The ‘War on Terror’ narrative is the gift that keeps on giving to illiberal, anti-democratic, and authoritarian regimes the world over.
A narrative that allows invaders, occupiers, and dictators to freely use the label terrorist as a pejorative term, one that conflates anti-colonial resistance movements, liberation struggles and civil rights groups with “radical Islamic terrorism,” which, by default, brands every bearded Muslim holding a banner, stone, or gun a “terrorist”, no matter whether their cause is legal, moral, or just.
For more than three decades, Israel has successfully conned the world into believing it is waging a fight against “Islamic terrorism,” and not the liberation aspirations of a people it illegally occupies and represses.
This lesson in propaganda was previously demonstrated by China, which has falsely claimed it is fighting “radical Islamists” in East Turkistan – a territory China has occupied since 1989 – when, in fact, it’s suppressing the liberation aspirations of 12 million Uighur.
Myanmar has also used the cloak of “Islamic terrorism” to fig leaf its genocide of 1.3 million Rohingya.
Then there is Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator, who cynically and sinisterly took the “war on terror” narrative one step further. First, Assad tried to con the international community, particularly the United States, into believing his regime was fighting a terrorist led-revolt.
But when that ruse failed, he released thousands of Islamic extremists from his prisons, many of whom had battled US troops in Iraq, and staged false-flag attacks on Syrian government buildings “to foster the impression that al-Qaeda had an armed presence in Syria long before it did,” observed Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Roy Gutman.
It appears India is now catching on to this duplicitous game of smoke and mirrors, but in occupied Kashmir. During protests in Srinagar, undercover Indian security forces not only embedded and disguised themselves as Kashmiri protesters, but also planted Islamic State (IS) flags among them, as reported by multiple eyewitness accounts on social media and Kashmir Monitor, one of the valley’s leading English newspapers.
While India has long held up “terrorism” as a fig leaf to deflect international condemnation of its verifiable track record of human rights atrocities in the occupied territory – a reality acknowledged in a recent UN human rights investigation – it appears this is a new effort by India to conflate Kashmiri independence movements with the most nefarious of all Islamic extremist groups – IS.
“For India, to dissuade international pressure, it’s common to link Kashmir’s movement for self-determination to that of terrorism,” Muhammad Faysal, a Kashmiri born journalist told me. “It becomes easier to raise a bogeyman, like IS, to distract from human rights abuse.”
When I asked Sabena Siddiqi, a Pakistan based journalist and geopolitical analyst, what she made of what appears to be a strategy to hype up a non-existent IS threat in Kashmir, she told me, “It seems like a deliberate attempt to turn a legitimate UN recognised-freedom movement into a terrorist activity. The Indian Army might be doing it to paint Kashmiri freedom fighters as IS terrorists, so the movement can be crushed militarily.”
Certainly both Siddiqi and Faysal’s analysis hit the mark, but there’s another likely, and even more compelling motive: A brazen attempt by the Modi government in New Delhi to reaffirm its alignment with the Trump administration in Washington DC.
“The anti-IS effort is one of Trump’s key foreign policy priorities, and the Trump administration will presumably be more willing to engage with other countries who have similarly made countering IS a priority,” observes Natalie Tecimer, a research associate with the US-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
India is now catching on to this duplicitous game of smoke and mirrors but in occupied Kashmir
In other words, by feigning or hyping up an IS threat in Kashmir, India can both give cover to its brutal and repressive occupation management strategies, while also eliciting increased military aid and cooperation from the world’s most sole superpower.
“But as India has not been involved in the fight against IS on a global scale, there have been few opportunities for US-India joint counter-IS operations,” notes Tecimer.
Making what appears to be a coordinated effort to paint Kashmiri Muslims as sympathetic to IS a laughable claim, is the fact that even Indian government officials, including the Indian State Police Chief have flatly denied that IS exists in Kashmir; asserting the group has no “substantial” presence in the region, while Munir Khan, Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, says investigations into the group’s presence have found “nothing concrete.”
“For IS, Kashmir is somewhat fertile ground, owing to a long standing conflict, but the political awareness and years of political mobilisation means that such extremist organisations cannot gain heavy ground,” Faysal told me.
India knows groups such as IS are irreconcilable with grassroots liberation struggles of the kind we see in Kashmir, the same way Israel knows this about the aspirations of Palestinians; the same way China knows this about Uighur Muslims; the same way Myanmar’s military knows this about the Rohingya.
But none of this has stopped these states trying to conflate the desire for freedom from tyranny, with ‘radical Islam’, because the ‘War on Terror’ has been the gift that keeps on giving to illiberal, anti-democratic and authoritarian regimes.