Is militancy returning to Srinagar?

Updated April 30, 2018

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A MAN works on a laptop that shows an image of Burhan Muzaffar Wani. Wani attracted recruits with postings on social media sites. After his death, the medium allows his supporters to continue his story.—AP
A MAN works on a laptop that shows an image of Burhan Muzaffar Wani. Wani attracted recruits with postings on social media sites. After his death, the medium allows his supporters to continue his story.—AP

On April 29, suspected armed rebels shot at 30-year-old Zubair Parray, a former policeman-turned BJP activist, at 20.35 (IST) in the heart of India-held Kashmir, Srinagar.

Earlier on April 25, a group of unidentified armed men attacked a guard of Jammu and Kashmir Armed Police’s 13 battalion near Goripora, Hyder­pora, on the outskirts of Srinagar.

Also read: Valley of death: Being young and restless in Kashmir

Soon after the attack, police said the “militants decamped with 4 service rifles of policemen”. The act of weapon snatching was perhaps a reminder that militancy is making a comeback to Srinagar.

On March 23, which fell on a Friday, a young man went missing soon after the noon prayers. Hours later, it was public knowledge that he had joined Hizbul Mujahideen, Kashmir’s largest militant outfit which favours the region’s merger with Pakistan.

Explore: A new age of militancy in held Kashmir

The man was 26-year-old Junaid Ashraf Sehrai, an MBA from the University of Kashmir and the son of senior resistance leader Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai.

Senior Sehrai is the newly-elected chairperson of Tehreek-i-Hurriyat which is one of the constituents of the pro-freedom amalgam All Parties Hurriyat Conference.

Junaid announced joining the Hizb in a style that is widespread in Kashmir’s renewed armed struggle.

More often than not, entrants publicise their joining by posting pictures and videos on social media.

In a similar fashion, a picture of Junaid alias Amaar Bhai holding an AK-47 rifle and donning an armour vest went viral on social media hours after his joining the ranks of militants.

The Sehrai family comes from Teki Pora village in Lolab in north Kashmir’s frontier district Kupwara, but it migrated from there in the 1990s to settle in Jehangir Colony in Srinagar’s Baghat area.

According to police, Junaid is the tenth youth from Srinagar to have joined various outfits fighting Indian rule in Kashmir in less than three years.

What has changed so drastically in recent years that militancy is now returning to the city?

Swayam Prakash Pani, Inspector General of Kashmir Range, says, “It is premature to say that militancy is making a comeback of sorts in Srinagar. There is no resurgence of militancy in urban settings, primarily because of the lack of community support for the idea. There may be glamour in the idea, but in urban set-up there is lack of socioeconomic acceptance for the same.”

Urban activities like opening of new malls, restaurants, and other public spaces for debate and recreation may have infused a new life to Srinagar, but militancy is no stranger to the city either.

A senior police officer says the term “militancy-free” is a misnomer. “Characteristic of militancy is vertically divided between rural and urban militancy. Fortunately, in major towns like Baramullah and in capital Srinagar, the community is not getting physically involved in militancy in terms of providing shelter or facilitation,” he adds.

From 2007 until 2014, Srinagar was perceived a militancy-free district.

“Not anymore,” says another police officer.

Is armed militancy, therefore, returning to Srinagar?

“Yes, indeed,” he says.

“After Burhan Wani’s killing in 2016, the mindset of a section of youth has drastically changed. Like south and north, Srinagar too is getting affected,” the officer tells this scribe, requesting anonymity.

After the eruption of popular anti-India armed struggle in 1989, Srinagar witnessed peak of militancy and bore the brunt of it until 2007.

Then, there were the island of peace or the deceptive periods of calm.

Once the young, tech-savvy Hizb ‘commander’ Burhan Muzaffar Wani became a symbol of a new-age of indigenous armed struggle in south Kashmir — post-summer agitation of 2010 — the militancy in the Kashmir Valley made a dramatic comeback.

Read: After the killing of Burhan Wani

Police say social media has emerged as one of the powerful tools for recruitment post-Burhan era.

Even youths with doctoral degrees and postgraduate degrees in business administration and engineering have become new recruits.

“Burhan became a new reference point in Kashmir’s militancy. And social media is playing a role in militant recruitment,” the police officer says.

Before Junaid, another youth identified as Fahad Manzoor Waza from Khanyar locality of Srinagar also became a militant.

A day after Fahad’s joining on March 27, his mother Maimoona made a passionate appeal to his 19-year-old son to return home. She came to the Press Enclave Srinagar with the aim to publicise her appeal.

To no avail, though.

A picture of gun-wielding Fahad alias Abu Usama had already appeared on social media, an affirmation that the teenager had indeed joined the militant ranks.

Among the ten youths who joined militancy from Srinagar in last three years, four have died in gunfights with government forces.

One of them was Mohammad Eisa Fazili from Ahmednagar, an engineering student. He went missing from his hostel room in Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University on Aug 17 last year.

A few days before Eidul Azha in 2017, he talked about the anti-India armed struggle in a video message.

The other three militants from Srinagar killed since last year include Mughees from Parimpora, Sajad Gilkar from Srinagar’s downtown in Nowhatta, and Sajad Bhat alias Shadak from Zewan.

According to the police, those still active from Srinagar are Junaid Sehrai (Baghat, Srinagar), Fahad Waza (Khanyar, Srinagar), Mehrajud Din Bangroo (Fateh Kadal, Sri­nagar), Dawood Sofi (Zainakote, Srinagar) and Fayaz Hamal Bhat (Nawakadal, Srinagar).

On the other hand, four boys from across the valley have renounced militancy and returned home in recent times following appeals from their families. One of them was Majid Khan, a star footballer from south Kashmir.

A police officer says his department organises ‘police community partnership group’ meetings regularly with civil society groups with the aim to dissuade the youth from joining militancy.

“The police recently managed to bring back 21-year-old Tufail, a second year student from Parimpora Srinagar, who had joined militancy,” he claims.

Prof Shazana Andrabi, the head of International Relations department at the Islamic University of Science and Technology in south Kashmir, links possible resurgence of armed uprising in Srinagar with the unyielding student protests across Kashmir since last year.

“The perceived attack on education and educational institutions may have created a link between students that transcends north-south-centre boundaries,” she says.

According to J&K police sources, there are about 250-270 militants active in region. About 140-150 of them are believed to be locals and 110-120 foreigners.

Hizbul Mujahideen leads with 120-130 active militants, followed by Lashkar-e-Taiba with 110-120, and 15-20 Jaish-e-Mohammad.

Police say 80 per cent militants belong to south Kashmir. “Angry youths are ready to take up guns,” they add. A local English newspaper reported that 28 boys have joined militancy in south districts in less than a month’s time.

Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2018