Burhan Muzaffar Wani, a 21-year-old boy, is the new face of militancy in Kashmir. Although he is based in south Kashmir’s Tral area, his aura has almost touched every young Kashmiri heart and mind. He is the commander of the largest indigenous militant group of Kashmir namely Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. His good looking and handsome persona is in striking contrast with the gun touting image of most of the previous veteran of Hizb in 1990s.
A simple boy born in Tral, in western Kashmir, Burhan’s story is one of many who chose the path of militancy. Till 15, he was a trouble-free boy who used to ride around on a motorbike with his brother and did things like other teenagers. He was a studious boy too but all of this soon changed when Special Operations Group (SOG) and police personnel harassed him and his brother on a fateful day in 2010.
Harassment and intimidation are not new to Kashmiris. It is reported that Burhan’s brother fainted when both of them were harassed on that day. For a 15-year-old Burhan, it was a soul shaking incident. Now, Burhan leads a life of an outlaw. He is the Robin Hood of Kashmir. His decent to the violent movement is elemental to a growing trend in the Valley. Young, tech savvy and completely ingrained with “Freedom Doctrine”, the new breed of rebels is not afraid to show their faces. In fact, they are effective in inspiring others to get recruited towards militancy.
Militarisation in Kashmir
Main cities, towns and villages in entire Kashmir have lived under the direct army interference for decades now. People have witnessed how young and old were killed since the inception of militancy in 1988. Most of today’s youth were not even born in 1988. They grew up believing that a peaceful protest would be more effective. However, when youth held peaceful protests in 2008, 2009 and 2010 against incidents like Amarnath Land Row, rape and murder of Aasiya and Neelofer, the protesters had to face brute force and more than 200 people, especially youth, were killed in these three years which lay bare the failure of political system in Kashmir.
The most vulnerable individuals are the teenagers, quick to be judged, easy to be trapped and most likely to be harassed by the armed forces. The single biggest factor behind the increasing number of educated youth joining militant ranks is the heavy militarisation. While New Delhi keeps the state on a short leash, grave human right violations by the Army keeps us reminding how tumult Kashmir is.
Like Naseer Pundit, young victims of atrocities by the Army sometimes turn to extremism. He also has joined Burhan. Recently, his pictures also went viral on social networking sites, most notably Facebook. Certainly, there is an appeal in becoming a rebel now-a-days in Kashmir, but there is price to be paid as well. Young boys who join militancy undergo ideological reprogramming; their social re-assimilation becomes extremely difficult. Furthermore, due to this trend every teenager in the state has become susceptible to armed forces' brutality. Government is ill-equipped to handle the frustration of youth and deems everyone who talks about freedom as a militant.
The matter of militarisation is in fact so complicated that politicians avoid commenting on this vital issue. Kashmir has suffered a breakdown of civil rights due to militarisation. In far-flung areas such as Gurez, Handwara, Kupwara, Lolab, Tangdhar and Machil military acts almost as the sole governing body.
When Abu Qasim, a Lashkar-e-Taiba "commander" was killed in an encounter in Kulgam south Kashmir on October 29, he was given a hero’s farewell. His funeral literally looked like a rally. As per reports, more than 20,000 people participated. And aptly, why wouldn’t Kashmiris see him as their hero? After all the Army is seen as an outsider and Qasim represents people's struggle. It is the failure of political set up that allows Army to operate without any control.
The tendency of New Delhi is to apply force where mediation could have worked. There are active elements in New Delhi and Islamabad who want to keep Kashmir destabilised and at every given opportunity political dialogue is muffled. Youth has not abandoned the option of peaceful deliberation but those efforts are seriously hurt every time political system is sidelined by military atrocities. In a way, New Delhi’s political aspirations have been out of sync with Kashmir’s political needs.
Since 2008, not much has been done to secure the confidence of youth in a democratic way. Even after the Pakistan admitted its role in mobilising militancy in Kashmir, people hardly feel sour about it. That's because the other side of the equation is the political dysfunction in Kashmir which is ignored by New Delhi completely. Give youth a chance to express themselves politically and stop prosecuting activists. Else more educated boys and girls will join militancy. Who benefits from that is a whole different debate.