Lessons from the Rauf Khanday story: Changing the radical narrative in Kashmir is imperative

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The story of Rauf Khanday, the Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist killed at Petha Dialgam village in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district on the night of 31 March, is the ideal trigger for commencement of new narratives in Jammu & Kashmir.

Rauf Khanday along with another young terrorist was located by intelligence in a safe house in the village; security forces have a standard operating procedure in such encounters. Megaphones, mobiles and even couriers are used to establish communication with terrorists holed up, especially if it is known there are local ones. They are asked to surrender failing which the encounter is progressed to its inevitable end.

Altaf Ahmad Khan, the current SSP Anantnag and a veteran JK Police officer knows the score. He set up the mechanism to communicate with both the young terrorists and convinced one of them to surrender, but Khanday refused. What Altaf Khan then felt is the stark truth that many in Kashmir and in fact all over India have hardly understood; that Khanday had a false interpretation of the Quran fed to him.

SSP Altaf Khan tried discussing with him aspects of the false interpretation but two way mobile communication under the tension of an ongoing encounter is hardly the environment in which the Quran’s message can be interpreted. “I narrated verses from Quran and advised him that whatever he was doing was against the teachings of Islam. The conversation continued for over 30 minutes during which Khanday got abusive. But I ignored all this because my intention was to save him from getting killed,” Khan is reported to have later said. Khanday’s parents were brought to the encounter site but their urgings too could not succeed; he became violent and was eventually killed.

Ever since 2012-13 new militancy has hit the Valley. Till then the narrative of extremism was led by radicalized Pakistani terrorists. The new generation of local terrorists were, however, mostly from South Kashmir. Headquartered there, in the Kulgam area, is the Jamaat e Islami (JeI) Kashmir which is not linked with JeI India.

Efforts to link the extremist movement in J&K with international extremist Islamic influence had formed a part of Pakistani grand strategy right from 1989. It was well known that bringing about such a change in Kashmir’s essentially tolerant Sufi faith would need the spread of new narratives with less tolerant interpretations of the Quranic message, which give Islam a colour of confrontation with the rest of the world.

But these new narratives really came into their own as social media hit the Valley with penetration of mobile networks and internet connectivity in 2012-13. The transformative effect came with the full throated employment of UP and Bihar maulvis who had by then replaced the Sufis in the Valley’s mosques, making a difference to the Friday sermons and everyday Islamic education of children.

The Indian state and its front-line organisations led by the army and intelligence agencies understood little of the creeping onslaught of the new Islamic narratives. The unfortunate thing is that lack of knowledge and unwillingness to go beyond search engine information – while continuously condemning all of Islam as a faith and not its negative interpretations – is only helping drive Kashmir’s youth deeper into the morass of extremism.

We need a moderate clergy to come to the assistance of the establishment. Even the clergy of Saudi Arabia is changing its stance based on the leadership of Prince Mohammad bin Salman. India is fortunate that it has major schools of Islamic jurisprudence and its Islam is considered the most moderate. Yet a one off condemnation of extremist interpretations about terrorism does not help; in fact the silence of the clergy contributes to strengthening the ongoing negative narratives.

India has many eminent Islamic clergymen who give weight to multi-faith dialogue and espouse the cause of moderate ideology. Changing the radical narrative in Kashmir cannot be a creeping effort; it has to be transformative, visible and focused. It’s a matter of putting together a campaign backed by the government which can take inspiration from similar campaigns instituted in countries such as Indonesia and Singapore. There are models of online instruction through internet imams and academics while addressing youth, parents and teachers on religious parenting and ever present threats of negative religious interpretations.

(This article was originally published in Times of India on the 7th of April 2018, and has been republished here with the permission of the author. Read it here.)