Salafi extremism the emerging threat to peace in the valley
by S Ranjan on 29 Sep 2012 34 Comments

The Kashmir valley has for long been a victim of the global terrorism being perpetrated in the name of religion. It is the only place in the world that witnessed proliferation of an armed insurgency by international Islamic warriors alongside an extremist Islamic resurrection in Afghanistan. Pakistan being at the centre of both movements was naturally the architect of the violence in both regions, with Saudi Arabia playing a significant role in financially supporting the same.


The tactics mastered by Pakistan in Afghanistan were employed most effectively in Kashmir, with devastating results. As a result, for over two decades, peace has generally eluded the valley even though the situation is far better than what it was when the insurgency was ignited. The last couple of years can be called years of relative peace but definitely not perfect peace, especially in view of the new violence and threats against elected Panchayat leaders, which has prompted many to resign before the impending Panchayat elections.


A far deeper security threat is also emerging in Kashmir. On June 25, the centuries-old shrine of a revered Sufi saint, Dastageer Sahib, caught fire and was soon reduced to ashes. Early investigations suggested that the cause of fire was a short circuit. But on July 16, another Sufi shrine of Baba Haneefuddin, in Budgam, was gutted.


At this, a large number of Kashmir-based newspapers and some Jammu-based dailies like Kashmir Times began hinting at a conspiracy. “This appears a conspiracy. First it was Dastageer Sahib shrine, and now within few days, the Budgam shrine is gutted mysteriously. It cannot be a mishap,” said Zareef Ahmad Zareef, President, Valley Citizen’s Council, as reported by Kashmir Times.


On what basis Zareef Ahmad made this statement remains a mystery, but he made it and some newspapers thought fit to report it. In the month of August, in a rare incident in the valley, a youth was killed in a sectarian riot between Sufis and Salafis. The Valley has been familiar with the killing of Kashmiri pundits and violence between Shia and Sunni sects, but this was the first time violence occurred within the same sect as Salafis and Sufis both follow the Sunni tradition of Islam.


All this points towards something sinister simmering below the surface in Kashmir. It seems as though some people are making a concerted effort to eliminate Sufi shrines and by so doing are targeting the Sufi tradition which is at the core of Kashmiri culture.


Salafism is on the rampage globally. In the last few months, Salafis have desecrated Sufi shrines in many places across the world, from the Caucasus to Arab-Africa to Kashmir and nations in between. Most notable is the desecration of Sufi shrines in Timbuktu, capital of Mali, which is also famous for its Islamic institutions and Sufi shrines. Some shrines figure on the World Heritage list.


Actually, support for violence in Kashmir has declined and fresh recruits are not coming in sufficient numbers to support the terrorist movement. This has led to a decline in the graph of violence in Kashmir. Peace in the valley is testimony of many things; firstly, it tells us that the efforts of the armed forces have paid dividends. Secondly, a majority of people in the valley in last few years have not been supporting Pakistan’s agenda, and finally less and less people look at the gun as an answer to perceived or real issues. However, the moot point is that no organised violence stops suddenly even though a decline in violence has happened.


The perpetrators of violence have now changed tack to sow the seed of fundamental Islamism by promoting the extreme cult of Salafism. This is because around a quarter of Kashmiri people follow the Salafi-Sunni tradition and it is easy to find recruits from this segment. The recruitment on religious grounds was next to zero a decade back, now it is gaining momentum. Saudi money has come hand in hand with Salafi ideology; money has given access to such mosques and madrasas where conversion and indoctrination can be carried out.


Now, the latest tactic is to ride the international Islamic revulsion for the “anti-Islam film” made in America. Undoubtedly, people across the world have condemned the film, but why was the reaction so violent in Kashmir that curfew needed to be imposed? The separatists who knock at the doors of the United Nations for every conceivable reason should have done so in this instance also. What can be achieved by disrupting the lives of the poor people? This incident is being used to the hilt to whip up passions.


These days, people not intimately associated with developments in the valley have started taking peace for granted. They are quite impressed with the rising levels of tourism and economic activity which gives a general impression that the tide has turned.


But if one studies the reality minutely one would realize that this is just a passing phase of relative peace. The religious divide within the Muslim community itself is a new and menacing entrant in the environment and has serious potential to shatter the hard-earned peace.


It is time to identify the changing societal norms and take immediate action to stop the spread of disinformation and communal hatred designed specifically to further a few well known inimical interests. It is also time to understand that the enemies of the valley are planning something. They are working slowly and surely towards another big game. In case the mischief is not nipped in the bud quickly, there could be some serious security consequences.


The author is an analyst of south Asian affairs

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