Traditionally operating from the tribal badlands of FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the neighboring Afghanistan, the TTP’s turn of focus towards the east in Jammu and Kashmir is curious. Last month, TTP’s Umar media released a statement defending its stand of not participating in the conflict in Kashmir as it said there was bigger enemy to fight first: the Pakistan military which, it said, plays a devious role against the mujaheedins.
The ongoing unrest in the Valley, first triggered by the death of Hizbul Mujaheedin commander Burhan Wani, and later complicated by violent protests against government, pellet gun attacks on the civilians and a record 80-day curfew, has provided a tempting opportunity to extremist Islamist groups in the region to gain foothold in Kashmir and launch and expand their jihadi operations.
In a video statement released on Tuesday juxtaposing images of civilians in Kashmir being beaten by security forces, the swollen faces of pellet shot victims, injured children and women in hospitals, a voice over states, “The anti-Islamic forces have started a tirade against Islam and our Kashmiri brothers, so the emir (chief) of TTP has called all the mujaheedin brothers to join hands and change the muzzle of our guns against the Indian army.’’ It is not known whether this statement was made by TTP’s current emir Maulana Fazlullah, head of Swat Taliban and also known as the Radio Mullah.
In the later part, one of the four militants with masked face and holding loaded assault rifles says the UN and other infidel world bodies have turned a blind eye against the atrocities committed by the Indian army against Kashmiri brothers and sisters, playing with their lives, damaging their property and martyring children. “In the prevailing situation, there is a need to unleash jihadi forces that will give a befitting reply to the infidel Indian Army and once again restore Islam to its glorious heights in this land.’’
Both TTP and al Qaeda, whose main focus has been to defeat the American forces and enforce Sharia-based laws in Afghanistan, are looking to make gains in Jammu and Kashmir. Last week, the al Qaeda in the Indian Sub-continent also announced its plans for jihad in Kashmir, the one that is waged on religious grounds minus the help of Pakistan military. Since the 90s when al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden earned himself the moniker of Arab jihadi, the group has tried to join the militancy and send its militant into Indian Kashmir. Laden, was prevented from doing so by the Pakistani military as it would’ve downed the ‘Kashmir cause’ and given it a colour of `terrorism’.
Explaining this new shift in strategy, US-based Arif Jamal, author and scholar on Islamic extremist group, says it once again shows that links between the Pakistan Army and the TTP remain intact even though they reject it on the surface. “It also shows that Pakistan Army is again activating TTP and other Deobandi groups in Kashmir and India for jihad,’’ he said, adding that this interesting situation should be seen in the context of developments in Afghanistan where Pak Army is supporting the Afghan Taliban in the short term at least.
“On the one hand, bringing Deobandi TTP and Jaish-e-Mohammad to Kashmir will divert their jihadi activities outside Pakistan and, on the other hand, it will please Afghan Taliban whose support is crucial to Pakistan Army. From the TTP viewpoint, it is a good strategy to get support from Pakistan Army and lower its pressure on the group TTP. Behind the smokescreen of jihad in Kashmir and India, they will expand their jihadist infrastructure inside Pakistan,’’ Jamal said.
It remains to be seen whether the TTP that is considered as anti-Pakistan military will be given operational gateway from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to cross the Line of Control. So far Pakistan based Lashkar e Taiba, Jaish e Mohammad and Hizbul Mujaheedin have found to infiltrate the LoC to participate in Kashmir militancy.