New-age militancy takes roots in Valley

New-age militancy takes roots in Valley

New-age militancy has given a new lease of life to the Kashmir cause, but at the cost of young blood. From school drop-outs to scholars to academicians, youth from various walks of life, including policemen and defence services aspirants, have been picking up arms.

A 33-year-old doctorate in Sociology, Prof Muhammad Rafi, a young assistant professor of Kashmir University, has just added to this list of youth, who not only picked up a gun but subsequently lost their lives.

A scholar of years, Rafi was a two-day-old militant when security forces killed him in an encounter in the apple town of Shopian on May 6. Escorted by the state police, his family was on way to the gunfight site, hoping to persuade him one last time, but encounter had already concluded.

Rafi was among the five militants, including wanted Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Saddam Padder, gunned down by security forces, while five civilians were also killed in clashes in the area.

At Padder’s funeral, his mother gave him a gun salute. A video, which went viral on social media, showed the aged mother pulling the trigger of a gun held by a militant. Before pulling the trigger, she hugged the militant, Syed Naveed Mushtaq, a police deserter who decamped with four rifles last year.

The government forces, on the other hand, are crushing militancy with military might, under the army’s “Operation All Out”, a formal offensive to weed out militancy from the embattled state.

At least 218 militants were killed in 2017 alone during joint operations by the army, police and paramilitary forces. Around 60 militants, including Rafi and a young engineer Eisa Fazili, have been killed this year. Undeterred by the military offensive, youth like Rafi and Abid Nazir Chopan, who had cleared the National Defence Academy exam, continue to pick up arms.

But if militants are ready to die, so are their supporters. And here, it’s like the reverse of the situation in the 1990s. If that time people would flee away from encounter sites, now they rush towards the line of fire.

Despite a warning by the army chief Gen Bipin Rawat in February 2017 that those civilians hindering counter-insurgency operations would be treated as Over Ground Workers of terror outfits, people continue to jump into this fire in a bid to salvage the besieged militants. Around 40 civilians have been killed near encounter sites since.

But death seems to have become glamorous. In February, the state government admitted that Kashmir witnessed 44% rise in local youths joining militancy in 2017. This year, 45 youth, including an MBA and an NDA aspirant, have already joined militant ranks till mid-April.

The separatist camp led by Hurriyat Conference, on the other hand, no more looks like an inspirational platform.

In March, within a week of Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai having taken over as chairman of the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, replacing veteran separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani, his youngest son, Junaid Ashraf Sehrai, joined Hizbul Mujahideen.

A 28-year-old MBA from Kashmir University, Junaid, didn’t follow his father’s footsteps of soft separatism. Instead, he rebelled.

Despite all previous dialogues with New Delhi, in the absence of any tangible achievement, soft separatism looks like a living failure. Given the persistent sense of defeat, millennial youth like Rafi find themselves in a do or die situation.

If policemen and academicians leave their lucrative career for a gun, Kashmir cannot be seen through the prism of unemployment or underdevelopment.

But then, New Delhi is unable to read the writing on the wall, nor looks concerned towards blood on the ground, including that of security personnel. Twenty-five jawans have already lost lives in Kashmir this year.

If killing militants was to kill militancy, Burhan Wani’s killing on July 8, 2016, should have meant the end of militancy. But since then, barring a few spells of uneasy calm, peace continues to be the distant dream. For the last two years, the government has been unable to hold parliamentary by-polls for South Kashmir seat.

Forget ‘aazadi’ seeking Kashmiris, Shailendra Mishra, a young J&K cadre IPS from Mumbai while speaking at a function of ‘Brahman Mahasammelan’ in his hometown last year, called the killing of Kashmiri militants as “our collective failure”.

But then, there’s army chief, often accused of overstepping his authority in the democratic setup. On May 10, a day after the All-Parties Meeting in Srinagar chaired by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti resolved to press for “unilateral ceasefire” with militants, Gen Rawat spoke his heart out again.

In a message to Kashmiri youth, he said that ‘azadi’ is not possible as “we will always fight those who seek azadi”.

Rawat, in an interview to a national daily, said the forces have not been “so brutal” and asked the Kashmiri youth to look at Syria and Pakistan and see “how they are using tanks and air power in similar situations.” Military intervention is not only aggravating the situation, but it’s equally leaving the mainstream red-faced, much the way the army chief’s remarks indirectly mocked at the ceasefire resolution of the All-Parties Meet.

Well, there’s a need for a dialogue, essentially with Kashmiri militants and those who protest on streets. But the dialogue is subject to a ceasefire.

 (The author is a journalist and analyst)