A serious rift has emerged within the decades-old insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir, with a top militant commander vowing to establish an Islamic system in the disputed Himalayan region and repudiating the goal of an independent nation, the Guardian reports.
Zakir Musa, the commander of Kashmir’s largest anti-India militia, has explicitly distanced himself from the 70-year-old independence movement in the valley as well as from elements who wish to merge with Pakistan, declaring his fight is “exclusively for Islam, so that Sharia law is established here”.
The pronouncements, issued in audio statements posted on social media in the past weeks, signal a growing ideological divide between Kashmir’s old guard of separatist leaders, their traditional sponsor Pakistan, and a new, social-media savvy generation of rebels heavily influenced by radical Islam.
Musa, 22, has emerged in the past year as the leading face of the ongoing militancy in the Indian-controlled section of the former princedom that was divided between India and Pakistan in 1947 and is still claimed by both.
He succeeded another militant, Burhan Wani, as the commander of the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen. Wani’s death last July in a clash with Indian soldiers triggered weeks of protests that paralysed the valley.
Protests – including some led for the first time by young women – have broken out again in past weeks and by-elections in April saw record low turnouts, pointing to deep disillusionment among Kashmiris and raising fears of another bloody summer ahead.
Musa is part of a new generation of anti-India fighters whose numbers are small – roughly 210, according to police estimates – but who enjoy strong support among the public, and whose exploits and opinions are widely shared on social media.
In a video statement circulated online in March, the bearded, softly-spoken Musa appealed to protesters such as the Pulwama students “not to fall for nationalism”. “I see that many people in Kashmir are engaged in a war of nationalism, which is forbidden in Islam,” he said.
The fight in the region should “not be for the sake of Kashmir,” he said. “It should be exclusively for Islam so that Sharia is established here.”
Another video released by the group in April went further, criticising Pakistan, a traditional source of money, militants and equipment for separatist groups in the valley.
Appropriating the slogan of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, a local branch of the terrorist group, an unnamed militant is shown telling villagers: “This war is for Sharia or shahadat.”
The militant praises the Taliban “because [it] wants an Islamic system in Pakistan”, adding: “We do love Pakistan because that country was created in the name of Islam. But there is no Islam [there] at present, so we are unhappy with it. We have to do jihad with Pakistan as well.”
The hardening position of the militant group has put pressure on older leaders, some of who took up arms during the first wave of militancy in the 1990s, but have since turned to politics to achieve their ends.
Last week the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an alliance of Kashmiri separatist groups comprising the traditional leaders of the movement, issued a careful press release that appeared to distance itself from the militants’ comments.