Trouble in paradise? Kashmir militants turning on each other could signal start of a new war

Hizbul Mujahideen has expelled jihadi leader Abdul Qayoom Najar over disagreements.

“The report submitted by the inquiry commission has proved that Qayoom Najar, in an utter disregard of the Hizb leadership, violated the constitution of the outfit and carried out condemnable acts. Our constitution does not allow or permit such actions,” Salahuddin said in a statement.

Analysts say the emergence of a breakaway faction could mean that a new generation of Kashmiri militants is trying to force aside the ageing separatist leadership.

The condemnable acts were unauthorised attacks against telecommunications companies that Najar’s group Lashkar-e-Islam believes are helping Indian authorities monitor militant activities. The split is worth noting, but not surprising. Actually, it could be inevitable, and just the first of many to come.

Despite presence of multiple groups including Kashmiri freedom fighters and foreign jihadis, Kashmir jihad has so far been fairly unified. This can be understood largely from the hyper-regional nature of the conflict in which there is only one primary enemy, India, and not a broader global clash as is present in other areas such as Afghanistan and Syria. However, even in Afghanistan, jihadi groups were unified for years before real splits began to appear as a result of new, younger jihadis taking issue with the strategies and ideological purity of their predecessors. Is there any reason why the same scenario should not unfold in Kashmir? Actually, Kashmir may even be also ripe for trouble.

Daesh JUD flags at Jamia Masjid SrinigarAt recent protests at Jamia Masjid Srinigar, black flag of Daesh began appearing alongside Jamaat-ud-Dawa flags. This is an important development. JuD has long been establishment’s preferred proxy due to its reliance for funding and resources, but there have always been problems controlling other groups that had alternate resources available. A similar problem has already erupted in Afghanistan where Mullah Omar’s Taliban is facing existential challenge from Daesh who sees it as compromised and not true to its vision of Islamic rule. We have already seen a key proxy in Afghanistan turn to Daesh, is there any reason to believe that assets in Kashmir are immune from the same?

This is why using jihadi proxy groups as strategic assets is a self-defeating plan. We may think we have control over them, but that control is an illusion as has been proven time and time again. Jihadis have been able to keep pressure on India in Kashmir, and we have convinced ourselves that they are going to help Kashmir become part of Pakistan. It is not clear that the jihadis are convinced of that, though. As any influence with thought we had over jihadis in Afghanistan slips through our fingers, we are seeing that same influence slipping in Kashmir. The outcome that must be feared is that we become encircled not by India, but by jihadi militants who see Pakistan as the ultimate jewel in their imagined Khalifat. And it will be a threat of our own making.

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