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Kashmir Youth and Reviving Militancy

9/18/2013 2:42:13 PM

Journospy investigates  the sociopolitical crisis of Kashmir and why the educated youth joining the ranks of militancy

By Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain, Akhter Hussain Bhat

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah expressed concern over the phenomenon of Kashmiri educated youth joining the ranks of militancy. The statement is unlike the usual rhetoric of state chief ministers that Kashmir is returning to normalcy. Ever since militancy erupted in Kashmir the separatists often portrayed the situation in ‘negative-terms’. State on the other hand tries to depict the situation normal. In mid-nineties Farooq Abdullah assumed power after a prolonged spell of governors rule. To give a feel of his achievements, he once mentioned that some incidents of eve-teasing have occurred around Regal Chowk, Srinagar and such an occurrence is an indication of the youth getting away from militancy.

After elections almost every chief minister of the state claimed that turn out of voters is an indication of “people-thinking-beyond-militancy.” Tourist influx to the Valley and visit of locals to tourist resorts both were interpreted to be indication of this phenomenon. Even personal achievements of Kashmiri youth were interpreted in political terms.

Once Kashmiri student, Shah Faisal topped IAS list, hype was created in media that Kashmiri youth have undergone a transformation. They are more concerned about competitive exams rather than the political situation in the Valley. Recent selection of Parvez Rasool, first ever Kashmiri who managed to find a place to play international cricket for team India also invoked similar remarks from mainstream politicians of the state.

Despite decades of this rhetoric ‘normalcy’ remains an illusion and state is compelled to concede the seriousness of the situation. All claims about normalcy get exposed time and again with revival of violence.

The ground situation--though apparently peaceful--is as serious as it was in early 90s. Only difference between militancy of that era and the present phrase is tactical.  Militancy of 90s was manifest associated with mass mobilization and cross LOC movements.  Present day militancy is local, composed and target specific.

“It is matter of great concern,” Omar Abdullah’s statement, on June 12, 2013 is a confession of worsening ground situation and conclusion that he has drawn from a series of encounters between security agencies and militants in 2013.

Series of attacks:

The present phrase of attacks started on March 13 at Bemina. Militants targeted CRPF personal within a few yards away from their highly fortified camp in the Srinagar City.

It was a first fidayeen attack after three years. The attack led to death of four soldiers of central reserve police force (CRPF) and two militants. Six CRPF personnel and four civilians also sustained injuries. To the surprise of security agencies a Sikh youth from Tangmarg area of north Kashmir was found to be the one who abetted the militants by providing them shelter within his official residence. The attack was first of its kind in Srinagar city after a long gap.  Far from being an isolated incident the attack proved to be prelude to a series of attacks resulting in heavy losses to security forces.

Next was a well-planned ambush on police party killing four policemen in Hygam in North Kashmir’s Sopore area on April 26. Despite high alert sounded to security agencies, much more lethal attack occurred on May 24 in Tral area of Pulwama district. In a daredevil attack the militants killed four soldiers of Rashtriya Rifles and took away their weapons. The local militant killed in the encounter belonged to Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), the local pro-Islamic militant outfit. Within a week of this incident army retaliated resulting in a clash at Mehlura area of the same district killing one militant of HM.

On June 22, two policemen were killed and a girl injured when ‘suspected’ militants opened fire on them at the busy Hari Singh High Street, barely hundred yards away from the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.

Two militants prudently attacked the army counter insurgent unit 35 RR convoy on June 24 at Hyderpora in vicinity of hardliner Geelani’s residence. It was most lethal and well-articulated attack depicting the high level of precision and potency of the new recruits. The attack caused panic within security apparatus as it consumed eight army personals and left fifteen others critically injured. On their way from the encounter site militants targeted a group of CRPF at Barzallah Bridge in the City.

On July 1, HM targeted a police contingent engaged in counter insurgency operation. One policeman died in the clash while two others sustained injuries. On the following day army and police launched a joint operation in Madoora area of Tral. Three militants and a cop were killed in the operation. 

The series of attacks have left 24 cops dead and 23 injured. In 2012, 17 troopers, 84 militants and 16 civilians including sarpanchs and panchs were killed.  And in 2011, 30 troopers, 119 militants, and 34 civilians have been killed.

The losses on militant side have been low as compared to previous years. However, the matter of serious concern for the state administration remains the involvement of local youth. It has posed several questions regarding success of counter insurgency operations as well as civic action initiatives of security agencies.

For years Defense Ministry authorities claimed that their civic action initiatives under Sadbhawana campaign have yielded results and the militant activities are mostly carried out by foreigners. The civic action initiatives of army also include setting up of army Goodwill Schools across the Valley. One such school became target of mob fury on July 1 in Hajin area of Bandipora district. The incident occurred after two students were allegedly killed by army in Sumbal area of Bandipora district.

The local youth involved in recent incidents of militancy are highly educated and motivated. This contradicts the perception that only madrassa products are prone to join the militant ranks.

“There is nothing new about educated youth joining militancy. Kashmir militancy right from its inception attracted educated people,” says Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the senior Hurriyat leader while commenting over the phenomenon. Geelani substantiates his point by referring to several educated militants in the league of Nadeem Khateeb. He was a pilot instructor in US when he abandoned his job to join militant ranks in Kashmir.

Ashfaq Majeed, an engineer and son of an executive engineer was product of a missionary school. He was among the pioneers of insurgency and first among Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front cadres. Another militant, Dr. Abu Bakr was a medical graduate who rose to the position of district commander of Hizbul Mujadideen.

The only difference between previous and recent breed of militants is that earlier they came from all strata’s of society and presently it is educated youth who remain vane guard of revived insurgency.

Profiles of some militants killed recently by Umer Beigh:

Saifullah Ahmad Ahanger, 20, a civil engineering diploma holder hailed from Hariparigam village of Tral, in Pulwama district was killed in an encounter with Army’s special counter-insurgency force Rashtriya Rifles at his neighbouring Buchoo Bala village on May 24, 2013.

Two months later, his family came to terms about his death. His father, Rafiq Ahmad Ahanger, is a retired agricultural officer.

Saifullah’s elder brother, Zahoor Ahmad Ahanger was reportedly shot dead by militants nine years ago for his alleged involvement as an informer of security forces.

Saifullah after completing his studies in civil engineering had recently joined a construction firm.

Hilal Ahmad Rather alias Hilal Moulvi, a 28-year-old hailed from Palhallan area of north Kashmir’s Baramullah district was a graduate and an Islamic scholar from Deoband.

In 2009 he completed his course as a ‘Mufti’ and returned to his native village Palhalan, where he used to teach students at a private religious school 'Noorul-uloom'.

He was planning a post-graduation in Islamic studies. On November 7, 2012 he had went missing and was killed during a clash in congested down town area of old city on May 23, 2013.

 A 28-year-old Sajad Ahmad, hailing from Pulwama district of south Kashmir was a post graduate in Islamic Studies and was now pursuing Masters of Computer Applications (MCA) from Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST), Awantipora.

Weeks later, he left his home on January 26, 2009. Later, securities agencies told his father, Muhammad Yousuf Mir, that he had joined militant ranks.

On May 30, 2013 the police handed over Sajad’s body to his family after he was killed in an encounter in a neighbouring village.

Sajad, according to his family and friends had been a brilliant student who would seldom talk politics at home.

Masiullah Khan, a certified mechanical engineer, from Tral was the first in this cadre to be reported, “An Engineering Student Turned Militant” who had left home, never to return on August 10, 2009.

Masiullah was killed during 2011 in an encounter with army and police inside the forests of Lurgam Tral of south Kashmir. According to his friends, he was deeply disturbed over the political situation in Kashmir and joined militant ranks immediately after completing his degree in mechanical engineering from SSM College of Engineering at Pattan.

The phenomenon has also thrown some serious questions about claims and strategies opted by the center and the state about Kashmir situation.

The foremost strategy opted by the center towards Jammu and Kashmir has been a bunch of promises made by successive prime ministers. Prime Minister, Narsimah Rao promised autonomy with sky as its limits. Once autonomy report was submitted by National Conference (NC), mainstream political party, it hardly received any response. Atal Biharee Vajpayee offered a solution within the parameters of humanity. He proceeded to negotiate Kashmir with Pakistan. The dialogue over the subject with General Musharraf turned out to be a fiasco.

The engagement between moderate Hurriyat leadership with both BJP as well as Congress governments at center from time to time has also cut a sorry figure for Kashmiri masses. The negotiations between them and LK Advani proved to be a failure. Same has been the fate of their dealings with Man Mohan Singh.

Government of India didn’t live up to its own initiatives as well. Man Mohan Singh organized a round table conference on February 25, 2006 in Kashmir. The round table conference appointed several committees to study the problem and recommend solution to it.

The committee appointed to look after the political dimension of Kashmir issue was headed by Justice Sagheer Ahmad, the former Supreme Court judge. The committee submitted its recommendations within time. But report continues to gather dust within prime minister’s office.

After 2010 unrest, Home Minister P Chidambaram appointed a team of three interlocutors. The interlocutors were given a huge office on the shores of Nigeen Lake and bestowed with hefty salaries apart from secretarial and security assistance. From day one the team members got engaged in mutual bickering. The separatist leadership too remained indifferent to the process of interlocution. The members somehow submitted their report. The report didn’t satisfy anyone apart from the members themselves. Even after submission of the report center remained unmoved.

One of the team members Radha Kumar complained that the report didn’t invoke any response from the government. The separatist leadership termed it as, “time gaining exercise.”

Transition of youth from militant struggle to peaceful means of resistance from 2008 to 2010 remained unproductive. Five-Point-Confidence-Building-Measures suggested by Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Four-points presented by moderate section of Hurriyat through Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, which include demands like recognition of dispute by Government of India, Demilitarization, Revocation of draconian laws, Release of political prisoners and Withdrawal of cases against youth hardly attracted any serious response from the centre. Youth justify their new proximity to gun on the basis of indifference and adamant attitude of the center and the state. Separatists too follow the same line of argumentation. On June 13, Syed Ali Geelani, the senior separatist leader of Hurrayat (G) termed revival of gun as direct consequences of prolonged oppression by Indian state. “It is the result of India’s stubborn policy towards Kashmir that highly qualified young boys are again resorting to violence by joining militant ranks.”

Geelani mentioned that, “Youth now understand that India under the influence of its arrogance of power in no way would agree over peaceful struggle. This is the reason they have opted to take guns.”

Lack of any concrete initiative from Government of India has dissipated all hopes of any peaceful solution. Youth perceive gun to be the only way for achieving “Azaadi” hence getting involved in it.