They say they take inspiration from the Afghan Taliban’s “victory” over American troops. They are educated, some from well-off families, some hold regular jobs, some in the government. They freely declare their anger against what they call the “Indian state and the Army”. They all want azadi. But what’s most striking about the young people in the capital of Kashmir’s new wave of militancy is that they aren’t exactly secretive.
So while at the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar, both Kashmiris and “non-local” boys stressed that their names not be published, here, in this corner of south Kashmir, young people insisted they be named in this report. The Indian Express spoke to more than 70 men and women in the age group of 17 to 30 across four districts that comprise south Kashmir. Only a few asked for their names to be withheld.
Famous as the town where Burhan Muzaffar Wani was the cricket-loving boy next door and the son of a local headmaster who left home to join Hizbul Mujahideen in 2010 and is now the most famous face of militancy in Kashmir, Tral is 40 km from Srinagar in Pulwama district.
“We are inspired by the Taliban, their victory over the American military and NATO forces,” says a young lawyer. “They have kept at it for years, and despite the world being against them, they forced the Americans for talks. That’s like winning the war. Same way we will also win against Indian troops.”
A 29-year-old teacher describes Kashmir’s relationship with India as “a gone chapter”. The bridges between the two, he says, “have been burnt forever”.
“The bottom line is India does not trust Kashmiris, and Kashmiris don’t trust India,” he says.
Another teacher says “everyone here in Tral is a militant, whether he is a student, teacher, doctor or engineer. The only difference is some of us have weapons, and the rest of us don’t. Mentally, we are militants. If weapons were available, there would be more armed militants “
A police official who did not wish to be identified described the alienation among the youth in Pulwama as “enormous” and “colossal”, and of “serious concern” as it has also seen several local youth turning to militancy.
The local character of the militancy in south Kashmir was “the most worrying”, the official said. It is after 1999 that boys in the area, where the Jamat-e-Islami has a strong presence and the Hizbul Mujahidden remains influential, are turning to the extreme option of picking up the gun.
Another aspect of the alienation worrying the police and the Army is the unprecedented and apparently spontaneous demonstrations of support by people, entire villages pouring out of homes and rushing to the site of an encounter between militants and security forces, and attacking security forces with stones.
The Jammu & Kashmir police see this as a new militant tactic in Kashmir, inspired by the street agitations of 2008 and 2010 in the Valley.
The police say at present there are 140 militants in the entire Valley who have been named and identified, and owing allegiance to either the Hizbul Mujahideen or Lashkar-e-Toiba. Some 80 of these are local boys, most of them belonging to south Kashmir. And they have tens of thousands of sympathisers in this area.
A senior police official in Srinagar said there had been no notable strikes by militants in the Valley in recent years because they are not as strong or organized as they used to be earlier. But the gatherings of thousands of people at a time, in defiance of prohibitory orders, could produce the same overawing effect as a terrorist strike, the official said
“When was the last time you saw a big attack in Kashmir? Also militants have realized they don’t get eyeballs with attacks anymore. Such attacks have become routine over the years. They are no longer spectacular. But by creating a spectacle through law and order situations, they have managed to attract a lot more attention, including in the media,” he said.
That in many incidents, it is the local boys who have been trapped or killed by the security forces also acts as “pressure” on the people to mobilise and come out on the streets to support them or to try and protect them, he said.
The people seem to have no fear that they may be caught in the crossfire themselves.
“Earlier they used to run away to hide from the scene of an encounter, now they run towards it,” says the south Kashmir police officer.
“People start converging at the scene of an encounter and start pelting stones. The soldiers have to look not just at where the fire is coming from but also from where the stones are coming,” says a senior military official.
The Army views it as “a law and order problem” that has to be tackled by the police. The police official in south Kashmir said the people did not seem to care about the police or prohibitory orders anymore.
“We are not safe in our own land. Protests are our only safety,” says a teenaged girl in Pulwama town, who is attending a “skills development course”. For more than two of the first four months in 2016, Pulwama itself has been shut for a series of protests in response to the encounters, or incidents in other parts of the Valley. The latest five-day shut down came after the Kupwara incidents.
“I went to the funeral at Karimabad (of the policeman-turned militant killed in the Shopian encounter on April 7) with 15 of my friends. We went walking from here,” said an 18-year-old higher secondary school student in Pulwama town. “Those who died fighting for our rights, we consider them as shaheed, and it is our duty to attend their janaaza, to see their faces,” he said.
In Tral’s Shareifabad, Muzaffar Ahmed Wani, the father of the 21-year-old Burhan, revels in the admiration for his son.
“People are naming their boys Burhan. I haven’t seen my son for six years. That means 2190 days. That means at least 5,000 meals. Where is he eating those two meals a day? Who is looking after him when he falls sick? Somebody is looking after him, that means he has support. So I am not worried about him,” says the headmaster.
His other son was killed by security forces in the hilly forests off Tral, apparently when he went to meet his brother. “He was not a militant. Now I am waiting for the body of Burhan. The average life of a militant is only seven years, and he has lived six. So I know his moment will come”.
(Tomorrow: New Valley, new rage)
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