Patterns of violence change in the Valley

The LeT made its entry into Kashmir in the mid-1990s as part of an ISI strategy of having cadres of trusted Pakistani radical groups to run the militancy. The LeT did recruit a handful of local Kashmiris as a ‘fidayeen’ cadre, but the large majority of those who executed these attacks were Pakistanis. (Reuters file photo)

Twenty seven years ago, in the winter of 1991, the Kashmir Valley was in the grip of a full-fledged rebellion. Hordes of Kalashnikov-wielding militants roamed the streets and neighbourhoods of Srinagar and the Valley’s other areas, from north to south.

Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which believes in the independence of Kashmir, and indigenous Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, an outfit which wants Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan, were leading the anti-India extremism then. By the summer of 1996, the first wave of militancy waned as insurrection lost strength and momentum.

The JKLF, exhausted and broken as a militant outfit, ceased to be active in the armed struggle and Hizbul was in disarray as hundreds of its active militants switched sides and joined the pro-government militia, Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen. But what caused such a sea-change? Between 1990 and 1994, the peak years of the militancy, more than five thousand ultras were killed and thousands more were arrested by the security forces.

By late 1990s, public disillusionment with the ‘gun culture’ had become widespread and democracy was taking roots again with the holding of successful elections. Losing its grip over Kashmir, Pakistani spy agency ISI started a deadly phase of suicide attacks across Kashmir, frequently from 1999 until 2003, and sporadically thereafter, till 2006. Between mid-1999 and the end of 2002, at least 55 such attacks took place and 161 military, paramilitary and police personnel died, as did 90 ‘fidayeen’, mostly Pakistani nationals. Most of these attacks were carried out by the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), an organisation of religious fundamentalists founded and headquartered in Muridke, near Lahore in the Punjab province of Pakistan.

The LeT made its entry into Kashmir in the mid-1990s as part of an ISI strategy of having cadres of trusted Pakistani radical groups to run the militancy. The LeT did recruit a handful of local Kashmiris as a ‘fidayeen’ cadre, but the large majority of those who executed these attacks were Pakistanis.

Read also: Young and educated, the new face of militancy in Kashmir

But by 2007, militancy in Kashmir declined to negligible levels. The summer of 2008 saw the Valley’s largest demonstrations since 1990 against the state government’s decision to transfer 40 acres of forest land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. Another summer unrest in 2010, against the death of a teenage boy in police firing in Srinagar and killing of three youths by the Army in a fake encounter, saw thousands of young stone-pelters confronting security forces. More than one hundred were shot to death in the confrontations, and several thousand were injured.

A paradigm shift

Again from 2011, it seemed Kashmir was heading back towards normalcy when on a July evening in 2016, security forces killed 23-year-old Burhan Wani, who had built a massive following on social media. Burhan’s death sparked months of protests that left over 100 protesters, especially youngsters dead and at least 10,000 injured.

Social media gave a new boost to militancy. Viral videos that capture militants at play and leisure, shocking videos of human rights excesses allegedly committed by security forces on Kashmiri civilians and the use of instant messaging platforms to mobilise stone-pelters brought a paradigm shift in Kashmir militancy. Given how successfully Burhan struck a chord with people through social media and attracted youngsters towards militancy, newer militants are trying out the same.

Daisy Khan, a US-based Kashmiri origin media commentator on extremism, says, using social media for drawing recruits into militancy is a worldwide phenomenon and Kashmir is no exception. “Posting happy selfies on Twitter and Facebook is a way of showing that life after becoming a militant is normal and fun. This strategy is widely and successfully used by Daesh (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria,” she told DH.

While drawing comparisons between New Age Kashmir militancy with other such movements in the world, Khan, whose book WISE UP – Knowledge ends extremism focuses on ISIS strategies, said, “Militant handlers produce inspirational speeches for potential recruits to motivate them to join them and be part of shaping a history. They penetrate your computers and mobile phones.”

She said lack of positive representation, heroic narratives and images of Muslims in media leads to a dearth of role models for young Muslims to emulate “which gives extremists a chance to exploit them.”

However, Lt General A K Bhatt, commander of the Army’s Srinagar-headquartered 15 Corps, says the militant recruitment has seen a decline in the past few months.

“We are sure that after some time, the youth of Kashmir will follow the right path and there will be even lesser recruitment,” he said.

The General said that an overwhelming percentage of Kashmiri populace was in favour of normalcy. “The important task today is to engage Kashmiri youths and break the support nexus that is radicalising them. Another big challenge is tackling social media platforms. The negativity spread through them is a dominant factor in misleading the youth and it is being exploited by our adversary,” he said.

General Bhatt said, “There’s no comparison between the militancy in the 1990s and the current extremism. The present situation is what we should be concerned with. An overwhelming percentage of Kashmiri populace is in favour of normalcy.”

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Patterns of violence change in the Valley

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