Are Ikhwanis back in Kashmir?
A report by Pradeep Thakur in the Times of India today has stunned a lot of people in Kashmir. The report says that the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Indian Army are reviving Ikhwan units in Kashmir to quell the anti-India movement. Some Kashmiris living in Kashmir feared the era of Ikhwani terror and blackmail will be back. The stunning bit is how openly the effort of the MHA and the Indian Army is being acknowledged in creating a renegade political pro-India militia force in today’s political environment in Kashmir. What is not surprising is that this is happening at all, because it has happened before. At worst, this seemed like a stupid move to publicise an overt political operation of the sort Kashmir has seen no dearth of.
The story, titled, “Two pro-India parties floated in J&K with Army, MHA help” by Pradeep Thakur reads:
Two new pro-India political outfits are being launched in J&K, headed by former militants and Ikhwan commanders, with the backing of the Union home ministry and the Indian Army. They are in the process of hiring office space right in front of the headquarters of Hurriyat Conference, an amalgam of pro-Pakistan separatist outfits, in Srinagar’s Rajbagh locality.
This is an innovative attempt to counter the rising influence of “freedom movement” in J&K while providing an alternate space to pro-India elements in the Valley. Separatists and pro-freedom groups have so far dominated J&K politics.
While one outfit, with the backing of the home ministry, will be headed by former Ikhwans and ex-militant commanders Zubair-ul-Islam and Imran Rahi, the other is being launched by former militant commander from Anantnag, Liaquat Ali. [Link]
As the Times of India story travelled across tweets since this morning, the picture became clearer. An “exiled” Kashmiri Pandit pointed out how he read the same in a Pakistani paper a few days ago. Indeed, typed “Ikhwan” and Google News is your friend. “Proxy groups to be floated in held Kashmir,” The News said in a report without a byline four days ago. The similarities with the Times of India report are striking. The News says:
The intelligence agencies have decided to set up the office of the group in front of the APHC headquarters at Rajbagh, Srinagar and several renegade commanders which include some shady characters like Zubair-ul-Islam, Imran Rahi and Muzaffar Shah (son of ex-J&K Chief Minister Ghulam Muhammad Shah), who trace their genesis to the notorious Ikhwan, are being supported to form a party. Tikku (ex-Captain of the Indian Army) is in contact with Zubair-ul-Islam, Hassan Dar and Imran Rahi and is guiding them to establish infrastructure. [Link]
Now go back to Pradeep Thakur’s report and you notice two things. Firstly, it reads:
The move has unnerved strategic planners in Pakistan who think the development may push the already marginalised pro-Pakistan group in the Valley into a corner.
Stories have been planted in Pakistani media calling the new outfits as being launched by “traitors”.
Secondly, nowhere does Pradeep Thakur attribute his information to any source – not even those all-weather Intelligence Sources. It is remarkable how despite so many goof-ups, the biggest being Hindutva terrorism, the Indian media continues to get away by doing stories on the security beat without feeling the need to attribute their information to anyone. If these new parties have an office in Rajbagh, surely the Times of India’s Srinagar correspondent could have dropped in there to say hello?
Kashmiris immediately asked Omar Abdullah for clarification on Twitter and he said this was lies.
And went on to take a dig at the Times of India:
Others including academic Amitabh Mattoo have expressed concern over the story:
That, however, is not the end of the story. There is no smoke without fire and all that. Another Kashmiri pointed out that Ikhwans were active in the 2010 protests. For example. this Greater Kashmir report from last August:
Sumbal (Bandipora), Aug 31: Panic has gripped this North Kashmir district as people smell revival of the dreaded Ikhwan (pro-government gunmen), as the government has reportedly approached some former members of the group to recruit youth to quell the ongoing agitation.
Locals in Sumbal and Hajin say that former Ikhwani leaders are conducting meetings and recruiting youth to revive the group to curb the ongoing uprising in the Valley. Sources told Greater Kashmir that the former leaders have been approached by the Government. [Link]
Soon after, people in the area protested against the move to revive Ikhwan units.
If you ask people in Srinagar if militants could be back, they will give you a dirty look and ask, when did they go away in the first place? Similarly, Ikhwani activity may have declined but the Ikhwans are there, not least in the state police where they came through the dreaded Special Task Force.
See also: this poignant report of an entire village branded Ikhwani.