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Local recruits & Burhan Wani’s killing: Security officials map militancy’s new patterns in the Valley

By Muzamil Jaleel

NewDelhi, June 04-THE killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8, 2016, marks a watershed in militancy in the Valley because it is directly linked to a cycle of recruitments to this day, says a confidential report prepared by security agencies and accessed by The Indian Express.

The report, tracing the antecedents of as many as 35 young men who became militants after Wani’s death — most of them have been killed in encounters — tracked their networks, friends and family, and pored over interrogation reports to find how each was “influenced” by the killing of Wani.

Their killing in encounters, in turn, has pushed others into militant ranks, the report finds. The result: a steady supply of local young men who have kept the Valley on the boil.

This has significant implications for any counter-insurgency effort, said a top security official involved with the report, adding there was a need for “suspension of operations” to go in for an “immediate course correction”.

Earlier, the entire recruitment of a local youth into militant ranks was a secret process. With rare exceptions, new entrants would begin as “upper ground workers” and then would be sent for arms training across the Line of Control for a minimum period of three months, return with arms and ammunition. These men would operate with aliases and hide their identities. Though these men had varied motivations to become militants in post-1990 Kashmir, they had an almost similar background.

This has changed.

“This generation was born after 1990 and all they have seen are guns, violence, bloodshed. Azadi is a real thing for them. They have heard about it all their lives. It is an essential part of daily life… they talk, discuss and lament that nothing is happening,” said a senior police official.

“They see acceptance of a youngster’s decision to join militancy at societal level. There hasn’t been a discussion within Kashmir on the futility of this new militancy, hardly anybody points out that this is nothing less than suicide. Such rational criticism may happen privately but it isn’t done publicly,” said a senior official.

“After the initial phase of 1990, local militancy had taken a backseat. Over the years, the public response to a militant’s killing has changed. There is hardly anyone who doesn’t refer to a killed militant as shaheed (martyr). Wani also took the mask of anonymity off the face of militants. He started the trend of using real identity, real name, putting out pictures,” he said.

That’s why “today, it’s a killed militant who is more dangerous than a living one. Death has failed to be a deterrent,” said the official.

Typically, a fresh recruit today announces his entry into militant ranks by posing with a gun and posting that picture on social media. His family then approaches police with a missing report to avoid trouble. The recruits aren’t trained, don’t have a steady supply of arms and are dependent on the rifles snatched from police and security forces. “They rarely plan attacks on installations. A majority of them are killed after being hunted down in and around their native places,” the official said.

*Consider some telling examples from the report:*

* Adil Mushtaq Mir of Frestbal, Pampore, was influenced by Wani’s killing to take up arms. Mir joined militancy on August 1, 2016. He was killed in an encounter on June 16, 2017, in Arwani, Bijbehara, along with two other local militants, Junaid Ahmad Matoo of Kulgam and Nasir Ahmad Wani of Shopian.

Five young men, Parvez Ahmad Mir of Pulwama; Rasiq Nabi Bhat of Tral; Rayees Ahmad Thokar of Shopian; Waseem Ahmad Wani of Shopian; and Javaid Ahmad Bhat of Kulgam, all joined militancy within a week of the encounter in which Adil Mushtaq was killed.

* Mohammad Ashraf Dar of Pulwama joined militancy on September 14, 2016 — his decision was linked to the killing of Burhan Wani. Dar was killed in an encounter at Tral on August 9, 2017, along with two more local militants, Zahid Ahmad Bhat and Ishfaq Ahmad Bhat.
Dar’s encounter, the report says, led to four fresh recruitments: Mohamamd Yousuf Ganai of Pulwama, who joined militancy on August 16, 2017, and Fardeen Mohi-ud-din Khanday on September 15, 2017; Arzoo Bashir Najar on September 19, 2017, and Irfan Hassan Rather on October 29, 2017, all three from Tral.

* Basit Rasool Dar of Bijbehara joined militancy on October 21, 2016, and was killed in an encounter in Anantnag on December 14, 2016.

After Dar’s killing, Azad Ahmad Malik of Bijbehara joined militancy on December 20, 2016.

* Wakeel Ahmad Thokar of Kulgam joined militancy on September 6, 2016, influenced by Burhan Wani’s death. He was killed in an encounter on February 12, 2017, in Kulgam along with Farooq Ahmad Dar of Kulgam and Younus Lone of Hawoorah.

Subsequently, Lone’s close friend, Dawood Ahmad of Allie, joined militancy on March 10, 2017.

* Sayar Ahmad Wani of Kulgam joined militancy on September 28, 2016. He was killed on September 11, 2017, in an encounter in Kulgam along with Dawood Ahmad of Allie.

Their killing was followed by the recruitment of Malik Asif Naseer and Zahid Rashid Bhat of Kulgam.

* Influenced by the killing of Burhan Wani, Firdous Ahmad Lone of Shopian joined militancy on September 5, 2016. Lone was killed in an encounter in Shopian on January 24, 2018.

This encounter was followed by the recruitment of three young men, all from Shopian: Ramzan Sheikh, Sameer Ahmad Lone and Sajjad Ahmad Wagay.

* Tanveer Ahmad Bhat of Shopian joined militancy on October 2, 2016, influenced by Burhan Wani’s death. Bhat was killed in an encounter in Shopian on December 19, 2017.

A day later, local resident Ishfaq Ahmad Malik joined militant ranks.

* Gayas-ul-Islam Thokar of Shopian joined militancy on October 10, 2016, and was killed on April 1, 2018. Five local militants were killed in this encounter.

Following the deaths, the report says, there were six fresh recruitments: Suhail Ahmad Dar of Kulgam; Khalid Farooq Malik, Sameer Ahmad Sheikh, Abid Chopan and Umar Ali Mir all from Shopian; Muzammil Ahmad Magray of Kulgam. These fresh recruits joined within 18 days of the encounter.

* Jehangir Khanday of Shopian joined militancy on October 22, 2016. His recruitment was linked to Burhan Wani’s killing. He was killed in an encounter on July 3, 2017, at Rajpora.

“When Khanday was killed, his friend joined militant ranks on the spot,” the report says, adding that four in all joined militancy.

What has also changed, a senior police officer said, is how locals come out to disrupt security operations to the advantage of holed-up militants. “Once a militant is trapped, civilians disrupt the operations. If a militant is killed, thousands assemble for the funeral. This is how an aura has been created around militants. They are eulogised,” the officer said.

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