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‘Little Burhan’ Sabzar’s Nature Was a Contrast to Zakir Musa’s

Despite the ideological similarity, the contrast between the temperaments of Sabzar and Zakir was striking.

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Sabzar Bhat, the Hizb-ul Mujahideen ‘commander’ who was killed in an army operation on Saturday morning, was a couple of years older than Burhan Wani, the charismatic Hizb commander who was killed in July last year. He was about 6 feet tall, and had the size of a wrestler.

The two often roamed together during the last year of Burhan’s life – and even before that, while Sabzar was an overground ally but not yet a militant companion. However, despite being older, taller and bigger, Sabzar was known as ‘lokut Burhan’ (little Burhan in Kashmiri).

At one level, that is a testament to Burhan’s unrivalled charisma, popularity and leadership qualities. Read another way, that moniker referred to the fact that Sabzar was more like Burhan in temperament than most of his other militant comrades.

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Extremist Views

Little wonder then that some of those comrades put up posters within a week after Burhan was killed, declaring that Sabzar was their new chief. A month later, however, it was announced that Zakir ‘Musa’ Bhat has been appointed as the new ‘divisional commander’ for south Kashmir.

Zakir and Sabzar were similar to the extent that both held extremist, Islamist views. Pictures on social media show Sabzar in a black ISIS-style turban, beside Burhan’s uncovered head and trimmed beard.

Sabzar may have been in sync with the views that Zakir recently put out in an audio recording – that he would slit the throats of and string up any ‘Hurriyat’ or other figure who said Kashmir was a ‘political’ movement for Pakistani, Kashmiri or any other nationalism.

Several Hizb boys are said to have left Hizb following Zakir; and according to one unconfirmed version, Sabzar had recently expressed readiness to follow Zakir.
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Calm Temper

Despite this ideological similarity, the contrast between the temperaments of Sabzar and Zakir was striking. While Sabzar was rakishly affable, Zakir is an angry young man, prone to firing orders and threats.

However, Sabzar was never the iconic hero that Burhan was. He not only lacked Burhan’s genteel manner but also the sort of haloed image of virtuous good behaviour that was basic to Burhan’s persona.
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Social Difference

There was a sociological difference too – one that was probably crucial in ensuring that the Pakistani and other decision-makers preferred Zakir over ‘lokut Burhan’ as Burhan’s successor.

Sabzar is from a family of tillers and was not educated. Zakir had attended an engineering college in Chandigarh. His father, brother and sister have professional occupations. They comprise what neighbours would call a well-off ‘middle class’ family.

Not just that, the family is apparently affiliated to Jamaat-e-Islami. That would count for a lot among those who run and fund Hizb.

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Contrasting Profiles

This Jamaat family background must have added to the bitterness of the handlers who manage Hizb’s affairs after Zakir turned rogue by espousing an essentially pan-Islamic line. That sort of discourse might have suited the ISIS, even if he had no formal affiliation to it; it certainly did not suit Pakistan.

Those handlers who would have counted Zakir’s Jamaat background as a guarantor of his loyalty to their cause might now think that someone like Sabzar, who represented the salt of the earth, is a better bet. No doubt much will now be made of his humble beginnings as Hizb seeks new recruits.

Zakir had to leave Hizb following the controversy that erupted over his recorded threat against those who called Kashmir a ‘political’ movement.

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Army Success

A very large number of youth, particularly from south Kashmir, joined Hizb after Burhan died. The army estimated the number to be around 200 by the end of last year. It would have increased since then.

So, although the army has earned kudos for a very successful operation to kill Sabzar and two other prominent militants, the combination of the new breed of Kashmiri militants and foreign infiltrators could yet cause a very heated summer of violence.

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

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Topics:  Burhan Wani   Kashmir Unrest   Zakir Musa 

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