New Delhi: Kashmir militancy has evolved since the nineteen-eighties into ever more dangerous forms and another perilous turn is indicated with the Zakir Musa killing and the unending protests of the young it has generated. This might be the Burhan Wani moment yet again which bodes ill for a country which has emerged bruised and battered from a highly divisive election with majoritarian results.

Kashmiriyat and the Sufi tradition have generally kept Kashmir militancy isolated from international Islamism. The only foreign deviation it has seen comes from Pakistan’s moral, material and manpower support to Kashmir militancy. Since Pakistan is in occupation of a part of Kashmir and Pakistan and India have a historical dispute on Kashmir, the foreignness of the deviation may not add up to much.

Nevertheless, the intervention of Pakistan in Kashmir through employment of proxy elements represents a change for the worse as Zakir Musa’s death as a militant leader of the Al-Qaeda does so now although to a degree more malign. Since Kashmir’s first and oldest militant organization, the JKLF, would not accept its political goal as Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan, Pakistan attrited it through the savagery of the Hizbul Mujahideen. Politically sensitive Kashmiri leaders viewed this as a division of the Kashmir movement to benefit Pakistan. Among the dissenters were some Hurriyat leaders.

It didn’t end there. Eventually Hizbul savagery was blunted as it became mainstream, sought respectability in Kashmiri society, and felt the heat of counter-insurgency operations. Discarding the Hizbul and other Kashmir militant elements, Pakistan recruited Pakistan Punjabi fanatics for the Kashmir cause and their terrorism was unveiled in the early nineteen-nineties. It was no longer insurgency when the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed spread terror to other parts of the country.

Pakistan’s straitened economic circumstances, the threat of sanctions to terror financing, the pressure of a revisionist US administration, and China’s geo-economic compulsions have caused Islamabad to temporarily adopt a policy of arm’s length terror in Kashmir. But militancy knows no vacuum and Kashmir militancy is no exception.

There is now reason to believe that firewalls between Kashmir militancy and international Islamism represented by the Al-Qaeda/ Islamic State might have been breached. Non-state militancy could have sunk roots in Kashmir and this perhaps explains the snowballing protests in the Valley triggered by Zakir Musa’s death.

Zakir Musa was as Kashmiri as Burhan Wani or the Phulwama car bomber and came from the upper middle class. While Burhan was a Hizbul militant, the other two rebelled against the Kashmir militant “establishment” and the Hurriyat. One was led into the arms of the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the other took up cudgels on behalf of the Al-Qaeda. The car bomber died without a following but Zakir Musa’s death has attracted thousands of youth. This sends danger signals that cannot be ignored. It is no longer business as usual.

As long as Pakistan was behind Kashmir militancy, fingers could be pointed, diplomatic offensives mounted, and such military actions as were possible launched despite yielding indifferent results. But which state would you blame for Al-Qaeda or Islamic State violence, say, in Jammu and Kashmir or even in the rest of India? Witness the hapless state of Sri Lanka after the Easter bombings with inter-community relations torn apart, majoritarian mobs ruling the streets, and its sovereignty shaken in a few hours of pure terror such as the Tamil Tigers could not inflict in years of guerrilla warfare.

Indian security is generally geared to handling state-sponsored terrorism facilitated by infiltration although the Phulwama and 2008 Bombay attacks point to extraordinary intelligence failures even in a limited domain. On the other hand, non-state terrorism marks a dangerous progression which requires massive reorientation of intelligence-gathering and counterterrorism philosophies. All the same, it is plus ca change in one respect. Without winning the hearts and minds of Kashmiris, the likes of Burhan Wani and Zakir Musa will exert a superhuman influence on the Kashmiri psyche from beyond the grave.