In A video released online on jihadist forums on Tuesday night, al-Qaeda has said the key to victory in Kashmir lies in waging war on Indian cities. “India is already using 600,000 troops just to hold on to Kashmir,” the organisation’s subcontinent second-in-command Usama Mehmood says in the video. “If it is attacked in Kolkata, Bangalore and New Delhi, it will come to its senses and release its grip on Kashmir.”
For this to come about, Mehmood argues, “it is necessary that the jihadi movement becomes strong at the level of the subcontinent, and Muslims in the whole region stand behind the Kashmiri people.”
“Look at America,” he says. “In the same way securing itself has become difficult for America throughout the world, the Indian army and Hindu government’s peaceful world should be made a war zone.”
The video was released on the same day a new organisation, calling itself al-Qarar, released a video pledging alliance to the Islamic State’s so-called Caliph, Ibrahim Awad al-Badri, also known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
In the video, an armed jihadist using the pseudonym Abu wal’Barra — roughly, “he who rejects what is loathsome to God — assails secessionist politicians and Pakistan’s intelligence services. The jihadist also appeals to local al-Qaeda leader Zakir Bhat, who has said he is committed to fighting for a caliphate, to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State.
Filmed with an unsteady hand, the video appears to have been made near the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar — an area where Islamic State flags appeared during mass protests last year.
“These groups are insignificant in military terms,” said a senior Srinagar-based police officer, “but they do represent the search of young Islamists in urban centres for a new ideology and leadership. There is a turning to global Islamist projects that could prove significant in coming years.”
Framed as an interview with Mehmood, the video offers the first insights into al-Qaeda’s tactics on Kashmir, where it set up a regional franchise earlier this year. “In the caravan of al-Qaeda,” Mehmood says, “there were, and still are, many mujahideen who migrated to Pakistan to fight for Kashmir, but were forced to shut down their operations by the Pakistan Army.”
To illustrate his point, Mehmood speaks of the operations of Sheikh Ahsan Aziz, a PoK jihadist earlier linked to Hizb-ul-Mujahideen who was killed in a drone strike in August 2012.
He also records the participation of slain al-Qaeda military commander Illyas Kashmiri, saying he “carried out many successful operations against India from here”. Kashmiri, who worked with 26/11 perpetrator David Headley after the attacks in Mumbai, was also linked to Indian Mujahideen jihadists who trained at his base in Pakistan’s Miranshah.
Earlier this year, another interview with Mehmood said the organisation’s broad aim was to “to reform Pakistan, Kashmir, India, Bangladesh and the whole of subcontinent, into an Islamic subcontinent.”
Stating that “there is no political solution” on Kashmir, Mehmood warns against “searching for such a solution in which there is no blood or sweat, no hardships of exodus and jihad, no change to the status quo, and just peaceful part-time efforts.”
The al-Qaeda video, notably, seeks to reach out to young Islamist radicals in Kashmir, paying homage to local jihad icons. It valourises Burhan Wani, whose killing triggered largescale violence last year, as well as Parliament House attacker Afzal Guru, executed in 2013. Both men, it argues, sought a Kashmir ruled by the Shari’a, or Islamic law, rather than India-Pakistan political dialogue.
Besides the use of a 2016 clip of Burhan Wani, there is no indication of when the video was made. Interestingly, it contains no reference to the creation of al-Qaeda’s Kashmir unit, the Ansar Ghazwa tul’Hind.
Earlier this year, reporters based in Pakistan’s Peshawar received an audiotape saying Mehmood had been killed in a drone strike this January. Purportedly issued by al-Qaeda’s subcontinent chief, Uttar Pradesh-born Sana-ul-Haq, the video said Mehmood’s real name was Raja Mohammad Salman, and he had studied Islamic law in Islamabad. However, the statement was not confirmed on online al-Qaeda feeds.
Mehmood, significantly, lashes out at the Pakistan Army, saying it “is not the instrument, but the obstacle, in the path of victory. It is an enemy of the Shari’a, God’s law, and a slave of global infidels. To expect it to lead us to victory is to shut our eyes to reality”.
“It fights only for its salary, personal aggrandisement and plots of land,” Mehmood says. “It is the same army that spills the blood of the mujahideen for American dollars.”