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Inside Kashmir's New Islamist movement

Leaders of the ongoing street mobilisation hope to lay the foundation for a new jihadist movement

August 19, 2010 01:58 am | Updated November 28, 2021 09:29 pm IST - SRINAGAR

Irshad Zargar had an explanation for the neat, bound file in his home with the names, addresses and photographs of 740 Srinagar residents: they were aspirants, he told investigators after his arrest in February, for start-up bank loans for local artisans.

But as their investigation moved forward, police say, it became clear that the dossier was in fact an organisational chart of one of the multiple Islamist networks that had spearheaded the violence in Kashmir towns this summer.

Police say they also found maps of the best place to stage clashes with police and evidence of funds being transferred from overseas. The funds had paid for the Maruti jeep Zargar used to visit cadre — fitted, ironically, with a red police beacon.

There's little doubt that the large-scale street violence in Kashmir — fuelled by urban deprivation, human rights abuses and, above all, the often-indiscriminate use of lethal force against protesters — have a reach and legitimacy that no organisation can account for. But the Zargar case shows that hard work went into building the networks that gave the protests direction and focus.

Fugitive Islamist leader Masrat Alam Bhat, his colleague Asiya Andrabi and their jailed mentor Ashiq Husain Faktoo are at the heart of the New Islamist movement that runs these networks.

Bhat has issued the strike calendars that have brought Kashmir to a standstill — and controlled the protest squads that enforce them.

Born in old-city Srinagar's Zaindar Mohalla in July 1971, Bhat studied in Srinagar's élite Cecil Earle Tyndale-Biscoe School before joining the Sri Pratap College. Like so many of his generation, he was drawn to the jihadist movement that began in 1989.

He was first arrested by the Border Security Force in October 1990 on charges of serving as a lieutenant to the then-prominent jihadist, Mushtaq Ahmad Bhat. He won a protracted legal battle in 1997 and began working at a cloth store owned by his grandfather, graduating the next year.

From 1999, though, Bhat became increasingly active in the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) — an association that cost him multiple stints in prison. He represented the Muslim League.

Founded in 1989 as a political front for former jihadists, the League's objectives, “besides fighting Indian aggression, were propagating Islamic teachings to fight out socialism and secularism, removing taghut [false leaders; traitors] rule and uprooting western ideology.”

Bhat found space under hardline Islamist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani's wing after the Hurriyat Conference split in 2003. He found an ally there in Asiya Andrabi, head of the Dukhtaran-e-Millat (daughters of the nation).

The youngest child of prominent Srinagar doctor Sayeed Shahabuddin Andrabi, 1962-born Ms. Andrabi had completed a degree in biochemistry, and hoped to study further in Dalhousie.

Forbidden from leaving home, she turned to religion. From 1982, she set up a network of religious schools and campaigned against obscenity in popular television programming.

The Dukhtaran-e-Millat supported jihadists through Kashmir's two-decade long insurgency. From 2006, Ms. Andrabi acquired increasing visibility, campaigning against an anti-vice platform.

Both leaders played a key role in organising protests against the grant of land-use rights to the Amarnath shrine board in 2008 — a communally-charged campaign that brought tens of thousands of people on to the streets.

The ideological firmament of the New Islamists, though, is Ms. Andrabi's incarcerated husband, Ashiq Husain Faktoo.

Now serving a life sentence for the assassination of human rights campaigner H.N. Wanchoo, Faktoo acquired a doctorate in Islamic studies while in prison.

Like Bhat and Ms. Andrabi, he founds his religious beliefs on the teachings of the neo-fundamentalist Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith.

Earlier this year, the New Islamists attempted to depose the Ahl-e-Hadith leader Shaukat Shah in a tightly-fought election; Shah backs Mirwaiz Farooq's pro-dialogue secessionist faction.

Long a political activist, Faktoo was led into the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen by Mohammad Abdullah Bangroo who, many years later, presided over the assassination of influential Srinagar cleric Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq — father of the present APHC chairperson, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

In 1990, Faktoo and Hilal Mir (better known by code-name Nasir-ul-Islam) broke from the Hizb to form the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen, upset with its linkages to the Jamaat-e-Islami.

Later that year, Faktoo married Ms. Andrabi — only to be imprisoned two years later. From jail, the police allege, Faktoo mentored a new generation of jihadists.

The police say he inspires two organisations — al-Nasireen and Farzandan-e-Millat — responsible for the killing of officers in August and September last.

The name al-Nasireen, a reference to the companions of Prophet Mohammad, is thought to draw on the nom de guerre of Faktoo's Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen co-founder, Farzandan-e-Millat (sons of the nation).

New foundation

In essence, the troika wishes to build a new political foundation for the jihadist movement in Jammu and Kashmir.

“You will be tired,” Bhat said in a recent release addressed to Indian forces in Jammu and Kashmir, “of killing us; some day you might be horrified at what you have done to humanity. We will never tire of struggling for our history, for our future, our freedom. We will not forgive.”

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