The latest worrisome developments in Kashmir Valley are sons of separatists joining terrorist groups and the oft-repeated incidents of not only waving of the black Islamist State (ISIS) flags but also of persons wearing black dresses and draping the dead bodies of slain terrorists with the ISIS flag. Junaid Ashraf Khan, 28,the son of Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai, the newly elected chairman of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, is reported to have joined Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), the Kashmiri terrorist group raised and supported by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). His photograph, brandishing an AK-47 rifle went viral on social media recently. This is the first time that the son of a senior separatist leader of the stature of Sehrai has joined terrorism in Kashmir.

Junaid, an MBA from Kashmir University, hails from Tikipora village in Kupwara, as does his friend Mannan Wani, an AMU Ph.D student who recently joined HM. While HM, headed by Syed Salahuddin draws its cadre mostly from the disaffected Jamaat-i-Islami group in Kashmir, it has of late, cashing in on the wave of radicalisation in the Valley, been enhancing its recruitment drive to target well educated youngsters to join its ranks. Pakistani terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) have also been able to tap the category of well educated Kashmiri youth hailing from the ‘infested’ parts of the Valley.

Sehrai, 72, considered to be more of a hardliner than his predecessor Syed Ali Shah Geelani, was recently elected chairman of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, following Geelani relinquishing this post after 14 years. Geelani was the founding chairman of Hurriyat since it was formed in 2004, while Sehrai was its general secretary. How will Junaid Ashraf’s move affect the sons of other senior separatists studying/working overseas? A raging debate over whether Islamic State really exists in Kashmir has taken social media by storm over the last few weeks. The tipping point was the funeral of Eisa Fazli, a militant who was allegedly inspired to follow Islamic State’s ideology last year, and whose body draped with black flags was paraded near his Srinagar home for photographers in what looked like a carefully scripted act.

One bit of hope that has emerged is that never before in recent times has the Valley’s intelligentsia, political leadership and citizenry come out in a single voice to denounce the Islamic State ideology taking roots in Kashmir. While this constituency of speakers bold enough to do so in full public view must be encouraged and attempts must be made to swell their ranks, those espousing the terror group’s murderous ideology under anonymity, using fake profiles, like how a group of masked men hijacked Eisa’s body to make a spectacle out of it, must be sought out and sorted out without fail.

For two years, protesters around the same Jamia Masjid used Islamic State’s flags to attract television crews and chide security forces, but never before was this phenomenon taken so seriously by people as it is being taken today on social media. Who are these rabble-rousers who want to push Kashmir into the Islamic State’s lap? Who were those masked men who hijacked the funeral of Eisa Fazili in Srinagar?

J&K also faces a huge challenge from the intense shelling along the Line of Control in which innocent civilians have lost their lives and the increasing numbers of foreign (almost all Pakistani) and local terrorists in the Valley. The fact that despite radicalisation, the Army’s various programmes and actions under Operation Sadbhavana to win hearts and minds have been receiving quite a response as have recruitment rallies by the Army and Central Armed Police Forces, indicates that there are still sane sections in the Valley and that there is some hope against all the radicalisation.

While radicalisation needs to be relentlessly countered by the same social media which has been used to spread it, raising the consciousness of parents losing their sons to recruitment by terrorist organisations, a move which has resulted in some success, must also be continued vigorously. And most important, as relentlessly repeated by this writer, is that separatists, their network and all those vociferously ranting anti-India slogans, waving Pakistani/ISIS flags etc, must be rendered ineffective/jailed in prisons of states well away from J&K.

Lt Col Anil Bhat

Col Anil Bhat (retd) is an independent defence and security analyst he is also an Editor at Word Sword Features

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