Eisa Fazli and Syed Owais left their BTech course in the third year to join militancy in Kashmir. But on the intervening night of 11-12 March, they were killed in an encounter in Soura, Awantipora. One more militant who was killed along with them was Taufeeq, as young as 26. One thing that they all commonly shared was an ideological adherence to the Daesh (Islamic State). However, unlike Fazli and Owais who were local militants, Taufeeq hailed from Hyderabad in Telangana. “He was radicalised into the ISIS ideology through social media and went to Kashmir to participate in terrorist activities of ISIS”, a press note from Telangana police states.

Not long ago, top security officials in Kashmir had denied the ISIS imprint in the valley, seeking to draw a distinction between local and foreign fighters. Urging the misguided Kashmiri youths to return home and promising to “receive them in an honourable manner”, Lt Gen J.S. Sandhu had asked: “The local terrorists must realise that it is easy to call yourself a Mujahid. But are you a Mujahid or are you just a proxy for Pakistan?”

But what the J&K police has unravelled now is quite unsettling. They tell us that Taufeeq was working for the Islamic State and was from the South Indian state of Telangana. This confirmation not only rebuffs the security officials’ previous optimistic denial of the ISIS imprint in the valley, but also worries us about the radical elements that wield influence on South Indian youths like Taufeeq. Clearly, they could catch the imagination of more gullible youths from the South.

Tellingly, the same Kashmir police, which had denied the claims by ISIS and Ansar Gazwat-ul-Hind—an offshoot of Al Qaeda in the valley—now confesses that Taufeeq was lured into ISIS’ ideology through social media and was in Kashmir to perpetrate terror acts. Besides the police statement, the claims by the ISIS and Ansar-ul-Gazwat-ul-Hind also reveal that the slain terrorist Taufeeq was a resident of Hyderabad.

Perhaps, this is the first time that a South Indian ISIS sympathiser died fighting in Kashmir. According to the Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind’s bulletin Al Nasir, Taufeeq migrated to Kashmir from Hyderabad in the path of jihad (fi sabilillah). It should be common knowledge now that the southern part of India is on the radar of ISIS radicalisation. Most home-grown jihadist operatives—both underground and overground—such as Al-Ummah, Indian Mujahideen and SIMI have a southern link. While the ideologues of the Indian Mujahideen are from South India, Yasin Bhatkal, Riyaz Bhatkal and Iqbal Bhatkal all come from Bhatkal, a coastal town in Karnataka of South India. No wonder then, radical Islamist outfits like the PFI also originated in the southern part.

There are ominous signs that it is the South specifically that these terror groups are targeting. As of now, radicalisation among the youth in the South compared to the North is more rampant. Part of the reason is the unchecked growth of different strains of political Islamist thought in South. During the last few years, a whole new variety of ultra-puritanical Salafists, quite different from those in North, have emerged. Besides the Nadwatul Mujahideen of Kerala and Tamil Nadu’s Tauheed Jamat factions that got a foothold in the South, various radically new Salafist outfits such as Niche of Truth (Kerala), Peace Educational Foundation (Kerala), Jamiat ul Muflihaat (Hyderabad), Discover Islam Education Trust (Bengaluru) sprung up. Their online extremist material in local languages continues to go unchecked.

There are ominous signs that it is the South specifically that these terror groups are targeting. As of now, radicalisation among the youth in the South compared to the North is more rampant. Part of the reason is the unchecked growth of different strains of political Islamist thought in South.

As for the North, it did witness the radically inclined outfits like Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), Indian Mujaheedin and Wahadat-e-Islami, but the local Islamic ethos of India supersedes the global jihadist rhetoric in the North. It is interesting to note that Eisa Fazili, in a video which he probably recorded just before the encounter, castigated the Indian ulema who refuse to issue a fatwa for jihad against “non-Muslims oppressors”. Given that scores of anti-terror fatwas were recently issued in several large Islamic conclaves in Delhi, extremists like ISIS’ ideological supporter Eisa Fazili are critical of those ulema who participated in them, accusing them of “siding with the government’s bid to disparage the Ummah”.

Eisa Fazili warned these ulema: “One day they have to show their faces to Allah who will punish them for failing in their duties to give a call for armed struggle.”

What is staggeringly new is the spotting of South India’s radicalised youths on the march for the “Jihad-e-Kashmir”. Those who still live in denial of the ISIS’ presence in the country must be cognizant of this worrying development. At least on an ideological front, ISIS is an existential threat to the valley.

More shockingly, there are those who participated in the funeral of Eisa Fazili, the Kashmiri militant. The motive behind such pernicious attempts is self-explanatory. It is clearly aimed at displaying the bitter truth behind the ideological existence of the violent extremist cult in Kashmir. It prides itself in its crazy bid to establish an “Islamic caliphate”, wreaking mindless violence and willing to die in this path in order to attain what it glorifies as “Shahadat” (martyrdom). This catches the imagination of those largely carpeted under the cover of “misguided youth”. Therefore, the indoctrinatory aspect of the “gullible youths” and their subsequent influence on other youths who turn to militancy cannot be underestimated. The security agencies must concern themselves with this phenomenon from a deeper ideological perspective. Worryingly, during the last couple of years, almost a dozen youth from Hyderabad and other parts of Telangana have been arrested on charges of their alleged attempts to join the ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Some of them were also caught in recruiting their acquaintances.

In this context, one question is repeatedly posed to the Indian authorities: Why doesn’t the state address this issue along with the ulema and Islamic clerics crucial to de-radicalisation of the Muslim youth? Of course, they must be talked to periodically, to review the situation and make course corrections. Notably, India’s ulema—who continue to be the religious guides of the Muslim youth across the country—harshly condemn the terror activities juxtaposed with jihad. But while there are condemnations galore against the ISIS in several parts of the country in recent years, they have proven ineffective in Kashmir. The more harshly they condemned, the more deadly the jihadists appeared in the valley. The reason is: while the Indian ulema issued fatwas against the ISIS declaring it an “un-Islamic”, “self-imposed” and “illegitimate” caliphate, they left the theological underpinning of “Islamic caliphate” (Khilafah) unchallenged. They didn’t clearly tell the Muslim youth that such dichotomous religious postulates are antithetical to modern nation states where the 21st century Muslims coexist with other communities. At least now, they must declare unequivocally that any demand for establishing “caliphate” or state of Islam in any part of the world is untenable.

Deplorably for Kashmir, militants have attached religious sanctity to their terrorist designs in the valley for quite a few years. What fuels the fire to their war cry is the concocted notion of Ghazwa-tul-Hind (Islamist expedition against India), which is based on fictitious hadiths (sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad pbuh).

The most widespread among these hadith texts is the one narrated by Abu Huraira (r.a). He reported: “The Messenger of Allah promised us the conquest of India. If I was to come across that event, I will spend my soul and wealth. If I am killed then I am among the best of martyrs. And if I return then I am Abu Huraira (RA) who has been freed from the fire of hell.”

This hadith has profusely been used in the rhetoric of the jihadist ideologues who incite the youths to participate in the ongoing proxy war against India. Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Maulana Masood Azhar often exhorts the virulent doctrine of Ghazwa-e-Hind in his speeches. Another jihadist ideologue in Pakistan, Maulvi Irfan ul Haq also uses this Hadith to misguide the Pakistani people fomenting hatred against India as “land of kufr”. He ranted in one of his sermons that “Pakistan has been created for Ghazwa-e-Hind”. He went on to say: “This is an honour that Allah has bestowed on Pakistanis, and this is the cause that led to the establishment of Pakistan.” However, he regrets that “majority of us (Pakistani Muslims) do not even know what Ghazwa-e-Hind is”. “This is precisely why you Pakistanis are criticised by all the evil forces and especially by Indian people. For they know very well why this country has been established. They fully understand why this nation has emerged. But you people do not have the faintest idea about it”, he stated (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBnA3k_gRik).

Moreover, an indoctrinatory war against India’s polity continues unabated. A number of print and online magazines edited by the Pakistani clergy try to push the youths towards an anti-India rhetoric. Pakistani literature is replete with such jihadist organs that are major catalysts of radicalisation. Take a look at Jaish-e-Mohammad’s magazine in Urdu, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s Urdu magazine Nawa-e-Afghan Jihad, an extremist monthly in English, Azaan and many other extremist Islamist magazines in Urdu like Sada-e-Mujahid (voice of Mujahid), Hateen, Murabetun, Maulana Masood Azhar’s editorials in Al-Qalam, Rah-e-Wafa (path of loyalty) and Zarb-e-Momin (combat of the believer). These are only a few of the many mouthpieces that quote from the Hadith to indoctrinate the common Muslim youth into Ghazwa-tul-Hind.

The radical Pakistani outfit Islam ke Sipahi (the soldiers of Islam) published an article titled “Ghazwa-e-Hind: Mujahideen will conquer India” authored by the chairman of this outfit. Quoting the same concocted hadith, the chairman of Islam Ke Sipahi buttresses: “India is a fitna (evil), which is being supported by the Zionists to destroy Muslims. This has turned into a proxy war where the Zionists fund and support India to destroy the Muslims. India itself was a Muslim country until the British invaded it and before they left they gave all the power to the Hindus and tried their best to bring the Muslims down….”

While the Indian ulema—who continue to be the religious guides of the Muslim youth across the country—issued fatwas against the ISIS declaring it an “un-Islamic”, “self-imposed” and “illegitimate” caliphate, they left the theological underpinning of “Islamic caliphate” (Khilafah) unchallenged.

Last year, when the Pakistani terrorists attacked the administrative block of the Indian Army killing 19 and injuring over two dozen soldiers, they called it a war of Ghazwa-tul-Hind. Again, India was threatened by an Afghan-origin jihadist, namely Sultan Zabul al-Hindi, an affiliate to the Al Qaeda, who proclaimed: “The only solution for you [India] is the rule of Shariah, which Allah has commanded.” Thus, the war-cry of Ghazwa-tul-Hind is addressed not only to Pakistani and Afghani fighters, but also to its target audiences among Indian Muslims. The ISIS’ Wilayah Khorasan or Khorasan module—an important recruiting station of the ISIS—also targets the youths from India, particularly those hailing from the South. An increasing scale of radicalisation in Kerala is a substantial case in point.

Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a scholar of classical Arabic and Islamic studies, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies. He tweets at @GRDehlvi and can be reached at grdehlavi@gmail.com