How Jamaat drives terror, shapes politics in Kashmir

Anantnag : Over a month after the February 14 Pulwama suicide bombing, a young PhD student was one among the six militants arrested for an abortive terror strike on a CRPF convoy along the Jammu-Srinagar highway. The doctoral youth, Hilal Mantoo, was an active member of Jamiat-ul-Tulba (JuT), the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), the pro-Pakistan religious organization which got banned in a massive crackdown following the Pulwama attack.

However, Mantoo’s political affiliation surprised no one in Kashmir. “It is almost a given in Kashmir that every native militant would have either direct or indirect link with the Jamaat. Hizbul Mujahideen, after all, is the armed wing of Jamaat even as it has never been officially admitted. Hizb commander Burhan Wani whose killing exposed the new age militancy in the valley, was also raised in a Jamaat household,” a senior police officer in Kashmir told the TOI.

Though the official footprint of JeI is small with just over 5600 members and is considered to be mostly a south Kashmir network, but its influence on militancy and politics in the valley with a population of around seven million Kashmiri Muslims, has been wide and deep. Incidentally, out of 5600 members, around 2500 are in the northern district of Baramulla. “Jamaat which believes in the establishment of Islamic Caliphate, rule of Sharia and Kashmir’s right to be part of Pakistan has shaped not just the separatist narrative but also radicalized youth to the extent that they are the most readily available cadre for militant organizations in the valley today,” a CPM activist in Anantnag told TOI.

Kashmir’s JeI was established by Sa’aduddin and Maulana Ahrar, a year after Maulana Maududi founded Jamaat-e-Islami in Lahore in 1941. Historically, Kashmir’s JeI has been aligned with Pakistan’s JeI, which is separate from Jamaat-e-Islami-Hind, though all claim to be extensions of Maududi’s Jamaat.

The bond between JeI Kashmir and JeI Pakistan, according to Pakistani journalist Arif Jamal, strengthened in 1983 after three years of secret meetings and negotiations in Kashmir, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. In his book Shadow War, Jamal mentions that it was at the behest of Pakistan’s military dictator Gen. Zia ul Haq, who had employed the services of JeI amir of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), Maulana Abdul Bari to reach out to JeI Kashmir’s founding ‘amir’ (chief) Sa’aduddin for his support to waging a proxy war against India.

The outcome of this strategic partnership, led to Muslim United Front (MUF), an umbrella group of Kashmiri Islamists especially Jamaat, coming together to contest the 1987 assembly elections on the plank of right of Kashmir to secede from India. Only five MUF candidates (independents) won but the vote share of Jamaat in the valley had risen from 6.6 percent in 1983 to 31.9 percent in 1987 and NC’s declined from 59 percent to 49 percent.

The allegations of rigging and the subsequent clashes, became the turning point in Kashmir’s political history. Even as most data scientists are unanimous that the MUF candidates including Jamaat would not have bagged more than 9 to 17 seats, the rigged election became the raison d’être for Kashmiri Islamists and separatists to take up arms against the Indian state in 1988-89.

“Jamaat in Kashmir grew slowly and steadily despite repression perpetrated against it by Sheikh Abdullah and his party. But it became powerful with its militant arm Hizbul Mujahideen that decimated the pro-independence militant group JKLF,” an activist of JKLF in downtown Srinagar said.

Apart from that, Jamaat ‘rukun’ (members elected after a very rigorous process) work quietly and through a very broad network of its 350 mosques, 400 schools and 1000 seminaries across the state. “Hundreds of Jamaat members and supporters are employed by almost every governmental institution,” a young civil servant in J&K secretariat said.

However, Jamaat became powerful especially after the PDP led by the Muftis came into existence. “The PDP, which was essentially formed by the former Congress leaders and cadre in Kashmir, pandered to Jamaat and Hizbul to fight the elections. From symbolism like Mehbooba Mufti wearing green scarves and abaya to the ‘healing touch policy’ for militants, PDP did everything to get Jamaat’s vote share,” an NC politician in Srinagar said.

Some PDP members in private conversations admit that the politics of reaching out to Jamaat turned out to be a pyrrhic victory. “In the last 20 years, PDP tried to mainstream Jamaat but actually the reverse happened. JeI infiltrated into the entire state machinery and made it impossible for the PDP to function as a mainstream party.

Almost on a daily basis, there used to be requests from JeI network to either drop cases against militants and their ground workers, stone-pelters or release them. The alliance with the BJP particularly caused widespread anger after it became apparent that Modi’s approach was quite divergent from that of Vajpayee’s BJP. There was very little room for negotiations and accommodation of each other’s interests,” a young PDP leader in Anantnag said.

The result was the eruption of new age militancy which brought Kashmir to a standstill after Hizb commander Burhan Wani’s killing in an encounter in 2016. South Kashmir, the bastion of Jamaat, has remained the biggest hub for all terror groups since. “After the PDP led coalition government due to BJP’s withdrawal, the Modi government intensified the crackdown against Hurriyat and Jamaat. As a result, the participation in the parliamentary elections was at a record low and abysmally poor,” a former PDP worker from Tral said.

Out of JeI’s 600 office bearers, while around 500 were “bound down” and then released, 100 were arrested under UAPA law and PSA, a senior police officer said. Though most have been bailed out, some remain in either police or judicial custody. “Yet, they remain operational on the ground, thanks to their wide network,” he said.
However, most people in Kashmir’s security establishment believe that the crackdown will gradually decrease Jamaat’s sphere of influence and erode Hizbul’s strength. “It certainly has caused a certain pressure on overall society. That’s why there have hardly been any protests against the arrests of Jamaat members. Common Kashmiris are not complaining against the crackdown on terror funding and Jamaat network,” a Kashmiri IPS officer said.

Source : TOI

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