A Pakistani cleric described as an associate of the late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden urged Muslims to wage jihad against Indian troops in Kashmir, the Times reported Friday.
The call for jihad came days after the Hindu nationalist-led Indian government revoked the autonomous status of New Delhi-held Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority region in the country.
India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also declared this week that the Kashmir territories held by Pakistan and China belong to India.
Al-Qaeda has repeatedly called for attacks against non-Muslims in Kashmir, namely Hindus, over what it considers New Delhi’s occupation of the predominantly Muslim region. The jihadi group and its rival the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) are reportedly expanding their footprint in Kashmir.
Pakistan, India, and China have competing claims for the Himalayan region of Kashmir. Pakistan and India claim all of Kashmir as their territory.
In an interview with the Times published Friday, Maulana Abdul Aziz, a 59-year-old Pakistani cleric, declared that “jihad is mandatory.”
“He denounced Pakistan’s strategy in Kashmir as a failure and demanded that Imran Khan, the prime minister, free Islamists held in Pakistani jails and ‘open the border for our fighters’ to strike Indian forces,” the U.K. newspaper added.
Echoing Aziz, al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri recently urged his supporters in the disputed Kashmir region to attack Indian soldiers and their government.
In a message titled “Don’t Forget Kashmir,” Zawahiri declared:
Mujahideen [Islamic guerrilla fighters] in Kashmir- at this stage at least- should single-mindedly focus on inflicting unrelenting blows on the Indian Army and government, so as to bleed the Indian economy and make India suffer sustained losses in manpower and equipment.
Zawahiri and Aziz accused Pakistani PM Imran Khan of reining in jihad against Indian interests and assets.
In recent days, Khan reportedly ruled out using jihadi organizations to punish New Delhi for revoking Indian Kashmir’s statehood. The U.S. has long accused Pakistan of harboring Islamic terrorist groups.
Indian Kashmir lost its autonomous status amid an indefinite security lockdown and a communication blackout in the region, including the blocking of phone lines, the Internet, and news outlets, that continues at press time.
India has also flooded the area with security forces who have already arrested over 500 people.
“The current policy on Kashmir is weak. We have to respond to the Indian atrocities and the lockdown of the valley,” Aziz told the Times.
Khan warned that India’s recent actions could trigger another war.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars and a minor conflict over Kashmir. China and India have also fought a war over the restive region.
Khan also said that revoking Indian Kashmir’s statehood could result in genocide.
Human rights groups and the United States have accused the BJP of encouraging Hindu extremist violence against religious minorities, mainly Muslims.
A border known as the Line of Control (LOC) separates the Pakistani and Indian territories in Kashmir. Islamabad has ceded control of some of its Kashmir territories to its all-weather ally China. Meanwhile, India disputes China’s occupation of land on its side of the LOC.
Despite a 2003 ceasefire between India and Pakistan, the two nations continue to clash along the LOC.