Thousands Take on Burhan Wani’s Azadi Fight
The new generation of youth, one lakh of them, as they trekked back after attending the burial of Burhan Wani, the Hizbul-Mujahideen Commander in his home town Tral, they seem to have decided to take up the unfinished struggle for azadi. Since they came from across the state to attend it, the protests and violence have been erupting in the Valley portion of Kashmir.
Wani was not only a hero for the youth because he was slightly educated–ninth class dropout–and young, 22, but also because he built up a large following through social media. A poster boy for militants, a hero in the south while alive and now a martyr, when dead for the whole of the Valley. According to intelligence sources, he had carried out nine or ten operations in south Kashmir. The security forces were tracking him for over a month and were closing in on him. But he was killed during cross-fire, while he was holed up with a few others in the Kokernag area of Anantnag and the security forces encircled them, on learning about the location of where they were.
The question has been raised was it not possible to eliminate him after Amarnath Yatra? The answer has been given by Gen Ata Hasnain who was GOC of the region that included Kashmir. “Intelligence generated opportunities to neutralise an important terrorist who has acquired inspirational status, do not come easily. Terrorist leaders of the past have survived over 10 years in the same area in South Kashmir and Burhan was becoming larger than life, an embarrassment to the army and police.”
“The decision to target him was correct. The decision to hand over his body for burial with full knowledge of the implications was a bold one and no doubt considered by all stakeholders. This decision too was correct because it diluted the angst to some degree.”
The violence, stone-pelting, braving pellets and breaching curfew for a 22-year-old means the ‘struggle’ for azadi has been started in earnest and with a vengeance by the younger generation. The psyche of this generation is very different from the previous ones — the hangings of Maqbool Bhatt and Afzal Guru did not have that of Wani.
When Bhatt was hanged in 1984, Pakistan was too involved with its own affairs to stir up trouble across the border. Guru was hanged in 2012 before the social media became a craze in the Valley. Wani was clever enough to use various means available through internet to incite the youth all over Kashmir.
This change of baton is further affirmed if the funeral of Wani is compared with that of the former chief minister Mufti Saheb. Wrote a columnist “Compare the one lakh mourners and the drama that followed militant Wani’s death in an encounter and to the subdued mourning, after the demise of the 79-year-old chief minister, once considered the Valley’s most popular leader after the Abdullahs.”
Wani’s death led to dozens of funeral services, thousands of mourners, hundreds of violent protesters, relentless clashes, stone-pelting, arrests and a string of curfews across the Valley. They have marked the death of one just out of teens a third of which was spent hiding in forests of Tral, pales in comparison with the late Mufti’s 50 years in politics.
“Yet, it gives troubling insights into the psyche of Kashmiris”, says a columnist. “For those outside the Valley, especially social media warriors who have never had the courage or the inclination to understand Kashmir or Kashmiris in person, the reaction to Wani’s death looks disproportionate, overblown and even seditious.”
Omar Abdullah tweeted too that Wani has the ability to enthuse younger to take to militancy. “Mark my words, Burhan’s ability to recruit in to militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media.” So Kashmir has become more violence-prone. One tends to agree with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, President Hurriyat Conference (M) that, “ a new generation of struggle (has begun)…”. He then warns, “the longing for freedom in Kashmir will not die on its own death.”
Obviously, the impetuosity of the youth evokes in them the do or die spirit. This generation do not trust any leader. In the one lakh mourners from all over the state attending Wani’s funeral, no leader of the anti –India elements was visible.
So with whom can then India negotiate peace and what is the solution? Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for calm and try to resolve issues by talks across the table. Ms Mehbooba Mufti has already assured that those found to have usedexcessive force will be adequately punished. The Centre will do well to sit back and support her.
The violence following Wani’s death means that now the problem is no longer of cross-border terrorism only. The youngsters who had gathered for Wani’s funeral or those who protested even violently in the rest of the valley are potential militants. And this development is far more serious. The scale of protests, all spontaneous and unorganised does make one belief what seniors say that the reports about tumult in the valley are correct.
The situation is more complex now. The immediate problems are, negotiate with whom, and negotiate for what. The youth who has taken over the fight for azadi are not under one umbrella; they have no common agenda, and are united only in their hate for India.
Any solution will not be easy. Kashmir imbroglio has been like a wound festering for 68 years. It can no longer be ignored hoping that with time frenzy will subside. But that will also mean ignoring the youth. The lack of communication is the main reason for their alienation and turning them against the state of India which they associate with draconian laws, curfews, midnight searches and sudden disappearances. They are by now so conditioned that it is impossible to convince them that India will never let them question its sovereignty.
The one lakh attending the funeral of Wani and protests that followed was indeed an upsurge of Kashmiri nationalism and its idea is naturally in conflict with Indian nationalism. More than six decades after the Valley became an “integral part of India”, the integration of Kashmiris into the Indian mainstream remains an incomplete project.
After the Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Abdullah Accord, under which Sheikh Saheb became Chief Minister, I had asked him in his Chamber in new secretariat, how many are Indians in the valley? He nearly blew up with anger. He said so far Kashmiris were meek and afraid of guns and fights. He narrated the case of one young man Siddiqui. He put a cracker inside a 555 cigarette tin case. When he burst it, people near his house closed their doors.
But he warned that in 10 or 15 years the boys who are in Saudi-funded madarssas would be wielding AK-47s. His prediction rather premonition has come true. The youth today has self-arrogated the right to fight for its nationalism.
Delhi has treated the present crisis very seriously. Since Wani’s death, there was no let-up in violent clashes, arson and the cycle of death, 34, and with separatist leaders asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi to read “the writing on the wall,” the Centre realised the gravity — separatists taking such a defiant stand meant powerful forces backing them — and rushed more troops to the Kashmir Valley and held emergency meetings to take stock of the situation.
Another worrisome thought is why such a rapid rise of Wani? Has militancy increased in the region and the anti-India elements feel they are on a stronger ground than in the past? Pakistan’s all-weather friend China has 30000 troops along the so-called Economic Corridor in the Pak-occupied Kashmir. They are a constant threat to India but a moral support to the terrorists.
Whatever it might be, the manner in which the Government is dealing with the situation, it seems to be very serious. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh held review meetings twice in New Delhi after meeting senior security and para-military officials, including National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who cut short his Africa visit with the Prime Minister. Rajnath Singh took stock again with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Ajit Doval, the chiefs of the Research & Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau, and senior Army and the Border Security Force officials.
The Ministry of Home Affairs which is in constant touch with the state government, after dispatching 1200 more Central Reserve Police Force personnel, has sent another 2000. According to sources, security has also been beefed up and the Amarnath Yatra partially resumed. The Home Minister is trying to get the Opposition to form a common front.
He telephoned Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to discuss the fragile situation in the Kashmir Valley.
The worry is that violence has not abated. The arson and mob attacks were reported from 29 places in Srinagar, north and south Kashmir. Two police posts were set afire,” a police spokesman said. Three persons were injured when militants fired at CRPF personnel in Bijbehara town’s Zirpora area, the police said. A court complex in Dooru was also set on fire in south Kashmir, the epicentre of the violence. Sixteen protesters were wounded in CRPF firing in the Tral area, the hometown of Wani, when a camp was attacked by a mob. Several critically injured were shifted to Srinagar hospitals.
Just a day after Hurriyat faction leaders, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Geelani, asked protesters to “maintain discipline” and “avoid direct confrontation with security forces,” the separatist leaders hardened their stand and extended the call for a shutdown and protests by two more days.
“July 13 (otherwise observed as Martyrs Day) was observed as Reaffirmation Day,” Geelani, the Mirwaiz and JKLF chief Yasin Malik said in a joint statement. Geelani also blamed the government for the rise of likes Wani. But if they know who Wani was, why are they protesting his death. In fact they want more Wanis. The separatists are not planning any armistice in the near future, they want someone from younger generation to take the baton from them and continue the fight against “India”. The valley has been resonating with ‘kitne wani maroge’ while separatists dismissed Deihi’s appeal to them to help in restoring normalcy as “childish and illogical.” The separatists who until now were a bit restrained have suddenly perked up and daring to ridicule and defy the government. Demand that Geelani be put in a plane going to Pakistan with a one-way ticket has been growing. It’s time that while Ms Mufti is trying to explain things in right perspective, the young be firmly told that Kashmiri nationalism cannot over-run Indian sovereignty, the Centre has to stop treating separatists and militants or the youth who are ready to kill or die with gloved hands. It’s time to take off the gloves and talk to these elements in the language they understand.
As Abdullah warned, it seems the youth is tending to militancy. This entirely means that the valley will become more violent and vicious. Today, they are demanding azadi and are ready to die for it. The situation is explosive. Tomorrow, encouraged and armed by Pakistan, they could wage proxy guerrilla war.
In May this year, AG Noorani chronicled the troubled history of Kashmir and traced its roots in detail. Writing for the Frontline, he argued: “To all outward appearances, India riveted its control over the State after the Sheikh’s (Sheikh Abdullah) ouster. But today, more than ever before, grim realities have surfaced, to the shock of many, to demonstrate that Kashmiri nationalism is very much alive and kicking despite New Delhi’s repressive policies and the Army’s sustained record of outrages.
“India’s government, much of its media, especially television, and academia, and its stooges in Kashmir, who have feasted on the crumbs that New Delhi throws at them from the high table prefer to envelop themselves cosily in a state of denial. The reality is unbearable to witness — India governs Kashmir against the wishes of its people. They reject the very legitimacy of its rule.”
So it should be made clear to them India does not care what they think nor does it need a certificate of legitimacy from them. And Pakistan should be told that in the current geo-political environment, ever escalating threat of terrorism, jihad, radicalisation and Salafism, India will never brook any claim from its neighbour on the Valley. If the 1965 war and the Shimla Accord that followed its humiliation in 1971 did not strip Pakistan of its notions of owning Kashmir, it is living in a fool’s paradise.
Any lasting solution to the Kashmir problem will essentially have to be worked out by the Indian state and the people of the Valley. And it can be found only if it meets two basic conditions: that India devises a way to let Kashmiris the space they desire to express and enjoy their nationalism and freedom; and if Kashmiris let India address its legitimate geopolitical concerns even while ceding the rights and freedoms they want. No other solution looks viable or pragmatic.
Perhaps the closest we had come to pulling back Kashmir was just around the time when Atal Behari Vajpayee was the prime minister of India. In the early years of the NDA government militancy was at its lowest in Kashmir, and Pakistan had been chained into submission because of the US war on terror.
In April 2003, after his two-day visit to the Valley, Vajpayee told the Parliament: “I assured the people of Jammu and Kashmir that we wish to resolve all issues — both domestic and external — through talks. I stressed that the gun can solve no problem; brotherhood can. Issues can be resolved if we move forward guided by the three principles of Insaaniyat (humanism), Jamhooriyat (democracy) and Kashmiriyat (Kashmir’s age old legacy of amity).”
But, that moment, for a variety of reasons, was lost. Since then, there has been more violence and consequently more use of repressive measures. The Wani “explosion” was waiting to happen. No corrective measures have been taken by India either. In the armed forces where cash rewards exist for killing militants, creating the context for fake encounters like at Machil in April 2010. The paramilitary forces are deployed to control crowds. But they are not trained for it; they are trained to counter an enemy attack. In 2015, during his visit to Kashmir, when PM announced a flood relief package — incidentally
after a delay of almost a year — it was expected that Kashmiris would be indebted to the new government for its financial favours–$812m a year. But just a year after what we hear is cries of ”tum kitne Burhan maroge…”
CAN PARADISE LOST BE REGAINED?
Every political party is agreed that dialogue is the only way to bring back normalcy in the Valley. But it is easy said than done. Ever since the death of Burhan Wani, 22, Commander Hizbul Mujahideen, on July 8, in an encounter with the security forces, valley has been on the boil. Over 42 people have been killed in police firing to restrain protesters and demonstrators from damaging, primarily police stations and attacking Army camps. And every death means funeral procession and consequent violence.
A wave of Kashmiri nationalism is blowing and Pakistan-induced anger against India is visible within few minutes of talk with the old or the young. They feel and get incensed that Indian rule has no legitimacy and it has ‘occupied’ Kashmir.
In such an intemperate atmosphere even initiating dialogue will be difficult. And greater difficulty is with whom to talk. There is ostensibly no leader with the moral authority who could tell the agitated people that the terms offered are reasonable or not.
In the hundred thousand mourners who had gathered for the funeral of Wani, no one who could be head of some group or outfit was seen. Everyone seemed to be on his own. A retired General explained that in south Kashmir, Hizbul Mujahideen was spread all over the region, while in north Kashmir, it was Lakshar-e-Taiba which held the sway. But LeT has almost been wiped out in the north and Wani, who was a hero for most youth is no more.
“There are some obscure group leaders who are suspected by the young.”
There is a strong group of intellectuals who want Delhi to talk to Hurriyat. There cannot be any more foolishness. These separatist leaders sold their soul to Pakistan a long time ago. On August 15 last year, Geelani was welcomed at a Rally with Pakistani flags and pro-pak slogans. His speech was directly relayed to Muzaffarabad. And some want to talk peace through them.
So what and with whom dialogue could be started. We must keep in mind that the young are in huge numbers and they suspect leaders of compromising lured by money or power.
“There is no option but to cast aside all political differences and come on to the same page. Leaving ego aside, all-party delegations must get to the ground and engage those willing to be engaged even as no nonsense is broached on the law and order front. … even meet the clergy, if necessary, to stop impassioning the street with sermons and negativity.
“Let the Unified Command burn the midnight oil to come up with options for reducing strife at the tactical level. In 2010, it was the brigade commanders and officers below that rank who proved tenacious and subtle in dealing with elders and youth alike. There is no guarantee it will work this time — but try we must,” says General Ata Hasnain.
The best suggestion is to form all party groups and they go to the Valley and hold Rallies. The youth must be given confidence about jobs and education and build trust in them that police atrocities would happen no more. It will be better if some jobs are offered on the spot. At the same time they have to be told that Kashmiri nationalism cannot over-ride India’s sovereignty nor India needs a certificate of legitimacy from them.
The handling has to be balanced between soft and hard line.