June 21, 2024


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By: Rahul Wankhede

Militants in Jammu & Kashmir: source Internet


Radicalisation in Jammu & Kashmir has three dimensions-regional, ethnic and religious, whose growing influence is considered as a threat to national security.

The disturbing trend is that the Hurriyat on the directions of its masters in Pakistan is trying to spread “Salafism” in the region, South of Pir Panjal. The youth in particular is being targeted under these schemes.

“If the youth in J&K become victims of this new Salafized version of Islam, the consequences for entire India would be grave” – this warning was sounded by Mr M.K. Narayanan many years ago, in a public gathering. Radicalisation is not new to Kashmir. Ever since the advent of Islam in Kashmir Valley, it has been through phases of radicalisation depending upon the attitude of the ruler. But the silver lining is that every time it emerged out of that phase successfully without causing immense damage to its social fabric.

The net consequence was the emergence of Kashmiriyat, the backbone of the philosophy of co-existence in the Valley. Sufism is the mainstay of Kashmiriyat, scholars argue.  Kashmiri Islam, a variant of Sufism, differs from the mainstream fanatical Islam in that, the former is based on the teachings of its famous Rishis.

The current phase of radicalisation in the Valley has few distinct features: Sufism is being replaced by Salafism, more youth is being radicalised, polarisation among the Sunni Muslims is increasing which encourages separatism, the free-flow of Wahhabi literature and petro-dollars, and the proxy war unleashed by Pakistan through ISI sponsored jihadist terrorist outfits.

Salafism as most of the readers know, is alien to Kashmir but is gaining ground in Kashmir at the cost of Hanafi school of thought. Drawing parallels to Salafism/Wahhabism is akin to Deobandi school of thought and is a more puritanical form of Islam practised in Arab world while Sufism is akin to shrine-going Barelvi school of thought.

The main cause of spread of Salafism and radicalised Islam was the disenchantment of the younger generations with Sufism practised by their elders. Due to the continued violence and political struggle, the cadres of jihadist terrorist organisations like LeT and JeM were able to convince the educated Kashmiri youth to move towards radical ideologies.

Initial indoctrination of the youth took place in jails and prisons outside Kashmir where the captured hard core Jihadist terrorists and the young Kashmiris were imprisoned together. A few of the dis-enchanted youth was attracted to Salafism by them on release from jails.

Printed literature, cell phones and social media are the main sources of Salafi literature, which also attracted the unemployed educated youth, who spent lot of time in confinement due to frequent bandhs. Easy availability of video clips featuring popular Salafi clerics and ISIS literature on You Tube is the other contributory factor.

Most Kashmiris and other Muslims still revere mausoleums and shrines and consider them to be part of their cultural heritage.  “Kashmiriyat may be down; it is not out”, according to Dr. Vijay Sazawal, a Kashmiri writer. As evident, spread of Salafism has political, social and economic reasons.

According to Jamat Ahl-e-Hadith, only 16% of Kashmir’s population is under its fold.  There lies the ray of hope – bulk of its 8 million Muslim-population is still not radicalised. To prevent any further erosion, the government needs to address the socio-political and economic concerns of the Kashmiris.

Spread of radicalization

In various intellectual circles, people are also deliberating an important issue: the new and fearless face of militancy and possibly growing intellectual “radicalisation” in Kashmir.

With internet services being shut down in Kashmir, radicalization of locals by word of mouth was rising. There has been a proliferation of home-grown militants in the valley, according to intelligence inputs. However, when internet services shut down in the Valley, radicalization by word of mouth becomes rampant, with over-ground workers (OGWs) of terrorist organizations communicating through satellite phones and radicalizing the youth during prayers at mosques, especially in villages, according to intelligence inputs.

Evidence touted is the Islamist affiliation of leading terrorist Zakir Musa and his attempt at wresting of the political direction of the movement. The competitive religiosity leads to offshoots of sectarianism and extremism, such as the takfiris.

After the abrogation of Article 370, the campaign to brainwash the youth has also intensified. The plant of fundamentalism is spreading rapidly in mosques and madrasas run by organizations like Ahle Hadees and Jamaat-e-Islami, who also ideologically support organizations like Lashkar and Jaish.

Factors responsible for radicalization

The lure to join terror ranks is neither completely due to monetary gains, nor entirely due to religious indoctrination that is pushing the youth to participate in Jihad for establishing Islamic State in Kashmir or Azadi. It is a mix of radicalisation, glamorisation of Jihad, sense of adventurism and a perceived alternative method to break the status quo of hopelessness. Albert Bandura said that, “it requires conducive social conditions rather than monstrous people to produce terrorists Given appropriate social conditions, decent, ordinary people can be led to do extraordinarily cruel things.”

The factors that push a youth to terrorism are disillusionment with the status quo, failure in personal life, identity crisis and sense of hopelessness setting in the minds of the youth.

How does this radicalisation lead to terrorism in J&K

Spread of Jamaat and Wahhabi ideology is believed to be behind the attack and involvement of untrained people in terrorist activities in a new way.  Several other radical foreign forces are also behind it.

To counter this, agencies are eyeing the use of various groups having influence in social media, as pawns. Jihadi terrorists are targeting common people, minorities and non-Kashmiris in Kashmir. Due to this fear, migrant laborers are forced to migrate continuously.

Kashmir’s political analyst Professor Noor Ahmed Baba says that terrorists in Kashmir often kill Muslims too. Therefore, it should not be associated with religion, but former BSF officers say that the reason for this is also religious. These terrorist organizations target non-Muslims as infidels and mushriks. At the same time, Muslims leading a normal life are killed by calling them Munafik or hypocrites.

Role of Unarmed Jihadis in Radicalisation is a Major Pull Factor

A sense has been created by ideologues who rightly should be called unarmed Jihadis, that it is a religious duty of every Kashmiri youth to join Jihad. Some of the religious institutions controlled by Jihadist ideologues are preaching a skewed and misconstrued interpretation of religion that has the potential to capture the hearts, minds and imaginations of the young people.

The unarmed Jihadis weave a web of misinformation campaign that promises the youth, sudden identity as a solider of God, an exalted position among his peers and local populace. He now wields authority and social media also helps him to become a local hero. There is a sense of accomplishment in him and he starts believing that he is doing Jihad for a just cause.

The most unfortunate part is that if a misguided youth returns to the main stream the family suffers the stigma of having a son who is coward and scared of attainting martyrdom. Parents are caught between the misinformation campaign and violation of tenants of Islam by separatist and ideologues forcing youth to join Jihad without sufficient reasons. The loss or killing of terrorists is celebrated, parents are congratulated and family members are made to believe that now their path to attain salvation has been cleared by their son by sacrificing his life for Islam and Jihad. The cycle of recruitment continues because ideologues of Jihad glamorise the killing of  terrorists to create more recruits and as  a result burial grounds become recruitment grounds.

The peril in Kashmir is that unarmed Jihadis have created conditions where objectives are non-negotiable: they want the total elimination of all who are not with them. To spread their ideology of hate and Jihad, unarmed Jihadis are using social media to their advantage.

As per Rand Corporation, internet creates more opportunities to become radicalised than any other tool.

It acts as an ‘echo chamber’: a place where individuals find their ideas supported and echoed by other like-minded individuals. Process of radicalisation gets accelerated and it occurs without contact. The internet thus increases opportunities for self-radicalisation.

J&K Police in its report on “Radicalisation and Terrorism in J&K – A Study” mentioned: “new terror recruits are not driven by ideology as most attended government schools and came from middle class families. Hardly anyone was educated full time in madrasa and majority among the recent recruits joined terrorism because of thrill seeker attitude. The terrorism in Kashmir is an enigma where unarmed Jihadis are product of radicalisation but armed Jihadis are product of glamorisation of Jihad. One fights with the weapon in hand and the other fights to conquer cognitive domain by employing perception as a tool to expand the domains of conflict. Between armed and unarmed Jihadis there is third dimension and that is the role of Pakistan. Pakistan has managed to drive a wedge deep enough within the society to undermine the sense of shared values that form the foundation of democracy and enshrined values of Kashmiriyat.

Counter Radicalization Strategies

First is the threat from religious radicalism which is driving terror in Kashmir. Youth as young as 12-years-old have been radicalised and are forming a part of the system that drives terror in Kashmir. Second, the ‘best method’ of de-radicalisation is “to isolate them from radicalisation in a gradual way… those completely radicalised need to betaken out separately and possibly taken into some de-radicalisation camps”.

Counter-Radicalisation and De-Radicalisation

It’s the second issue which is a tricky one. Religious radicalisation has been troubling us for long ever since it took on the form of violent extremism. In Kashmir, it happened under the nose of all security, primarily because none had an idea of faith being used as a system of hybrid war. By the time its ugly head manifested it was too late. We were left fighting the symptoms and not the causes of radicalisation. To defeat radicalisation, strong counter narratives are needed which are never easy to evolve without the assistance of informed academia and clerics.

While terrorists are developing strategies to target and attract the youth, counter-terrorism efforts continue to focus on hard power as the central approach in dealing with this issue. Infact radicalisation falls in the spectrum of potential extremist activity and it needs to be treated as such.

Ideologues have created such a void on ground that reconciliation at this stage appears impossible. The pluralist Muslims need to introspect and expose this façade of terror organisations and separatists and let the people know that such an ideology is self-destructive. There is a need to break this cycle of terror factory in the name of religion. Thus, it is vital that instead of fighting terrorism, state must find ways and means to ‘fight radicalism with human development’.

What is known is that in 2017, a Counter Terrorism and Counter Radicalisation Division (CT-CR) was set up under the Home Ministry to help state governments, security agencies and communities in preventing youth from embracing extremist ideologies.

The most important part of this initiative is to create counter narratives against the extremist narratives that are constantly fed online and institutionally through some seminaries to vulnerable youth. The essence of this is to ensure that no misinterpretations of religious texts are fed to youth, and the same is done through the services of some clerics to add authenticity to the campaign. Much of this has been adopted from the ‘Singapore model’ which Indian authorities have studied and imbibed in considerable detail. This model presumes that young male populations are vulnerable at their workplaces and particularly where they remain in clusters for most of the time

The places identified to have such vulnerability are prisons and jails, labour camps, schools, universities and seminaries. Singapore’s vulnerability was also enhanced by the mobile population which enters for work and exits every day from Malaysia. It set up a programme which now has almost 75 clerics assisting it for online monitoring and education and delivery of lectures to clusters; some good counter narratives have been formulated in an on-going process. India adopted some of these measures and is in the process of refining its program.

We need to study the success story of Singapore and Malaysia where de-radicalisation has been, indeed, handled very well and professionally. This is one task that we need to undertake on priority.

We also need to monitor Instagram, Telegram, WhatsApp and other chat rooms that are acting as the breeding ground for misguided youth.

Some suggested methods to Counter Radicalization

  • Revival of Kashmiriyat and Sufism
  • Creation and promotion of inter-faith tourist circuits (Shiv Khori-Shahdra Sharief-Buddha Amarnath-Gurudwara Nagali Sahib in Jammu and Mattan-Charar-i-Sharif, Kheer Bhawani-Shankracharya-Gurudwara Chatti Padshahi-Hazartbal in Kashmir)
  • Restoration of mutual trust, job creation, modernisation of Madrasas
  • Application of “Prevention of Misuse of Religious places and shrines Act” in J&K
  • Check free-flow of funds from Saudi Arabia, projection of Pakistan as a failed state and sell India’s success story
  •  Counter Pak propaganda through TV channels by its complete overhaul
  • Female education and empowerment of women
  • Gradual return of Kashmiri Pundits
  • Opening of IT parks
  • Modernisation of police and develop it into a well-trained, equipped and motivated people-friendly force so that foot fall of Army and CAPFs can be reduced
  • Prevent misuse of social media
  • Empowerment of Panchayati Raj Institutions
  • Integration of Kashmir youth into the national mainstream (National Cadet Corps can play a major role) and revival of traditional folk arts like “Bhand.”

Tackling radicalisation is a battle of minds. Hence, a sustained effort with new approach and outlook to win the hearts and minds needs to be launched. De-radicalisation is like detoxification and would require a sustained and continuous effort. If the issue is addressed without any vested interests and gradually Sufism will soften the followers of Salafism as well.  Radicalisation is not India specific but a global problem. We could study the de-radicalisation strategies being adopted by other nations and pick up those relevant in our context.

Counter Terrorism

Counterterrorism is a holistic process that should focus on elimination of terrorism, and not only terrorists. However, there seems to be some dichotomy in our strategy and conceptual understanding of dealing with armed and unarmed Jihadis. The critical conceptual point for formulation of response strategies lies in the recognition of the factors that give impetus to the idea of Jihad. It is evident that important factors in Jihad are the ideologues and unarmed Jihadis who more often remain beyond the reach of the law, because they wear the mask of religious preachers and at times religious/social reformers. As a result, the law is unable to reach them unless they cross the red line. Apart from legal recourse, this issue needs to be looked at from a strategic perspective.

Following few options must be exercised to deal with terrorism:

(a)   Engage to Disengage: Disengaging might suggest critical cognitive and social changes, in terms of leaving behind the shared social norms, values, attitudes and aspirations so carefully forged while the individual was still a member of a terror network. Disengagement is not possible unless there is engagement with armed and unarmed Jihadis. One must remember that the individual is moulded by a way of life or misconception that he may continue to adhere due to the belief of so-called enshrined values or way of ancestors drilled by indoctrination

Once a recruit joins terror organisation he is trained simultaneously for violence and psychologically believing that, he is following the path of Allah. Thus, disengagement is not only from violence but also from some continued adherence to those that are part of terror code of conduct, perceived values and attitudes. Engagement should be socially relevant so that individual is not stigmatised. Disengagement from terrorism may be, broadly speaking, the efforts of an individual or collective process (or combination of both).

We can identify both psychological and physical dimensions of disengagement. Parents and religious teachers who can debate and discuss the true interpretation and teachings of Islam and meaning of Jihad. One must remember that disengagement may not always result in de-radicalisation or counter radicalisation.

(b)   Distinguish between Near Enemy and Far Enemy:   The focus of counter terrorism initiative is directed against the near enemy. In this case near enemy is terrorist who is seen on ground as the face of terrorism. But little is being done to bring to book the far enemy and that is unarmed Jihadis. There is a need to adopt an approach to deal with near and far enemy simultaneously through a process or law, social awakening, theological interpretation of true values of Islam and removal of misconception that has been articulated by terror ideologues. This engagement is not sequential; it should be attempted simultaneously.

(c)  Rehabilitation: The word de-radicalisation and radicalisation have become buzz words and very loosely referred to. If there is nothing wrong with ‘radicalisation’, then it is offensive and misleading to speak of ‘de-radicalisation’. No individual will accept that he has been radicalised or he was manipulated and willingly chose a wrong path. It should be left to him to introspect this aspect later but he should never be told that he has been radicalised. Rather psychological and social rehabilitation should be attempted. Some Arabian countries are using the term ‘reforming’ instead of de-radicalisation and is being done through correct interpretation of the teachings of Islam that proscribe violence against innocent and unarmed subjects. 

(d)   Transition and Transformation: The central aim to set the stage for transition and transformation is to ensure active participation of all stakeholders to the conflict including armed and unarmed terrorists. It is an inclusive process first to recommend the transition back to the society and then transform him to be accepted in the society without any stigma or baggage of his past. It would require conditional amnesty (legal and social). It is a process that cannot be executed by the state alone but through a holistic approach of state and society.

(e)   Strategy Must be Enduring:  There cannot be a change of strategy on daily basis. The results of above strategy may start fructifying after a few years. Unlike the tactical operations where terrorists are eliminated and counter terrorism strategy appears to be working, the strategy to deal with terrorism and unarmed Jihadis need long gestation period. Patience, perseverance and pursuance are the keys to succeed in this complex psychological, and information war.

Long Term Solutions

(a)   Bring Calm to the Streets:  It is essential to normalise the life of common man from this muddled environment.

(b)   Keep the Youth Away from the Streets:   To bring youth out of this disarrayed environment, there is a need to establish communication and dialogue to disengage youth from the negativity of the overall environment.  Simultaneously, it would require return of the students to the education institutions and restoration of economic activities including tourism to engage the youth in constructive activities.

(d)   Disruption of the Network for Recruitment of Terrorists: Itneeds to be a priority because as long as the ideologues are free to operate, terror recruitment will continue. Simon Cottee says that, “Law-enforcement agents can’t disrupt a motive, but with the right intelligence they may be able to disrupt a network of terrorist recruiters”.

(e)   Re-establishment of Communication with Public: According to John Burton, the initial dialogue must centre on the public security, development, identity needs, youth aspirations and political access.

(f)    Improvement in Law and Order:  There is need for the government to restore faith of the people in the administration and putting in place a grievance redressal mechanism.

(g)  Fight Radicalism with Human Development:  It should be done through social awareness campaign and engagement with the people.

(h)   Meeting the Aspirations of the People of Jammu and Ladakh Division:  They need to be compensated for maintaining peace.

(i)   Set a Benchmark: Establish effective systems to inform, influence, and persuade public to leave the path of confrontation with clearly defined.


In Jammu and Kashmir today it is time to engage and it does not matter with whom. It could be with young people in remote areas, it could be religious preachers and it could be a man on the street. State should not be seen as oppressor but as benevolent and committed to the genuine welfare of the people of J&K without any biases.

It is true that elimination of terrorists is important but not holistic to completely annihilate terrorism. Thus, it is high time that instead of targeting terrorists, state should work out methodology to deal with terrorism in a holistic manner. To bring calm to the streets, unarmed Jihadis are required to be dealt with appropriately and they cannot be allowed to run a parallel system of Intifada. Apart from the military and non-military operations most important challenge at this stage is ensuring survival of democratic institutions in J&K.

About the Author

Rahul Wankhede is a post graduate in Defence and Strategic Studies with a gold medal. Rahul has worked with think tanks and NGOs in the domains of research, analysis and mentoring and is currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune, India. The views expressed are personal.


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3 months ago

Your article helped me a lot, is there any more related content? Thanks!

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