Burhan Killing: Did Mufti Govt Underestimate Impact of Encounter?
The current phase of unrest triggered by rebel Burhan Muzaffar’s killing has led to 23 deaths, even as Delhi flies in more paramilitary troops to fill the void created by a demand-supply mismatch. Securing the twin tracks leading to the cave-shrine of Amarnath needs a lot of human resource, in which one key element is missing: new recruits are not adequately briefed about the situation and inevitability of restrain.
Mehbooba’s PDP-BJP government is still confused whether to trust the restraint that her cops are exhibiting, or allow them to face the mobs, armed with bamboo sticks, shields and pellet guns.
Lessons From Wani’s Encounter
The government is now evaluating the significance of Burhan, the young rebel who evolved into an icon over the last last six years and dwarfed even the biggies in his death. His funeral prayers are now being admitted as a historic first. The government asked uncomfortable questions to the state police about Burhan: Was it completely unaware of his stature? Why did it not ensure adequate security measures before announcing the “kill”?
Burhan represents a new phenomenon in Kashmir militancy. At a time when foreign fighters have thinned down and not many locals are picking up the gun, he successfully broke the psychological barriers to convey, ‘Yes, I can’.
Unlike his predecessors, Burhan was not an ISI-trained militant. He never crossed the LoC. At 15, which is not quite an age for becoming ideologically motivated, Burhan plunged into militancy. He armed himself by snatching weapons from the cops and set his own rules and fathered a homegrown militancy.
Larger than Life Persona
A handsome boy, donning battle-fatigues, he used his picture-perfect image to convey “politically correct” things through the social networking sites.
Son of the turmoil (born in 1995), Burhan was the first Kashmir rebel who had convincing arguments, communicated with the people directly and lived the idea of a militancy of his own. This helped him baptise 120 teenagers into militancy thereby, diluting the security force’s claim that only illiterates and social have-nots rebel.
This created his larger-than-life image, making his stature taller in his death than when he was alive. Part of the folklore, Wani was the only rebel whose killing led to mass unrest. Though police had almost 12 cases against him, history will remember Burhan as Kashmir’s first virtual rebel who displayed an AK-47 but had web as his sole weapon.
Centre’s Cosmetic Measures
In Burhan’s death, the Kashmiri youth felt the fall of an icon who was part of their routine browsing experience. It triggered fierce reaction against the vast security-network that has remained unchanged for a long time. The number of militants and violent incidents have fallen sharply over the years, but the physical and the legal infrastructure that Delhi built to crush militancy have remained.
Cosmetic changes were largely limited to Srinagar. In 2009, the government informed the state legislature that Kashmir had 258 garrisons. Since then, 84 camps were removed, of which 10 were in Srinagar alone. The people view the mushrooming of the garrisons operating with the backing of the Disturbed Areas Act and enjoying immunity under AFSPA as the state’s main tools for managing Kashmir.
The Unrest of 2010
In 2010, when Burhan rebelled, 120 civilians were killed in the aftermath of the death of Tufail Mattoo, a student. Since then, no action has been taken against any of the police and security officials who resorted to firings that took the lives of civilians. The police investigated some of the cases without offering any evidence related to the boy’s killers. This forced a closure of Kashmir for five months.
The ruling PDP-BJP coalition has indirectly contributed to the unrest. For allying with the BJP, the PDP might have got a better deal by “de-fanging”
the party on key issues concerning Kashmir, but it has not helped undo
the mass perception. People generally felt cheated as the PDP incited passions against the BJP, only to later ally with it.
Discomfort with BJP Manifests Itself
Historically, unionists have always hawked Kashmir’s accession with secular India. All of a sudden, when the ruling “communal” party in Delhi is making an entry into the state that has remained at the core of its integrationist politics, street discomfort dominates the mass perception. Denying the ideological opposition the space it deserves, dithering on re-engaging them and scuttling peace-making efforts with Pakistan are other issues that have contributed to the discontent since March 2015.
Nobody in Srinagar is in a position to foresee normalcy, especially at the peak of a tourist season with a yatra midway. Cops get into statistical comparisons of daily deaths, a pattern they devised at the peak of militancy, to paint their own hypothesis. Politicians hope fathers will reign in their wards and avoid deadly confrontations. Ground officials say Kashmir will bounce back to normalcy once they are able to break the killing-protesting-killing cycle.
Caught in curfew and enforced mourning, enraged people see Ms Mufti enter into the Omar Abdullah phase of governance.
(The writer is an editor with Kashmir Life)