Just a week earlier, the Hurriyat and UJC had remained silent when one of Musa’s lieutenants, Ishfaq Ahmad Sofi was killed by security forces in Shopian. The Kashmiri media did not report his affiliation with the AGuH, nor his frenzied funeral, in which thousands of local mourners pulled off the Pakistani flag that covered Sofi’s coffin and replaced it with the Daesh flag. Remarkably, this took place in Sopore, Geelani’s hometown and bastion.
In contrast, Daesh wasted no time owning Sofi and announcing the setting up of the Islamic State of J&K (ISJK), which it referred to as “Wilayah al Hind”.
While traditional separatist leaders have said rising Daesh support is a New Delhi constructed plan aimed at discrediting the Kashmiri freedom movement, fundamentalist Islam has found growing acceptability amongst a new generation of Kashmiris.
Evidence has been mounting. In two earlier funerals in 2017, throngs of mourners replaced Pakistani flags on the coffins of slain terrorists with Daesh flags and chanted: “Na Hurriyat wali Shariat, na Hurriyat wali azadi, Kashmir banega Darul Islam (neither Hurriyat-style Shariat, nor Hurriyat-style liberation, Kashmir will become an Islamic state).”
Last December, masked men climbed atop Srinagar’s iconic Jamia Masjid and posted videos on social media of themselves waving Daesh flags and shouting pro-Daesh slogans. However, the UJC dismissed them as Indian spies.
With both Geelani and Salahuddin known to receive guidance from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, officials in New Delhi are evaluating whether their remarkable turnaround reflects a redirection of ISI’s support, from Kashmiri nationalists to fundamentalist Islamists.
Analysts within Kashmir, however, ascribe Geelani’s and Salahuddin’s praise for Musa to “societal pressure” to acknowledge the contribution of fighters who, while ideologically counterposed to Kashmiri nationalism, were sacrificing their lives for the same cause.
“In Kashmiri minds, all these strands are interwoven. Is it a religious struggle, or is it political? Over the years, leaders like Geelani have issued contradictory statements, so they can be interpreted in different ways. When Al Qaeda chief, Osama bin Laden was killed, Geelani stepped forward to hold funeral prayers for him in absentia,” says Mehmood ur Rashid, a commentator for Greater Kashmir newspaper.
This is born out at the operational level, where fighters from Kashmiri nationalist groups like the Hizb coordinate seemlessly with groups like Zakir Musa’s. With Musa killed, Riyaz Naikoo of the Hizb has become the Valley’s most wanted militant.
Meanwhile, there are mixed signals from Pakistan. On May 18, Islamabad reportedly sealed the offices of all 12 Kashmiri separatist outfits functioning from Pakistani Occupied Kashmir under the UJC. This was apparently under pressure from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on terrorist financing.