body during a funeral procession in Pulwama, south of Srinagar, on 22 June 2017 (AFP PHOTO / STR)

Clad in a white crew T-shirt under a taut ammunition belt, when Riyaz Naikoo arrived at the funeral of the two slain militants at Tahab in South Kashmir, the crowd erupted into a sustained, deafening roar.

Holding a gun in one hand and the stick in another, Naikoo cleaved his way through the hysterical crowd to make his way to a makeshift stage. He impatiently gestured to the crowd to sit down and maintain silence.

And for a brief duration, many did obey his command. However, overwhelmed by the sight of Naikoo, the crowd was back up on its feet, raising hands and shouting slogans.

Giving up on his futile effort to force some calm, Naikoo raised some slogans and then launched into a short, furious speech which was significant for his rejection of Al-Qaeda’s recent entry into Valley under the leadership of his former colleague Zakir Musa.

Also read: Matter of ideologies: What an Al-Qaeda unit in Kashmir means for the state & for India

He cautioned the people to not “fall into the trap”, of the new jihadist discourse being worked up by Ansar Gazwat-ul-Hind, the affiliate of Al-Qaeda, as it was a bid to bring notoriety to Kashmir struggle.

“Linking our struggle with Al-Qaeda and ISIS is a strategy to defame our struggle,” he said, thereby casting aspersions on the integrity of the militants associated with the pan-Islamist organisation.

A bespectacled, clean shaven man unlike many of his colleagues who sport long beards, Naikoo was also forthright in his support for Pakistan and its flag. This challenged Musa’s denunciation of the country and his campaign against hoisting its flag during militant funerals which had recently started finding some takers among some parts of the Valley including Srinagar.

In a brazen repudiation of Pakistan and its flag.a group of youth had tossed away the Pakistan flag during the funeral of Sajad Gilkar, a militant from downtown Srinagar, who was killed earlier this month.

Instead, Gilkar’s coffin was draped with an ISIS-like flag, a rectangular piece of black cloth with the Kalima scrawled across it.

But at the Tahab funeral, the Pakistan flag was back. It covered the coffins of the two militants and was hoisted by the crowd too.

“Pakistan flag is our flag,” said Naikoo in his speech. He also sought a louder response to his slogan: “Teri Jan, Meri Jan, Pakistan, Pakistan”.

And as he left the scene, again cleaving his way through the crowd, people jostled to shake hands with him. Many rushed to hug and kiss him despite his stern rebuff to such attempts.

The real message

However, the real significance of his presence was his unequivocal disavowal of Al-Qaeda and Musa.

This is the first time that the active militants have joined the ongoing ideological tussle. Earlier, PoK-based United Jihad Council chief Syed Salahuddin had in a video statement urged Kashmiris “not to join global jihadi movement”.

“Some of our friends are playing into the hands of our enemy and trying to create a divide between people and their leadership. Our movement is an indigenous movement,” Salahuddin said.

“The freedom movement of Jammu and Kashmir has no worldwide agenda, no links with organisations like Islamic State or Al-Qaeda. Such organisations have no role in Kashmir,” he added.

This was followed by a joint statement against the pan-Islamist outfit by the separatist trio led by Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik –

“Terrorism and the freedom movement are poles apart. Our movement is local in nature and indigenous in character. International terror outfits like ISIS and Al-Qaeda are non-existent in the state and there is no role for these groups within our movement,” a joint statement issued by the trio said.

However, so far the Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar militants on the ground had stayed away from openly confronting the ideology plied by Musa. And Musa on his part also didn’t speak against them. In fact, last month he had even attended the funeral of the Hizbul commander Sabzar Bhat.

But after Musa’s formal anointment as the chief of Al-Qaeda in India, the long simmering ideological tension is out into the open.

Cause specific

However, in taking Musa on, Hurriyat and the rival militants have adopted a clever strategy. One, not to cede ground on religion to Musa, knowing well its powerful appeal among the masses.

Musa has so far invoked Islam to a great effect, attempting to transform the ongoing movement into a transcendental religious mission with a pan-Islamist goal. He has also tried to tap into the latent antagonism against Hurriyat leaders among sections of the population in the Valley.

This has built him a handy support base in some vocal groups of people disillusioned with the old, rutted ways of the separatist politics.

But now Hizbul is also playing to Islam but minus Musa’s pan-Islamist agenda. More significantly, the outfit is now directly imputing motives to Musa’s moves and tracing them to the machinations of “Indian agencies”.

Salahuddin in his recent statement even said that they had “credible information” that Indian agencies had aided the launch of Al-Qaeda in Kashmir through its “paid agents” to create bloodshed in the state on the pattern of Iraq, Syria and Palestine.

Musa has so far chosen not to respond, although Ansar Gazwat-ul-Hind, has already announced that it will come out with a detailed statement about its activities in the state.

However, with Musa’s game out into open with the launch of Al-Qaeda in Kashmir, he is on a weak wicket.

First, the Kashmiris loathe linking the Azadi movement to some worldwide agenda. Second, no political or militant actor in the state can get away with the taint of an alleged connection to an Indian agency. And even more so when such an allegation is levelled by the credible militant organisations themselves.

How will Musa respond to such allegations will become clear once the Ansar Gazwat-ul-Hind issues its promised statement.

First published: 31 July 2017, 18:24 IST