The Rise of more Burhans: Killing of the Hizbul commander in Kashmir is radicalising youth

What has become worrisome for the security establishment is the growing support for militants in the valley.
The Rise of more Burhans: Killing of the Hizbul commander in Kashmir is radicalising youth
The Rise of more Burhans: Killing of the Hizbul commander in Kashmir is radicalising youth
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At a large rally in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district, a dozen kids holding toy guns and replicas of AK-47’s made out of bare wood carefully listen to sermons of Azadi being delivered from the podium. They are well aware of the situation right now in Kashmir. Some of them say they want to be like “Burhan Bhai”.

Scenes like these have come to become prominent over the last one month in South Kashmir. Despite strict curfew and restrictions being imposed by the government for over 45 days, thousands of people are attending such rallies that are being dubbed as “Azaadi Rallies.” 

Even militant commanders have openly made their presence felt at such rallies recently.

Two months ago, scenes such as these would have been nothing more than a distant memory of the early 90s, when thousands of young men crossed the LoC to start an armed movement in Kashmir. But that’s how much the dynamics have changed in the valley since the killing of young Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander Burhan Wani on July 8.  

It has been over a month of Kashmir being under an unprecedented siege with paramilitary forces and police clashing with angry demonstrators. Over 70 people have been killed so far and more than 3,000 wounded. The anger on the streets is thus palpable and with every death it is just multiplying and leading to further alienation.

A senior counter insurgency cop said on condition of anonymity that some 40 youth from South Kashmir alone have left home to join various militant ranks since the protest broke out. Nine of them are in fact from Tral, which had been the home ground for Wani before he was killed.

“Some 40 youth from various districts in South Kashmir have joined groups like Hizb and others that are operating here. The number could be higher, we don’t know yet. Everything has come to a halt,” he said. “There are no such reports from areas of central Kashmir including Srinagar and Budgam district. But that can also change if things are not brought under control.”

After the 2008 and 2010 mass protest led to killing of more the 200 young boys, the valley had already started witnessing a growing mobilization of local youth into militant ranks. Wani, fighting for last six years, had become a face of this new movement that helped to strengthen anti-India sentiment. He was credited with starting a ‘new wave of militancy in Kashmir’.  This can well be gauged by plain statistics.  According to police, out of 180 militants operating in Kashmir, some 88 are locals. This reflects the growing change in the ground reality in Kashmir.

Ironically it’s Wani, whose death has proved to be a catalyst for this new wave of protest in Kashmir. He had joined Hizb as a 15-year-old soon after he was allegedly beaten by security forces during 2010.  

Agenda of failure

The Narendra Modi government has consistently refused to engage with stakeholders in Kashmir in order to find a possible solution to the situation. Instead, the government has chosen to put the blame squarely on Pakistan for creating unrest in the valley. This, according to noted Kashmiri political analyst Gul Wani, has further aggravated the situation.

“The situation in Kashmir today is different from the 90s but it’s equally dangerous. The state repression in Kashmir and unabated killing on the streets has further fuelled the long sense of alienation in Kashmir.”

But Gul believes the recent groundswell of protests in Kashmir after Wani’s death and its magnitude might have taken everyone by surprise but there’s been “a storm building for some time.” He sees ruling party PDP’s alignment with the BJP and it’s subsequent mishandling of key issues like the beef ban controversy and the long pending issues of resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits as one of the biggest underlying factors.

“PDP came to power wooing voters with its touch of soft separatism. But then it did a U-turn and joined hands with the BJP that had announced its grand plans for Kashmir that included abrogation of article 360 even before election. Even Mehbooba realized this and wasn’t very convinced about joining the alliance with BJP after Mufti Sayed died.”    

Upsurge in militant attacks

One of the deadliest fidayeen attacks in Kashmir in recent memory, on a CRPF convoy in Pampore in June this year that left eight jawans dead had already signaled a hot summer ahead for security agencies in Kashmir. According to the army, infiltration bids along the LoC have also witnessed a considerable rise since the start of this year compared to the last few years.

But since protests broke out, there has been a sudden upsurge in militant attacks on the security establishment. In one such daring attack on August 15, militants attacked a police station in Srinagar’s old Down Town area. A CRPF commandant was killed in the attack and four others were left injured. In South Kashmir, the number of militant attacks has considerably increased since the start of the year.

But what has become even more worrisome for the security establishment is the growing support for militants in the valley. Mass gathering of people at encounter sites and at funeral processions of dead militants has become a regular phenomenon, particularly in rural areas of Kashmir.

Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda of the Indian Army, recently told the Associated Press that soldiers have little hope of competing against the rebels for public sympathy. “It’s a big problem, a challenge for us to conduct anti-militant operations now,” said Hooda. “Frankly speaking, I’m not comfortable anymore conducting operations if large crowds are around. Militarily, there’s not much more to do than we already have done … We’re losing the battle for a narrative.”

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