Since August 2019, as protests over Kashmir have intensified around the world, Stand With Kashmir (SWK) has become an essential voice of the anti-Indian movement in the U.S. But while this "grassroots group" is represented publicly by academics who, somewhat reasonably, appear to discuss the question of self-determination, the organization's actual intentions appear to be more sinister. The Middle East Forum has uncovered that SWK also works to lionize and defend violent Islamists committed to the murder of Indian troops and civilians.
Across the country, SWK can be found forming university chapters, organizing protests, sending representatives as guest-speakers to events, and working with various Islamist organizations, such as the U.S. proxy for Jamaat-e-Islami, the Islamic Circle of North America. SWK has rapidly become one of the most influential voices in America on the subject of Kashmir.
While SWK lists neither founders nor employees on its website, it does offer the names of dozens of its "experts," some of whom frequently represent the movement at events. Many of these so-called experts are academics at American universities who specialize in such subjects as human rights, colonialism, and gender studies. As could be expected, SWK and its experts frame their support for Kashmiri resistance to India using the topical, left-leaning language of today's social sciences – insisting on the area's "indigenous" population, praising women's role in the resistance, generally portraying the conflict as a struggle against an imperial power, and even (somehow) linking it to "climate change."
But unabashed extremism is found amid the progressive niceties. Despite the obscurity surrounding its organizational structure, SWK is very active on social media. Along with regular posting of poetry, drawings, and articles, it also offers support for violent extremists. On Twitter, the organisation recently tweeted about a Kashmiri named Riyaz Naikoo being "killed" and his house destroyed, failing to mention he was a senior commander in Hizbul Mujahideen, a Kashmiri terrorist group designated as such by the US government and tied to the South Asian Islamist movement Jamaat-e-Islami.
Dig a little deeper into SWK's website, and it emerges that the various human rights appeals advance for a darker agenda. SWK "calls for the immediate release of all Kashmiri prisoners," whom they present as inoffensive activists – arrested merely for benign political beliefs. In reality, several of these prisoners have been involved with dangerous terrorist organizations, while one has even met with Al Qaeda operatives. Across SWK's website and social media, these violent extremists are profiled and venerated.
The Angel of Death
Perhaps the most compelling example is that of Asiya Andrabi, whom SWK simply presents as a "sociopolitical activist" who has been unjustly jailed. In fact, Andrabi is a notorious Islamist activist and founder of Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of the Nation), which the Economist notes "supports terrorists" and advocates jihad. Some in Kashmir refer to Andrabi as the "angel of death."
In one interview, Andrabi explains that she has met with Al Qaeda officials and told them that if "you belong to Sheikh Osama's Al-Qaeda then you are very welcome because he was a legitimate leader of Jihad." Andrabi describes the possible arrival of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Kashmir as "our brothers [...] coming to help us to liberate us from India." In another interview in 2001, Andrabi expresses her support for the killing of "not only the [Indian] police, but all the Indian politicians, too." When asked about "a call made by a Kashmiri militant group for the assassination of India's prime minister", she replies that "we'd be very happy, inshallah [God willing]."
As for her son, according to the 2001 interview, Andrabi "would like him to be a jihadi, and fight for Islam anywhere in the world."
While SWK experts insist on the importance of Kashmiri self-determination, Andrabi argues that it is "purely an Islamic struggle" and expresses her determination to sacrifice tens of thousands of martyrs for the cause. Andrabi does not appear to favor an independent Kashmir, instead saying "we want Pakistan", "then it will be our first and foremost duty to Islamise Pakistan."
SWK's academics, meanwhile, claim that Kashmiri culture is threatened by India, and highlight the issue of feminism in Kashmir. SWK expert Huma Dar, even led a discussion on "the resistance of women, queer and non-binary gender Kashmiri." It seems unlikely, however, that any "queer" or "non-binary" Kashmiri would be accepted in the Islamist-run Kashmir envisioned by Andrabi, who has affirmed her opposition to "traditional Kashmiri culture" and intends to "return our women to Islamic culture."
SWK representatives, nonetheless, prefer to offer a rather different image of Andrabi. Ather Zia is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado and one of SWK's "experts." In an article about the resistance of Kashmiri women, she describes Andrabi as an iconic figure of women's resistance, and insists, while making no mention of Islam, that these Kashmiri women "are not anomalies to be objectified by rank misogyny camouflaged as religious ideals" nor should they be "patronized by men who judge their dress, language, and expressions." Incidentally, SWK's Zia recently mourned the death of a Kashmiri terrorist leader Riyaz Naikoo, referring to him as a martyr, and declaring: "death to indian occupation!"
There is no doubt that Andrabi's activism has always been motivated by her Islamism rather than by any nationalist or feminist preoccupation. Indeed, her first political activities in 1987 consisted of "march[ing] through streets against nudity and spray[ing] black paint on film posters in cinemas."
SWK is evidently aware that Andrabi's long history of support for violent extremism does not corroborate their portrayal of nonviolent activists facing injustice for their political views and peaceful resistance. The organization and its academics carefully avoid mentioning Andrabi's violent activities and associations, only noting that Andrabi was imprisoned with her two aides.
In fact, these two aides, Sofi Fehmeeda and Nahida Nasree, are mentioned in another slide on SWK's website – described as "female political activists" involved "in the movement for self-determination in Kashmir." SWK does note that they are members of Dukhtaran-E-Millat (DeM), presenting it simply as "a women's organization." But according to SWK, Fehmeeda and Nasree were arrested not because of DeM's terrorist activities, but because of a sinister attempt by India to "stifle political participation."
This astounding duplicity – from academics at prominent American universities no less – does not stop there. Another SWK-championed prisoner is Yasin Malik, whom SWK describes as having "embraced nonviolent resistance." SWK does not mention that he "was arrested [...] for his role in fomenting unrest in Kashmir during separatist agitations in 2010 and 2016 that was triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani."
SWK also does not include the fact that according to India's National Investigation Agency (NIA), Malik visited the "Lashkar e Taiba (LeT) camps in Muree in Pakistan occupied Kashmir and addressed the LeT cadres there." LeT is a designated terrorist organization under U.S. law, and is best known for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, in which more than 160 people were murdered.
In March 2020, a court announced it had "enough prima-facie evidence" to prosecute Malik for involvement in the "killing of four unarmed Indian Air Force (IAF) officials in 1990 in Srinagar."
Other SWK prisoners include Altaf Ahmad Shah, Peer Saifullah, and Aftab Hilali Shah. All three were arrested with other separatists in 2017 on charges of "raising, receiving and collecting funds" for terror activities. According to the NIA, the militants were "acting in connivance with active militants of Hizbul Mujahideen, Dukhtarane Millat, Lashkar-e-Taiba." Another, Shabir Ahmad Shah, was "in touch with the global terrorist Hafeez Sayeed, chief of banned outfit 'Jamat-ud-Dawa' [a branch of LeT] based in Pakistan" and was given money to conduct separatist activities in Kashmir.
SWK is gradually wielding more and more political influence in the United States. In October 2019, it denounced an Indian investigative journalist, Aarti Tikoo Singh, before she testified in a congressional hearing focusing on the political situation in Kashmir. During this hearing, Rep. Ilhan Omar attacked Singh using curiously similar arguments and rhetoric. Six months later, the congresswoman joined SWK for an event on "racial justice" and "militarization in Kashmir."
Are SWK's experts – academics of purported renown – really such guileless and such negligent academics that they are not aware they are championing terrorists? Or, do they knowingly support these Al-Qaeda sympathizers and jihadists, deceitfully presenting them as pacifist political activists in order to advance a broader, anti-Indian and anti-Western agenda?
In any case, it seems almost certain that SWK itself is intentionally advocating for terrorists under the pretense of peaceful progressivism. As SWK becomes more influential, and as its experts continue to disseminate misleading claims regarding Kashmiri "resistance," it is imperative that the media uncovers who is really behind this organization, and that policy makers are made aware of the dangerous organization's true agenda.
Martha Lee is a research fellow of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.