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Zakir Musa’s rise may give terror in Kashmir a religious tilt, warn experts

LiveMint logoLiveMint 30-05-2017 Shaswati Das

New Delhi: Intelligence agencies and defence experts have warned of a “parallel, resurgent narrative of terrorism”—rooted in Islamism rather than the separatist movement—taking shape in Kashmir that could pose a serious challenge to the country.

The rise of a radical new face in the Valley, Zakir Rashid Bhat alias Zakir Musa, has not just the army but the Hizbul Mujahideen too in knots.

The backdrop to Musa’s rise is last week’s gunning down of Hizbul commander Sabzar Bhat by security forces in Tral district. His successor has been named as Riyaz Naikoo, a more moderate commander, but he faces the fresh challenge of keeping Hizbul relevant as Musa’s radical messages, preached on videos, spread across the Valley.

Musa has, since last year, been professing an ideology similar to that of the Islamic State (ISIS)—to establish the Shariat or the Islamic law in Kashmir.

Intelligence officials say Musa has already drawn overwhelming support from radicals in Pakistan who want a Caliphate established in Kashmir. Officials also add that a battle could take shape between the comparatively moderate Hizbul and the extremist Musa in the next two years and that the army could well get caught in the crossfire.

“We have evidence enough to believe that it was Musa’s men who were responsible for murdering (army officer) Lt. Umar Faiyaz (on 9 May). Even Syed Salahuddin (Hizbul chief) distanced himself and the Hizbul from Musa and Faiyaz’s murder. Musa is aiming to remove all kinds of opposition to himself including the Hizbul. Once that happens the funds will start flowing from Pakistan,” said a senior intelligence officer, on condition of anonymity.

Although Musa’s meteoric rise has taken the government and the security forces by surprise, the Indian Army is preparing to flush out militancy from the Valley. Army chief general Bipin Rawat recently defended the use of a Kashmiri as a human shield by an officer, just days after defence minister Arun Jaitley said in New Delhi on 24 May that the army had the freedom to conduct operations in Kashmir as they thought fit.

The government, on its part, is confident of containing Musa.

“General Rawat had consulted with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the defence minister on the Kashmir issue. The army is confident that before the passes close in the winter, the 300-odd militants in the Valley—primarily leaders like Zakir Musa and Riyaz Naikoo—will be eliminated,” said a senior government official, requesting anonymity.

While Rawat’s words have the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in Kashmir worried, experts said it was imperative to stop treating the Hurriyat as well as stone-pelters with kid gloves.

“We need to circumvent the Hurriyat completely. It’s an unelected organization that was set up by the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) in Pakistan and we need to stop legitimizing them. As for stone-pelters, if they hinder an ongoing encounter against a terrorist, then the Indian Army will treat them as over-ground workers too,” said Major Gaurav Arya, a former army officer and defence analyst.

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