Thirty years on, ‘new age militancy’ stokes Kashmir conflict

Published August 1, 2018
THIS file photo taken on Aug 1, 2017, shows Kashmiri villagers using smartphones to take pictures of a martyred militant during his funeral in Lelhar village in Pulwama, south of Srinagar.—AFP
THIS file photo taken on Aug 1, 2017, shows Kashmiri villagers using smartphones to take pictures of a martyred militant during his funeral in Lelhar village in Pulwama, south of Srinagar.—AFP

SRINAGAR: A home-made bomb set off the armed struggle against Indian rule in held Kashmir 30 years ago, but “new age” fighters using social media assaults alongside guns are taking the battle to new heights of bitterness.

The explosion at the Srinagar telegraph office doorway on July 31, 1988, caused no casualties but lit the fuse on a conflict that rights groups say has since left more than 70,000 dead.

Read: In India-held Kashmir, social media becomes a battleground

Public support for the act surprised the attackers as well as the Indian government.

But while Kashmir remains one of the world’s most heavily militarised zones, the 500,000-plus Indian troops are now also fighting a social media war.

Hundreds of young men post images of themselves with AK-47 guns on Facebook and other social media sites after joining underground groups, seeking to build large, sympathetic following and attract new recruits.

When the Indian army surrounds militant hideouts, they are often impeded by crowds of civilians rallying to the Kashmiri fighters’ cause, ready to risk their lives in a hail of bullets.

Indian police respond by hauling in people who make pro-militant social media comments and by blocking mobile internet during demonstrations. Social media sites were blocked for a month last year.

Emotions and aspirations

Abdul Ahad Waza, 50, says the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which planted the first bomb, had not expected such support.

“All we wanted was to let the world know that Indian rule of Kashmir was not acceptable,” Waza, who spent 11 years in jail, said. He now lives a quiet life with his wife and two children.

“That explosion in Srinagar quickly turned into an explosion of public support for our cause.” Waza said. “New age militancy” was now carrying on the fight.

A case in point is Manan Wani, a PhD scholar who went missing in January having abandoned geology research at an Indian university to join the banned Hizbul Mujahedeen group.

In a recent letter sent to Kashmir media justifying his move, Wani said: “There was a time when the fight was between an armed militant and a thousand Indian troopers, but now Indian army has to get through thousands of unarmed freedom fighters before getting the gunman.

“The people who come to rescue the militants at encounter sites, unarmed, without caring about their lives give us an idea about the aspirations and emotions of the people.”

For more than a decade after the 1988 bombing, India-occupied Kashmir convulsed with street protests. An Indian military crackdown left tens of thousands dead, mainly civilians.

The JKLF ended its armed struggle in 1994. But other armed groups with thousands of fighters took their place. Indian peace initiatives and a 2001 Pakistan-India summit on Kashmir failed.

Kashmiris then turned to peaceful self-determination protests that brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets between 2008 and 2010. Another 300 civilians were killed as Indian forces countered the protests.

Fearless protests

The resistance seemed to be waning when in July 2016, Indian troops killed a renowned militant commander. The death of 23-year-old Burhan Wani, who had built up a big following on social media, acted as a new fuse.

Now Indian troops find entire communities at the scenes of their sieges of hideouts, hurling stones at soldiers to help militants escape.

According to D.S. Hooda, a retired lieutenant general who served in Kashmir for more than two decades, it is this public anger that is now the real “challenge” for New Delhi.

“This militancy is not a problem. Civilian killings, and this confrontation, sustains a vicious cycle. Social media is reinforcing hardened views and positions,” Hooda said.

“The middle ground has disappeared.”

Wani’s death sparked months of protests that left nearly 100 dead and at least 10,000 injured. Some 500 militants have been killed across the territory since 2016.

A top police officer, part of the Indian campaign for many years, said it is “infinitely more difficult” for India now than at any time in the past.

“People coming to rescue militants is a huge new development. None of it is planned or orchestrated, it’s all spontaneous,” the former police officer said.

The mood on the street is also hardening.

“It feels like we’re back to the 1990s, even worse. What we have seen and what has been done to us, it is now a point of no return,” said Bashir Ahmed, a businessman.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2018

Opinion

What a tangled web

What a tangled web

So poorly kept is this secret about the opposition’s real hopes and no plans that even the government has figured it out.
Climate threat over South Asia
Updated 26 Oct 2021

Climate threat over South Asia

Water shortages, drought, floods or landslides and tsunamis are not constrained by national boundaries.
Losing heritage
26 Oct 2021

Losing heritage

It’s not a good idea to turn Mohatta into a college.
The long impasse
Updated 25 Oct 2021

The long impasse

Management of Pakistan-India tensions is likely to remain the main focus of sporadic backchannel efforts.

Editorial

Perfect in every way
Updated 26 Oct 2021

Perfect in every way

GLORIOUS. Gratifying. Liberating. Pakistan’s thumping victory over India in their opening fixture of the T20 World...
26 Oct 2021

Balochistan CM’s exit

ON Sunday, Jam Kamal Khan Alyani’s name was added to the long list of chief ministers of Balochistan who ...
Minister’s odd logic
26 Oct 2021

Minister’s odd logic

THE government’s contradictions and confusion appear to have no end when it comes to dealing with the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan.
25 Oct 2021

Party to a vile campaign

THE PTI government’s hostility towards the media and its intolerance for dissent is well known. The target of ...
Financial crisis
Updated 25 Oct 2021

Financial crisis

DESPITE having progressed to ‘very good step’ and being ‘close to concluding the agreement’ a few days back,...
25 Oct 2021

Morals and Pemra

TIME and again, Pemra has come under fire for issuing arbitrary instructions to TV channels on matters ranging from...