India and Pakistan have been involved in heightened exchange of gunfire both on the Line of Control and the international border in Jammu and Kashmir for about a fortnight. In midst of these tensions, sudden reports of people brandishing flags of the Islamic State in Kashmir expectedly sent alarm bells ringing.

Initial reports suggested that a few masked men had waved IS flags at a rally at the Idgah Maidan during Eid celebrations in Srinagar last month. However, the photographs and videos flashed by various news channels offered more confusion than clarity. One of the first images to appear in the media was of a flag that did not belong to the IS. In fact, the flag in question bore no resemblance to the Middle Eastern group's flag, and had the words "Allah" and "Taliban" printed on it. It was possibly the work of a single miscreant or a small fringe group that aimed to ape the symbolism used by terror outfits linked to the Taliban or the Pakistani Taliban.

However, in subsequent reports, videos indeed show what looked like a copy of the ISIS flag being waved by a group of people. The IS, which has been largely contained in Iraq and Syria, uses a flag which is also known as the Black Standard, or the Black Banner. The flag borrows symbolism from the eighth century. when black banners were used by the Second Dynasty of Islam as it came to power. The IS flag has an Islamic phrase called the shahada (declaration of faith) written on the top followed by a distorted sphere or circle thought to represent the official seal of Prophet Muhammad, with more lines from the shahada inside it (the seal itself is a much debated topic between academics and scholars).

Inaccurate interpretation

The Indian media’s representation of the potential presence of IS in Kashmir displays undertones of alarmism and inaccurately interprets a single incident, taking advantage of the already precarious situation in the Valley. In fact, at times, certain television channels used images of the IS flag in Kashmir alongside footage of the group's assaults in Iraq and Syria, without any disclaimers explaining that the footage was not from the Valley.

As a matter of fact, the IS has had a minimal impact on India till now. In a recent graph published by The Washington Post  detailing the nationalities of foreigners known to be fighting with the IS, India’s name did not figure ‒ even as obscure nations such as Trinidad and Tobago found a mention.

However, India has not been totally immune to the IS.  Four youths from Kalyan, near Mumbai, had reportedly joined IS in Iraq after going missing from a pilgrimage trip. Out of the four, one Arif Ejaaz Majid, an engineer, was reported killed in Iraq on August 27,making him the first Indian casualty to die fighting with the IS The fate of the other three remains unclear.

Earlier in the year, Singapore deported an Indian citizen, Gul Mohamed Maracachi Maraicar, for allegedly radicalising a man called Haja Fakurudeen Usman Ali and sending him to Syria. Maraicar, who was working in the country as a systems analyst for a top technology firm, had told investigators in Singapore that jihadists had managed to recruit people from a college in Chennai. In another recent case, 15 youths from Hyderabad were detained in West Bengal over their alleged intent to join the IS in Iraq and Syria. None of the 15 were charged, and were later released.

None of these cases were from Kashmir.

Need for a sharper lens

All the above incidents should be seen through a sharper lens. All cases are one-off, and the numbers of alleged IS recruits are negligible. Britain has more of its citizens fighting with IS than all the South Asian countries combined. An already sensitive political and social ecology should not be unnecessarily tested over the claims of IS being an active entity in Kashmir. IS does not have roots outside the Middle East, even though its propaganda has spread successfully via social media and conventional media alike, and does have the capability of pushing some individuals towards the group;s agendas. The government and the police have made the right noises against the threat, and New Delhi should look to add the IS to its list of banned groups, a move other countries such as Germany and Indonesia have taken.

While Indian intelligence agencies should remain vigilant over both fringe groups and individuals who may look to join the war in Iraq and Syria, it should be kept in mind that the IS has over the past two years been an obscure and largely discredited entity in India. Both the media and public discourse should look to avoid creating panic over the incident in Kashmir.