From Kandahar To Kashmir – Al-Qaeda’s Hints At Shifting Terror Base To J&K, India

In its latest edition of Nawai Afghan Jihad, the online publication of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the terror outfit has outlined plans to rename the magazine as “Nawai Ghazwa-e-Hind” – a move as per experts points out to al-Qaeda’s decision to focus on India, especially Kashmir.

Ever since the “peace deal” between the United States and Taliban was signed, Indian security forces have warned the Indian establishment of an increase in the level of insurgency especially in the new Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

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On the backdrop of the US-Taliban deal of February 29, which was referred to as a “magnificent victory” by the al-Qaeda affiliate in the Indian subcontinent AQIS, an organization which has struggled to gain a foothold in the region, comes the plan of the organization to focus on Kashmir and India in a special edition of its magazine.

The latest edition of Nawai Afghan Jihad, the online publication AQIS, outlined plans to rename the magazine as “Nawai Ghazwa-e-Hind” – a move that experts said pointed to the terrorist group’s decision to focus on India, especially Kashmir. The formation of AQIS was announced by al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in 2014.

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The 135-page magazine also included an article titled “Kandahar to Doda: The season of hopes, purportedly written by a Kashmiri man named Mohammed Shakir Trali, that spoke of AQIS’ efforts to strengthen its presence in Kashmir and made tacit references to last year’s revocation of the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir.

In its latest issue, the magazine says it would rename itself as Nawai Ghazwa-e-Hind from the next edition and includes alleged “atrocities” in Kashmir and the killing of terrorists Zakir Musa, the founder of the Indian edition of al-Qaeda called Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind by Indian security forces in May 2019.

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The article has also claimed that in spite of the internet shutdown, imposed last August, AQIS leaders and cadres had overcome difficulties to regroup and mobilize and outlines the group’s efforts to propagate Islam in the subcontinent and wage jihad for “suppressed Muslims”. It also spoke of the need to retain the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan for the success of jihad in the subcontinent.

But why would al-Qaeda focus on Kashmir now and will the outfit gain foothold in Kashmir? The answer is not simple.

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An agreement between the US and Taliban means hundreds of jihadi mercenaries are jobless. This bunch of jobless Taliban mercenaries, controlled practically by Pakistan, may find their new destination in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India.

The reason behind Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind’s entry in Kashmir was because of Al-Qaeda global’s weakening and a theological difference of opinion among the militants over the larger rationale of their willingness to die for a cause.

Slain Al-Qaeda terrorist Zakir Musa who was formerly associated Hizbul Mujahideen was one of the disenchanted terrorists to raise his dissatisfaction with the goal of his former outfit. He questioned the motive behind fighting for the freedom to establish a secular state and refused to fight for such a cause.

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He also threatened to chop off the heads of the leading separatist politicians and hang them in the city square should they continue to call Kashmir a political struggle. Pakistan-based terror groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed often invoke the concept of Ghazwa-e-Hind, or holy war against India, that they claim is derived from the “hadith” or sayings of Prophet Mohammed. However, some Islamic scholars have disputed the interpretation.

But on July 27, 2017, al-Qaeda formally announced it was establishing an affiliate in Jammu and Kashmir called Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind headed by the 23-year-old former Kashmir commander of the pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen, Zakir Musa who was gunned down by Indian security forces in May 2019.

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In a press release issued then both in English and Urdu, titled “Statement No 1,” al-Qaeda said that “the jihad in Kashmir has entered a stage of awakening.” It said that the “Muslim nation of Kashmir” had committed to carry the flag of jihad to repel the aggression of tyrant Indian invaders and to liberate Kashmir with the aid of Allah only.  However, for almost all of its troubled existence, Jammu and Kashmir has never found takers for a pan-Islamist religious ideology.

But history has shown that turf wars are common everywhere and are no exception for terrorist groups who fight tooth and nail for a greater share of not just ideological space but also for territorial space. Al-Qaeda’s announcement was promptly rejected by the longstanding militant outfits in the state, like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and Hizbul Mujahideen who although espouse an Islamist outlook, are not global and were founded primarily to take on India in Kashmir – to liberate the state from India and merge it with Pakistan.

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It is here that the fault lines are deeper because barring Al-Qaeda all the three terror outfits thrive in large part because of the struggle between Pakistan and India over Kashmir. They have taken a position against al-Qaeda and the self-proclaimed Islamic State, accusing them of being takfiris, or of unjustly declaring fellow Muslims to be apostates in order to justify their slaughter.

In a statement in July, LeT’s Valley chief Mehmood Shah laid out these charges against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. He said, “All they have done has just greatly affected the Muslims and brought upon them the injustice, brutality and oppression.”

For its part, Hizbul Mujahideen took an even harder line, saying al-Qaeda’s entry into Kashmir was “an Indian intelligence operation.”

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Analysts have questioned AQIS’ capabilities. “Al-Qaeda first mentioned India as a target in 1996, when Osama bin Laden made a reference to Jammu and Kashmir and Assam,” said Ajai Sahni of the Institute for Conflict Management. “Since then, it has not been able to achieve anything significant in both these states.”

In 2019 the Ministry of Home Affairs told Parliament that compared to infiltration in 2018, the number had come down by 43%, recruitment of local Kashmiris by terror groups is down by 40% and there is a hike in the number of terrorists killed by 22%.

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Pondering over the above facts it is unlikely that the Al-Qaeda affiliate will gain a foothold in Kashmir as there is nothing in common between the organisation and its nature of movement vis a vis Kashmir. But still, it will be important for security agencies in India to watch how the organization pans out.

Inputs from the Hindustan Times