Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, commenting on the latest video issued by al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, rightly stated on July 11 that Indian security forces are capable of safeguarding the country;s sovereignty and territorial integrity against any attack. He also stated that India had received such threats in the past and those threats were successfully countered; hence there was no need to take these threats seriously. The al Qaeda, he said, is a terrorist organisation proscribed by the United Nations and its leaders are designated as terrorists by the UN.
Al-Zawahiri became chief of al Qaeda after the terrorist group’s founder, Osama bin Laden, was killed in Pakistan in May 2011 by Navy SEALs of the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group in Operation Neptune Spear. Recently, a video by al- Zawahiri was posted on As-Sahab channel, which is al Qaeda’s in-house production channel, used to communicate its views to the world.
In the video entitled “Don’t Forget Kashmir,” al-Zawahiri said the Mujahideen in Kashmir should make concerted attacks on the Indian army and government “so as to bleed the Indian economy and make India suffer sustained losses in manpower and equipment.” Al Zawahiri, who is from Egypt and carries a reward of $ 25 million on his head, also said in the video that Mujahideen should communicate with other Muslims of the world.
Thomas Joscelyn, in an article in the Long War Journal, states that al Qaeda is fuelling terrorism in the Valley and instigating the youth to wage jihad against Indian security forces. Al Qaeda, which in the past eulogised Zakir Musa, founder of Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH), showed photographs of Zakir Musa, Burhan Wani and Afzal Guru in the video. Musa was killed in an encounter in Tral on May 23, 2019 by Indian security forces. Analysts feel that al Qaeda and AGH are cooperating with each other in their fight against Indian forces in Kashmir. The video of al- Zawahiri is likely to help Abdul Hameed Lelhari, present chief of AGH.
The video also criticises Pakistan and says fighters should “liberate the Kashmiri Jihad” from the control of intelligence agencies of Pakistan, who are international criminals. Mujahideen should fight to liberate Kashmir and their jihad should be in the name of Allah and should take decisions on the basis of Sharia. The video, in Arabic, also says the Pakistan government and army are “toadies of America” and they prevented Arab Mujahideen from liberating Kashmir after throwing Russians out of Afghanistan. The video clearly mentions the involvement of Pakistan and its intelligence agencies, although Islamabad always claims it is not involved in terrorist activities in India. The 14-minute video also sees al-Zawahiri saying all Muslims must assist jihad in Kashmir, the Philippines, Chechnya, Central Asia, Iraq, Syria, the Arabian Peninsula, Somalia, the Islamic Maghreb and Turkistan.
Analysts state that old and frail al-Zawahiri is in Pakistan and may be availing of facilities provided by the ISI, which is worried that insurgency in Kashmir is dying down after Operations All Out, Cordon and Search and Sarp Vinash. In the first five months of 2019, Indian security forces have successfully eliminated 101 terrorists, including 23 foreigners and 78 locals. According to statistics of the Ministry of Home Affairs, infiltration in 2019 declined 43%, local Kashmiris joining terrorist outfits came down 40 %, while 22% more terrorists were killed in 2019.
Besides elimination of terrorists, security forces have also launched operations Calm Down and ‘Sadbhavana’ (goodwill). These operations are aimed at winning the hearts and minds of local Kashmiris. Hence, the possibility that the ISI forced al-Zawahiri to issue the video cannot be ruled out, even though it criticised Pakistan and its intelligence agencies. That may have been done so no suspicion falls on ISI. The rogue intelligence agency curbs influence of al Qaeda and Islamic State in Pakistan, but assists these terrorist outfits in India. The video may be an effort to unite diverse terrorist groups and disgruntled terrorists.
The video might be an effort by al Qaeda to increase its influence, which is fast diminishing due to the rising influence of Islamic State. IS has already created ‘provinces’ of support in India and Pakistan. The Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) is gaining support among disillusioned Muslim youths. In 2014, al-Zawahiri also formed al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent (AQIS) but could not enhance its influence, hence the al Qaeda chief issued this video to augment its sway.
However, the security forces are doing a good job not only in the Valley but also in handling Left Wing Extremism quite effectively. They should continue with their pro-active policy of elimination of terrorists and should try to win the hearts of local Kashmiris, while revoking Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution. The vigil at the border should also be enhanced and more electronic gadgets should be used to check infiltration.