Vale of discontent
It’s a simple thumb rule of insurgency across the world that when you take on the state and challenge its very integrity you should be prepared to pay with your life. Self-declared Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Muzaffar Wani had done exactly that. ‘We will act against every man in uniform who stands for the Indian constitution,’ Wani said in a video on social media. Anyone who says this about the defiling of Indian constitution is a threat to the Indian state and its integrity. He was a terrorist not a feckless innocent who was doomed to meet the end he met, and rightly so. Wani’s death was inevitable ever since he picked up the gun against the Indian state. However, what shocks was the attempt to romanticize and rationalize the Mujahideen commander’s crimes and provide a narrative of victimhood to justify the widespread turbulence in Kashmir.
American diplomat and political scientist Henry Kissinger had once famously said, “When an insurgent doesn’t lose, he wins; when conventional Army do not win, they lose.” It’s a matter of history and those who revisit it will realise that no insurgency can be subdued without local support. That’s where the trouble begins for the current dispensation and the Indian Army. “The most distressing phase of new-age militancy is locals hampering security force operations to take out militants holed up in villages. The situation gets worse during funerals of slain terrorists when the crowds mixed with militants attack security force personnel and military installations,’ writes retired Major General Ashok Kumar Mehta. He further said Burhan Wani had more than 50,000 mourners well beyond the funeral standards. What can be more demoralizing for soldiers than the terrorists they have killed, frequently sacrificing their comrades, being glorified and deified by locals.
Earlier in January, when former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mufti Mohammad Sayeed died after a brief illness, the response from the people and their meagre gathering at his funeral shocked his party. Not only this, when his janaza passed through Mufti’s hometown Bijbehera, on the way to Badshahi Bagh, the family’s ancestral graveyard, some of the markets in the south Kashmir were still open. A few days later, at Mufti’s memorial, the response was even more insipid. Many believed that Mufti’s daughter for first time realised the declining popularity of her father, a factor that made her vacillate for two months before becoming the state’s Chief Minister.
Now, compare the public mourning that the 79-year-old chief minister, once considered the Valley’s most popular leader after the Abdullahs, with the frenzy that followed militant Burhan Wani’s death. Dozens of funeral services, spiral of protests, thousands of mourners, hundreds of violent protesters, relentless clashes, stone-pelting, arrests and a string of curfews across the Valley have marked the death of a boy whose just a few years of militancy pales the late Mufti’s 50 years of politics. Are Indian authorities making a cardinal error in understanding the Kashmiri psyche ? It appears to be the case. Pakistan former president-dictator Pervez Musharraf had once said, somebody’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Wani is projected to be the one.
The day Burhan Wani started his social media blitzkrieg, he was a dead man. He encouraged young men of Kashmir to kill Indian soldiers, all from behind the safety of his Facebook account. He died when he was just 22. And, if he had survived this operation, he would have died before 23. It is believed that one cannot survive more than a year after making to the armed forces’ ‘A’ list of wanted men. Just a different date on the calendar, that’s all. The intensity of violence and the result would have been the same.
However, the startled surprise with which many in India have responded to the violence unleashed by the killing of Burhan Wani is a testimony to the amnesia and denial which has surrounded national conversations on Kashmir. ‘Having imagined that politics in Kashmir was engaged in a process of reconciliation with the ethnic-religious nationalism that long drove jihad, New Delhi’s reverie has been rudely interrupted by reality,’ writes Praveen Swami, a senior security analyst. He further said that Burhan Wani was significant as an aesthetic, not an individual. Now, the question new dispensation should ask is: Why unarmed young men are hurling themselves in the direction of bullets to defend that aesthetic?
A day after Burhan was killed, groups of stone-pelting boys attacked police, army and other paramilitary forces’ camps at several places across the valley. Violent protestors attacked the BSF camp at Bandipora. One police station was entirely taken over, its armoury looted and used to lethally attack policemen who had been taken hostage were still reported to be missing. Whoever in the army, police, intelligence and political class planned the operation to eliminate Burhan – the poster boy of Kashmir’s new militancy – apparently had no clue of what was coming. In the aftermath of the killing of Burhan, indiscriminate use of ‘non-lethal’ pellet, to control crowds at mass protests, has blinded over hundreds of people.
Earlier in an interview, Burhan Wani’s father said: “The life cycle of a militant is seven years. He had used up six years.” However, Northern Army Commander Lt Gen DS Hooda has given a new life cycle for those militants who are joining now and that is - 6 months to 12 months. Despite these variations in the longevity of a militant, Kashmir is likely to see a new wave of militancy, courtesy - Burhan Wani’s call for Intifada. Former CIA officer and counter-terrorism consultant Marc Sageman in his seminal book ‘Leaderless Jihad’ shows how in the age of the internet and social media, terrorism needs no single leader to spread its tentacles.
The encounter of Burhan Wani has once again turned the debate around who should be blamed for the repeated unrest. Before anyone gets blamed, here it was media again which finds itself at the receiving end. Shah Faesal, an IAS officer of 2010 batch, has blamed Indian media and accused them of doing business with the dead bodies of young men. “Kashmir or no Kashmir, the biggest challenge for India, this time, is how to reclaim the custody of ‘national interest’ from its national media, and restore communication with its neighbours and people,” Faesal writes in his column. He further said he had no hesitation in saying that Zee News, Times Now, NewsX and Aaj Tak were at the vanguard of a movement that will take India from a dialogical civilisation to a dumb, illogical civilisation.
The current situation in Kashmir is reminiscent of the 2008 and 2010 unrest. And, it appears that no lessons have been learnt from the previous uprisings on how to simultaneously dominate the Line of Control, suppress militancy and secure the high ground in the information space through youth outreach.
Despite the frequent curfews and protests, security forces continue to be inept in crowd control resulting in excessive casualties. What the armed forces can do in aid to civil authority in disturbed insurgency and terror-ridden States is to create conditions conducive for cranking in the political process. As senior journalist Shekhar Gupta rightly pointed out that armies cannot win hearts and minds among a humiliated population. ‘You want to thwart the enemy, use the Army. You want to win back an estranged brother, bare a great big heart,’ he said.
Earlier in 2005, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had started five working groups on Kashmir — strengthening relations across the LoC; Centre-State relations; good governance; infrastructure and economic development; Confidence Building Measures with Jammu & Kashmir — and like the engagement of interlocutors in the State, everything petered out. The Centre and the State should come together and kick-start an internal engagement with relevant stakeholders to address the rising upsurge. “Kashmir’s new possible Islamist rise is resistible if confronted by genuine political activism — but neither the will nor intention to do so is evident,” observes Swami.
Pellet guns were first introduced in Kashmir in 2010 for crowd control as a ‘non-lethal’ alternative to other deadlier weapons. At least 92 people have lost their eyesight and at least 1,500 people have sustained serious injuries from pellet guns since 2010.
*As of July 19, 44 people died and over 3,600 people got injured during the backlash in the valley including 1,948 civilians and 1,671 security personnel.
*At least 117 civilians were likely to lose their eyesight as a result of injuries caused by buckshot blasts. Among the civilians are children, young boys, women and also old men.
*Three policemen went missing on July 9 and one was killed during protests in Anantnag district when a mob pushed his vehicle into the Jhelum.