In the aftermath of abrogation of Article 370, the constitutional provision legitimizing Indian occupying role in Indian-occupied Kashmir, there are reports of an intense surge in state-sponsored campaigns of fear, intimidation, and violence resulting in the mass terror of the local population and severing of local political protests by arresting leaders of political parties in Kashmir and a brutal crackdown on the expression of dissent through protest and pen.
The state-sponsor mass terror campaign is paving way for the radicalization of younger generations to forsake politics and resort to armed struggle against what they legitimately perceive as occupying forces. However, the abrogation of special constitutional provision allowed New Delhi to muster draconian security measures to crack down on militancy, leading the shrinking of space for pro-freedom movement and subsequent paralyzing Pakistan’s diplomatic and moral support for these forces.
However, these security crackdowns serve more as a security paradox for the Indian security establishment as deniability of space to political forces and clamping down on local militancy irrevocably cultivating an ideal circumstance for transnational terror and highly-networked groups such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State to assert a dominance over hearts and minds of the Kashmir whose collective spirit of union was shattered with brute structural violence by the Indian state.
In the context of IS, the group has been physically decimated in the Middle East following a costly multi-pronged effort by a varied set of state actors, however, the terror network still has remarkable resilience as it remains in control of its funding. Though the absence of physical territorial control in Iraq and Syria will impact morale in the group, the loss of territory also provides them with unintended benefits. Correspondingly, Al-Qaeda in recent years had been out of prominence with the emergence of IS, but they do continue to make their presence felt. Keeping the terror organization alive, the unfolding mass unrest, and significant tensions between the local population and Indian security forces, both terror networks will find an enticing opportunity to raise their profiles, increase their recruitments, and cement their foothold in the Indian-occupied Kashmir.
Furthermore, with religious tensions at an all-time high in Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governed India, the situation is fertile for these terror groups to lay their foundations by becoming an outlet for Muslim sentiments in India and the valley, projecting a narrative of “Hindu versus Muslim”. The potential for these terror groups in a religiously-charged political climate will only exacerbate Indian security clampdown and violence by these terror groups.
We had recently witnessed a terror attack in Sri Lanka resulting in the maiming of more than 270 people. The attack was claimed by IS. It was a testament to IS presence in South Asia. Furthermore, the much-feared terror group also claimed to have established a presence in India. The concept of territoriality and the method employed to achieve it, in the IS worldview should be of great concern to security establishments of the region.
If IS and AQ did manage to cement their presence in the fertile conditions which India is providing by its nationalist project in the state, it could result in grave implications for New Delhi. Since New Delhi is already confronting a festering militancy in the northeast of India, the terror attacks in the Indian heartland or Indian-occupied Kashmir by these terror groups will undermine the Indian state. A parallel can be drawn from the disastrous effects IS and AQ linked activities had on Pakistan, and how severely it affected the civilians, army, and the economy of the country for almost a decade.
Secondly, local jihadist groups, although by no means amateur freedom fighters, were local and did not have vast financial resources, therefore were easier to locate and trace. Fighters of the IS and AQ are of a different tactical breed. Consulting research, the fighting capability of both terror networks is very agile and adaptable. They are adept with modern technology and equipment. Moreover, with Afghanistan in great uncertainty over the peace deal, the lack of territorial control by the Kabul government of all Afghanistan aids with the provision of foot soldiers and base camps.
Moreover, it is a worrying sign for the Indian state to see how Kerala, has surprisingly been identified as a hotspot of IS-related activities which yet to be manifested violently but disturbingly it provides an assessment of inclinations towards the group from within the country, and in an area, which demographically surprising, is not Muslim majority.
From the perspective of geopolitics, it is pertinent to note that Kashmir’s geography is more a trident as Pakistan, India, and China – three nuclear powers of the world – have contesting claims over the territory. Thus, any surge in terror violence in India will lead to the surge violence in neighboring countries, disturbing the security balance in an intensely trust-absent part of the world.
Pakistan can also not afford to support the transnational terror groups against its enemy, as any such misconceived policy could cause significant economic and diplomatic damage to Pakistan, as the government awaits another International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan and seek to maneuver its way out of the grey list of Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
The resources, and the geographic significance, of Kashmir, is what the dispute has been all about since 1947. Given New Delhi’s fraught relations with two of its powerful neighbors, any substantial presence of these terror groups will be a bad omen for the BJP government. So far, the BJP government with its anti-Muslim political practices is only providing cannon fodder in terms of radicalizing people to eventually catapult them into joining the ranks of these terror groups.