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Kashmir Post Burhan: Has Militancy Declined After PDP-BJP Split?

For over a year, Burhan Wani was ‘allowed’ to become an icon for defiant Kashmiri youths, writes Ahmed Ali Fayyaz.

6 min read
Hindi Female

Militancy, and the separatist sentiment, had remarkably waned in the whole of Kashmir from 2011 through 2015. But after the PDP-BJP government took over in March 2015, the Valley witnessed a recurrence of both militancy, and separatist sentiments. For over a year, Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, was ‘permitted’ to grow into an icon for defiant Kashmiri youths. A fresh eruption of violence needed just a trigger, which came with Wani’s killing in an encounter in South Kashmir, on 8 July 2016.

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The following year, the police and security forces continued to fight the stone-pelting crowds. Almost all the counterinsurgency operations came to a halt. Scores of civilian killings in such clashes set the stage for a fresh spell of insurgency.

Droves of fresh recruits joined the Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. In 2017, South Kashmir, the hub of new militancy and indoctrination, witnessed untrained but deeply indoctrinated youths filming videos of themselves carrying AK-47 rifles, and uploading these on social media.


Steps Taken From 2018-2019 To Combat Militancy

“It was like a completely liberated zone. Crowds of the size of 40,000 to 60,000 would gather in rotation at different villages, wave Pakistani flags, and shout for ‘Azadi’ and Pakistan. Same flags were installed at government colleges and other offices. There were broad daylight militant parades, and public speeches. Police or security forces would not venture into the villages, fearing stone-pelting and terror attacks. They enjoyed a field day from July 2016 till the day Mehbooba Mufti was forced to step down as CM in June 2018,” said a senior Jammu and Kashmir police officer, on condition of anonymity.

“It was for the first time since 1989 that the civilian demonstrators, armed with stones, and the guerrillas equipped with automatic rifles, joined hands to take on the government and the police and paramilitary forces. But in the last, say two years, particularly from June 2018 to July 2019, we have introduced a host of tools: surgical operations against terrorists; establishment of dozens of fresh security forces camps and passage barriers; incremental liaison with the civilian populations; arrests and detentions of top separatist leaders and ideologues and deterrence the ground mobilisers; end to the release of potential saboteurs and over ground workers (OGWs) in exchange for bribes,” added the senior police officer.


Anti-Militancy Operations: Then & Now

“When you detain or release over-ground workers / OWGs, militants or saboteurs for making money, you lose moral ground completely. It’s an altogether different scenario today,” said another police officer. He narrated how every operation in Shopian, Kulgam, Tral and Pulwama was followed by four-day-long bandhs. Now mark the difference: on Friday, 6 July, we had an operation at Narwani, in Shopian. One local militant of the Hizbul Mujahideen was killed. On Saturday, 7 July, there was no shutdown in Shopian. Our Senior Superintendent of Police was the chief guest at Shopian’s largest Islamic educational institute, Siraj-ul-Uloom, which has over 1,000 students. He was treated to Waazwaan (a typical Kashmiri feast) and honoured with Dastaarbandi,” narrated the police officer, who himself attended the annual day function at Siraj-ul-Uloom.

On another day last week, the above police officers were the guests of honour at another major educational institute, Rainbow Public School in Shopian, where most of the shops have been open right through shutdowns and counterinsurgency operations this year.

Residents insist that the current crackdown on separatists, militants and their multidimensional support structure, that began after the killing of over 40 CRPF personnel in a car bomb blast in Pulwama, has played a pivotal role in maintaining the calm that Kashmir is experiencing this summer.


‘Calm Before The Storm’?

Intellectuals and journalists sympathetic to the separatists’ cause, dismiss the current spell of tranquility as “the calm before the storm”. “We have seen over the last 30 years, that repression and suppression do not bring about lasting peace. Militancy has taken different shapes. Once, there was a gun for Azadi. Soon it was all for Pakistan. It was followed by the Pakistan-controlled jihadist insurgency. Now, it’s being taken over by ISIS and Al-Qaeda. The peace is as elusive as it was in 1990. It won’t come until Pakistan and the separatists are brought on board through a structured dialogue process,” said a senior journalist and political analyst working with a national TV news channel.

Most of the officials under the Governor’s administration, police and security forces, however, believe that the sustenance of uncertainty, militancy and political turmoil in Kashmir owed much to the “softness of the State”, and “infinite tolerance for secessionism”.


Can Kashmir Valley Be ‘Militant-Free’ By July 2020?

“We must admit that we have fallen into multiple traps by Pakistan, and we have squandered billions of rupees over strengthening the Pakistani and jihadist constituencies and weakening of the ‘nationalist and patriotic constituency’,”said someone in the top rungs of the administration. According to him, “bridges and conduits” between the separatists and the establishment had made their own fortunes, sent their own children for higher studies and jobs to all over the world with the “Indian facilitation”, and got thousands of Kashmiri youths (besides police and security forces personnel) killed. He refused to elaborate on whether he was complaining about mainstream politicians or others, but admitted that New Delhi would not like a civilian government to return, that would “continue to promote” the secessionist narratives in Kashmir.

According to police officers, currently there are around 200 militants active in the Valley, and only about 40 of them were Pakistani nationals. 

They believe the total number of active militants should be 30 in Shopian (including 3 foreigners), 20 in Kulgam (including 6 foreigners), 25 in Anantnag (including 5 foreigners) and around 60 (including 12 foreigners) in Pulwama and Awantipora police districts. “The rate of indoctrination and recruitment is still a big problem, but we are sure that the Valley could be “militant-free” by July 2020. We want that there should be no police or security forces to guard next year’s Amarnath Yatra,” said a senior police officer.


717 Militants Eliminated In Kashmir Valley Since 2016

That the clashes of the youths with security forces during operations, and the resultant civilian killings have plummeted drastically in the last one year, could be gauged from the fact that as many as 15 civilians had been killed in Shopian between January 2018 and June 2018 alone. The number of militants killed in these operations was twenty-two.

In contrast, not a single civilian has died in such operations from June 2018 to June 2019. Thirty-four militants have been killed in the same operations during this period in Shopian.

As many as 126 militants have been killed in different operations by police and security forces across Kashmir in the first six months of 2019. Significantly, unlike in past years, all of them have been eliminated in the hinterland, and not one has died around the Line of Control (LoC).

Total number of militants killed in the Valley since January 2016
Number of militants killed in only 2016
Number of militants killed in only 2017
Number of militants killed in only 2018

As 126 militants have been killed in the last 6 months, officials believe that around 250 militants could be neutralised in 2019.


‘Breaking The Back Of Terrorism In The Valley’

With the government and its law-enforcement agencies, including the defunct Department of Education having little control over the educational institutions, the indoctrination and recruitment of youths continues to be a considerable problem. According to official statistics, 63 youths joined militancy after Burhan Wani’s death, between July 2016 and December 2016. Their number was 135 in 2017, and an all-time high in the last 20 years – 201 – in 2018. Till July, as many as 87 Kashmiri youths had joined militancy in the Valley.

The Kashmir IGP’s office says that 87 was the CID figure. It claims that only 73 youths joined militancy in the current year. Officials said that 50 youths had joined militancy from March to June in 2019. Twenty-two of them had been killed in different operations. Nine of them had returned to their families, and five had been arrested.

Police and security forces claim that the killing of Ansar Ghazwatul Hind (an Al-Qaeda affiliate, Zakir Musa and about a dozen Hizbul Mujahideen and LeT commanders in the last 12 months, was a major victory, as it had “broken the back of terrorism in the Valley”.

Of the 126 slain militants, 25 (including 9 foreigners) were killed this year in Shopian, 14 in Awantipora and 12 in Kulgam. However, a few terror strikes like the one in which 5 CRPF men and SHO Irshad Khan were killed in Anantnag on 12 June this year, have sent shock waves across the ranks in the police and security forces, who sounded perturbed over many of the encounters and attacks happening close to the Amarnath Yatra route in South Kashmir.

(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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