On May 11, Lieutenant Ummer Fayaz was kidnapped and shot dead by militants in Kashmir's Shopian, where he was attending a cousin's wedding.
The 22-year-old had trained for three years at the National Defence Academy (NDA) and spent a year at the Indian Military Academy before being commissioned to 2 Rajputana Rifles, barely five months ago. Ummer went to Shopian, among the most disturbed districts in J&K, to attend what would have been a celebration. Young officers in our Army often die because they think they are invincible. It's also the same reason why they recaptured the Tiger Hill for us.
Fayaz's killing has barely any parallels in the history of insurgency in J&K. Such an act of cowardice, killing an unarmed soldier on leave, has never been acceptable to Kashmiris, notwithstanding their political leanings.
The loss of lives of innocents provides the state an opportunity to create a rift between the citizens and the militants.
A few more examples point to a growing indiscretion among tanzeems, as far as the selection of their targets is concerned. Five policemen and two bank employees were killed in Kulgam by Hizbul Mujahedeen terrorists on May 7. They had nothing to do with anti-terror operations. Two policemen and two civilians were shot dead in Mir Bazar area of Kulgam district. In another incident, militants barged into the house of two policemen in Shopian; they didn't kill anybody.
There was a phase when the terrorists displayed scant concern for civilian casualties; the example being the wave of grenade attacks with the splinters injuring a substantial numbers of civilians.
The tanzeems lost ground in the bargain and switched to attacks against military and police targets only. That was the trend in the past few months. However, a new narrative seems to be in the offing. Now, we again witness amorphous targeting with the focus primarily on the security forces and banks; perhaps to replenish cash reserves wiped out by demonetisation. Civilian casualties, in the process, seem to be acceptable to the militants.
There are thousands of Kashmiris serving in the Army, the central and state police forces. No soldier from J&K or his/her family will feel safe anymore. The kind of disruption Fayaz's killing has caused in the lives of these families is unimaginable. His death is a watershed in their lives.
A lot more is changing. It doesn't seem to be a struggle for Kashmiriyat anymore. It does not seem to emerge from the aspirations of a separate state. It isn't about the merger of the state with Pakistan either. It's more about global jihad finding a firmer anchor in the Kashmir valley.
The militants are also on their way to turning as brutal as the ISIS men we see beheading unarmed people in full view of the camera and circulating the act through video clips over the World Wide Web.
Zakir, a replacement for Burhan Wani, and the Commander of Hizbul Mujahidin till he resigned on May 13, stated days before leaving the outfit: "When we pick up stones or guns it should not be with this intention that we are fighting for Kashmir. The sole motive should be for the supremacy of Islam so that Sharia is established here."
His message is a reflection of the ideology that is creeping into Kashmir today. The lodgement that global jihad has created for itself within the ideological bandwidth.
Zakir is also on record in a slideshow about establishing a Islamist Caliphate in J&K. He said, "... struggle is for Islam, for Shariat, I am warning all those hypocrite Hurriyat (separatist leaders) leaders.
They must not interfere in our Islamic struggle. If they do, we will cut their heads and hang them in Lal Chowk."
However, Hizbul Mujahedeen's supreme commander Syed Sallahuddin, based in Pakistan, has said there is no room for ISIS, al Qaeda, Taliban or any other group in Kashmir.
According to him, "This movement (Kashmir) is purely local and indigenous. It has no international agenda. Al Qaeda, Daesh or Taliban have no involvement or role in Kashmir." However, by all estimates, the influence of the Islamists to include ISIS and Al Qaida in the valley is increasing.
The media battle will need to be continuously fought and the terror groups exposed. Photo: PTI
Zakir's leaving Hijbul Mujahedeen brings into focus the contradictions J&K youth face in terms allegiance to diverse groups with differing ideologies. A lot of them are restive, and could opt for the more virulent varieties like the ISIS.
There is a requirement for the J&K government to ensure the youth of J&K don't get radicalised. Besides all the issues of governance, political initiatives, economic boost et al, the state needs to focus on a very crucial issue: it has to win the battle for influencing the minds of Kashmiris and changing their perceptions. Influencing the youth is especially more important, since they are the ones who are more vulnerable. This battle is as just as hard as it is to battle the terrorists. Lieutenant Ummer's killing and other violent incidents involving local policemen and bank staff have made a huge dent in the image of militants. A carefully orchestrated perception management campaign using every available media outlet is required to dent their image further.
There is also a requirement denying media access to the militant groups. Srinagar's cable TV networks run the most rabid propaganda to radicalise disillusioned Kashmiri youth. They have to be shut down. As such most of them operate beyond the law. Information and broadcasting minister M Venkaiah Naidu has asked for a compliance report from the J&K government on the issue already. The Indian state has often been too accommodating, thus conveying a perception that someday the demands of the separatists may be accepted.
Strategic communication of national intent with absolute clarity is extremely important. Such communication will need to be articulated by the leadership to give it due credence. Both the Prime Minister and the chief minister have to repeatedly say that there is no room for any debate on Kashmir that isn't a within the framework of the Indian constitution. The message needs to be repetitive to reinforce the perception and embed it in the psyche of the target audience.
Themes for perception management operations will need to be selected by professionals and audio, audio-visual and social media, in fact all mass media means need to be used extensively to ensure their maximum propagation. The terror establishment will respond by its own propaganda, which will need to be contested through the media.
The media battle will need to be continuously fought and the terror groups exposed. The flashy lifestyles of their leaders, lack of compassion and commitment to Islam and a multitude of related issues will require transmission through the media.
Our problem in Kashmir has not just been losing out on the gains garnered repeatedly, but also losing the media space to militants. The state needs to populate it with their own communications. If we left it, militants would fill it up.