SRINAGAR: Eight people have died and nearly 200 people have been injured in clashes in Kashmir, a day after Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani was killed, the police said. Police stations and minority camps have also come under attack, a senior officer said.
“A life lived well, his 22 years are better than a hundred years of a hundred thousand of us,” wrote a Kashmiri in his forties on Facebook late on Friday evening.
Many in the Kashmir valley are in mourning, and disquiet is rising over the death of a young militant commander who sparked a resurgence in the decades-long insurrection in this restive region. Tellingly, his powerful weapon was social media.
Burhan Muzaffar Wani, a 22-year-old militant commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed in a gun-battle with security forces on Friday (July 08) in a remote village in southern Kashmir. The Hizbul Mujahideen is a Muzaffarabad-based militant group which favours Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan.
At least eight persons have reportedly died and over 60 have been injured in protests and clashes since.
For four years, the boyish, tech-savvy Wani had rattled the Indian security establishment with his brazen display of fearlessness in videos and photographs circulated across social media.
He was also unlike any militant leader ever seen in the valley, which witnessed the rise of militancy in the 1990s. Perhaps the youngest divisional commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, Wani did not cross the Line of Control for training, almost a norm for influential militant leaders in the past.
Instead, he gathered immense influence by remaining resolutely visible to the Kashmiri public, using social media. Every now and then, Wani’s photos and videos would appear on Whatsapp and Facebook. Some of his earlier videos showed Wani in army fatigues, cracking jokes and playing cricket at unknown locations in the south Kashmir.
Wani’s tech-savvy tactics turned militant-free south Kashmir into a hotbed of militancy.
But it was his speeches in other videos that compelled a large number of educated youth to join his ranks. His tactic of denouncing the local police for using excessive force against protestors helped him earn the goodwill of people. He struck a chord with Kashmir’s youth, especially those who were facing charges of stone-pelting and other anti-India activities.
“It was unusual,” a police official told the Greater Kashmir newspaper. “No one could even believe that militants are coming out openly, unveiling their masks unlike the past when they would hide their faces. It threw a challenge to the security grid. It certainly motivated youth into militancy.”
Wani’s tech-savvy tactics turned militant-free south Kashmir into a hotbed of militancy. As more and more youth started joining his ranks, the number of local militants operating in the region outnumbered foreign-born rebels for first time in a decade.
Since 2015, Wani carried a bounty of Rs 10 lakh on his head and was wanted both by the Indian security agencies and the locals—although for altogether different reasons.
A school boy’s revenge
The son of a school teacher, Wani grew up in South Kashmir’s Tral township.
He decided to join the insurgency when he was 15-years-old and a Class 10 student, after he was allegedly harassed by the Special Operations Group (SoG) of the Jammu Kashmir Police.
In 2010, Wani, his brother and a friend were reportedly riding on a motor cycle in their hometown, when they were stopped by the SoG personnel. The policemen asked the three to fetch cigarettes for them. Despite complying, all three were “thrashed and humiliated” before they managed to escape, according to reports in Kashmiri media.
A few months later Wani disappeared, only to emerge as a militant associated with the Hizbul Mujhideen. Within four years, he rose to become a divisional commander, aided by his social media prowess and the deaths of senior militants above him.
On April 13, 2015, Wani’s elder brother, a commerce graduate, was killed by security forces. He was on his way to meet his younger sibling in a forested area in Tral.
Funeral and protests
Kashmir has been on boil since Wani’s death.
Kashmiri women mourn the death of Burhan Wani, a separatist militant leader, during his funeral in Tral, south of Srinagar, July 9, 2016.(Reuters/Danish Ismail)
On Friday evening, thousands of people poured into the streets of Srinagar and towns across Kashmir. Funeral prayers in absentia were held at many places and there have been reports of night-long protests in the southern districts of Anantnag, Pulwama and Wani’s hometown of Tral.
On Saturday, authorities suspended mobile internet and train services in Kashmir. Prominent Kashmiri separatist leaders, including Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, have been placed under house detention. The annual Hindu pilgrimage to the Amarnath shrine was also halted.
Thousands gathered in Tral to participate in his funeral prayers, including a dozen militants who fired aerial rounds.
Yet, there is little consensus on what Wani’s death will mean for militancy in Kashmir.
“I don’t think it will leave any major impact on militancy as such,” said veteran journalist Yusuf Jameel, who has covered the insurgency from its earliest days. “Only an iconic militant commander has gone which may be a set back to Hizbul Mujahideen, and may affect its network in South Kashmir.”
Omar Abdullar, the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, however, felt markedly differently.
“Mark my words,” he said on Twitter, “Burhan’s ability to recruit in to militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media.”