Burhan Wani: The Face of Kashmir’s New Insurgency

On Burhan Wani’s death anniversary, a look at the new face of insurgency in Kashmir. 

Updated
India
5 min read
A group photo of Hizb and Lashkar militants clicked at an unknown location that went viral on Facebook recently. Burhan Wani is at centre, head tilted a bit to his left.

Around the time when Kashmir was simmering with bloody civil unrest in 2010, a class 10 student Burhan Muzaffar Wani and his brother were allegedly bullied by security forces in Tral, Southern Kashmir - regularly forced to buy them cigarettes, later even beaten up. Ten days before his annual exam, on 16 October 2010, Burhan left home saying he was going to the market. He vanished without a trace.

In a recently released Facebook video, suspected Hizbul Mujahideen recruits are seen wearing Indian Army uniforms, and carrying rifles at an undisclosed location, somewhere south of India-administered Kashmir.

Watch the video here:

New Chapter of Insurgency

Burhan is at the centre of a new phase of insurgency that is gaining ground in the Kashmir Valley despite early warnings. In five years, he has climbed the ladder within insurgent ranks to become a divisional commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, attracting more young boys to take up arms.

J&K Police’s Inspector General of Kashmir, Javed Mujtaba Geelani, says more than 35 boys from the Valley joined Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizb this year alone. However, unofficial figures put the number at over 70. More than 250 militants are active in the Kashmir Valley currently, with around 120 having joined insurgent groups in the last two years.

Last month, security agencies were rattled when a photo of Burhan surrounded by 10 militants dressed in combat gear surfaced on Facebook. Sporting a boyish look, Burhan sits in the middle of the photo with his head slightly tilted to his left. He has become a cult figure in the new insurgency and officials believe that the photo is aimed at attracting more recruits.

Muzaffar Ahmad Wani, Burhan’s father, outside their home in Tral town of south Kashmir. (Photo: Jehangir Ali)
Muzaffar Ahmad Wani, Burhan’s father, outside their home in Tral town of south Kashmir. (Photo: Jehangir Ali)

Religious Underpinnings

But Burhan’s father, who is the Principal of a local secondary school, doesn’t quite agree. He says his son neither gives sermons in mosques nor invites people to join him and, in fact, asserts that the photo should have never been made public.

These boys joined him because he is on the righteous path. We are living in a tyrannical society where jihad is an obligation.
— Muzaffar Ahmad Wani, Burhan’s Father

Religion is a primary factor for joining the insurgency for new recruits. In the photograph, second to the left of Burhan and raising his index finger, is Ishfaq Ahmad Dar who joined the Hizb in February this year.  Ishfaq comes from a respected family in Sangam. The town is known for producing some of India’s finest cricket bats. Ishfaq’s father owns a bat factory too.

A teenaged friend of Ishfaq, who, along with him, was charged for stone pelting on forces, spoke to us on the condition of anonymity -

He was deeply religious. During a discussion on stone pelting, he often talked about Islam, oppression and freedom.

- Ishfaq’s Friend

The main market in Tral town, which has emerged as one of the hotbeds of the ‘new insurgency’.<b> </b>(Photo: Jehangir Ali)
The main market in Tral town, which has emerged as one of the hotbeds of the ‘new insurgency’. (Photo: Jehangir Ali)

Educated and Economically Stable

The new insurgency began dates back to the 2010 ‘stone pelting’ unrest in Kashmir when the policymakers warned of ‘radicalisation’ among the youth after 120 civilians, mostly teenagers, were killed in retaliatory action by security forces. The government did little to contain the fire.

Burhan was a witness to the bloodshed that happened in Kashmir during that time. He had to face the music himself. He was disillusioned.
— Muzaffar Ahmad Wani, Burhan’s Father

Most of the new recruits are well-read and belong to financially sound families living in Kulgam, Pulwama, Shopian and Anantnag districts. One of them, and perhaps the youngest, Ishaq Ahmad, 19, from Tral town, was one of the toppers in the class 10 board exams held in the state in 2011. He got 98.4 percent marks, earning him the nickname ‘Newton’.

His family wanted him to become a doctor. They had provided him every facility so that he could excel in studies. He had a limited friend circle and often restricted himself to studies and prayers. We are still unable to grasp what motivated him to join militants.
— Mohammad Iqbal, Ishaq’s Cousin

Ishaq Ahmad was one of the toppers in class 10 board exam results declared in 2011. He is among&nbsp;the youngest to have joined the insurgents. (Photo: Jehangir Ali)
Ishaq Ahmad was one of the toppers in class 10 board exam results declared in 2011. He is among the youngest to have joined the insurgents. (Photo: Jehangir Ali)

New Insurgents Don’t Want the Terror Tag

According to sources, Hizb and Lashkar, two prominent groups with new recruits, are working in tandem, apparently to prevent the label of ‘terrorism’ from being associated with their acts.

Almost all recent attacks on forces in Kashmir were claimed by Hizb, although some of them were carried out by Lashkar, because the later is synonymous with terrorism

- J&K CID Officer, On Condition of Anonymity.

While the new recruits may be attempting to secularise their struggle by disassociating themselves from globally banned terror outfits, this has also sparked fears of the ISIS becoming an attractive option for them.

The ‘liberal’ world has disappointed the new generation of militants in Kashmir who turn towards religion for a higher definition of life. In these circumstances, ISIS is certainly an attractive option.
— Umair Gul

Umair Gul’s doctoral study at Jamia Millia Islamia focuses on militant struggles in India.

More than their domestic ambitions or ideology, Umair says the new generation of militants are motivated by the idea of a puritanical form of Islam which calls for sacrificing one’s life to achieve ‘jannat’ or a bountiful afterlife. Earlier the central motive was much more political - ‘azaadi’ for Kashmir.

Burhan’s father agrees.

Jihad is an obligation for Muslims. The spark lives in every faithful but it needs a catalyst to become fire. The episode (of assault by forces) impacted him deeply. I had asked him to go to Aligarh or Saudi Arabia for studies, but he had already chosen his path.
— Muzaffar Ahmad Wani, Burhan’s Father

Also Read:
Hizbul Mujahideen’s Poster Boy Burhan Wani Killed in An Encounter

(This story on the rise of Burhan Wani was first published in July 2015. It is being reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark the death anniversary of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander)

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