Following Fathers To Graves

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In south Kashmir that witnessed a spurt in militancy, post-Burhan Wani, Umar Mukhtar traced a couple of rebels who followed the suit of their slain militant-fathers, despite their families counselling against the idea

Kashmir – Paradise Lost: A painting by a US-based Kashmir engineer Zaffar Abbas.

On December 28, 2018, the residents in Pulwama’s Koil village woke up to the sound of blazing guns. Desperate to know what was happening, they opened phones to check the details, if any. But the time access to the internet had been snapped. This was enough to explain that an encounter was ragging. It was located in the karewas of the Nawnagri village, in Koil outskirts.

The exchange of fire lasted for 30 minutes. A Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) militant, Ishfaq Ahmad Wani, 26, alias Abu Turab of Koil was killed in the open, near a hideout busted a day before.

The news of Ishfaq’s killing spread like wildfire sending hoards of residents to march towards his house, located on the outskirts of the densely populated village. Ishfaq was an orphan. His father Mohammad Yousuf Wani was a district commander of Hizb ul-Mujahideen and was killed in an encounter.

Ishfaq was a science graduate from Pulwama Degree College. Post-graduation, he switched the stream to business administration and did his MBA from Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University Rajouri (BGSBU) in 2015. “He was a brilliant and outstanding student since his childhood,” said Javaid Ahmad Kumar, Ishfaq’s childhood friend and classmate.

After MBA, Ishfaq joined the ICICI Bank as a prudential manager. After putting in a year, the dissatisfied banker gave up his job. He used to tell his friends that banking job is un-Islamic. His resignation was resented by his family but he withstood the pressure.

Ishfaq had done a three months travel and tourism management diploma also. Later, he had also enrolled himself in the master’s course for English literature through IGNOU.

Post-resignation, he started his fruit business and was successful. He had also got a license for a pesticide shop.

Then there was a development that shocked his friends and family. He joined militancy.

On July 19, 2018, Ishfaq gave some excuse to his mother, Rafiqa, and left home saying it would take him two days. It was Friday. He never returned. The real shock to the family came when his gun-wielding photograph went viral on social media.

The news was more shocking to his elder brother, Aijaz Ahmad, who treated Ishfaq more as a friend than a little brother. They used to share all the secrets, crack jokes and had a good understanding.

On the eve of his departure to militancy, Ishfaq had told Aijaz that he was going to tell him something, but in next more than 20 hours, they could not communicate. Using social media, Rafiqa made an emotional appeal to him to come back; her son said he surely will, but only after his death.

Ishfaq Ahmad Wani

Ishfaq kept his word. He returned home after 161 days, dead in blood-soaked camouflage fatigue. On yet another Friday, he was lowered in a grave next to his father.

Ishfaq’s father, Yousuf had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) in 1991 for arms’ training. He stayed there for about eight months and was trained as an IED specialist. He was still across when Ishfaq was born. He saw his son only when he returned and the baby was just a month old.

Wani remained active till 1994 when he along with five others was arrested in Talangam. During interrogations, his left leg got severely damaged. A year later, he walked out of jail.

Post-release, Wani stayed at home for six days and then joined the militant ranks again. In a short span, he became the district commander. Finally, on August 31, 1996, Wani along with two other militants, Riyaz Ahmad and Shahid Lone, was killed in an encounter in Pinglena. Sometime later, Rafiqa, his widow, married her slain husband’s brother, Ghulam Qadir Wani. She has now three more children.

Almost 22 years later, his son Ishfaq was killed in the same area where his father was operating.

Ishfaq is not the only militant who followed the suit of his slain father. In the last two months, three well-qualified youth from Pulwama and Shopian who died as militants, after literally getting into the shoes of their slain rebel fathers.

Liyakat Muneer Wani, 20, alias Jameel was killed in an hour-long encounter in Pulwama’s Tikken hamlet. A resident of Dargund Bellow, he also was a second generation militant. After joining militancy, Liyakat actually took his father, Muneer Ahmad Wani’s codename Jameel.

On November 10, 2018, Tikken residents woke up to the loud bangs as an encounter started between the militants and the counter-insurgent forces in the two-storey house of Ghulam Hassan Qazi. Two Hizb militants were holed up who were killed after an intense fire exchange.

Liyaqat’s family members said their son was haunted by “extra-judicial killing of his father” – Muneer Ahmad – since early childhood.

“Muneer left the government job as Laboratory Assistant in 1989 to receive arms’ training in Pakistan. He returned from Pakistan in December 1990,” they said. According to them, he was close to Hizb chief Syed Sallah-ud-Din.

Eventually, he became Hizb’s divisional commander. Muneer was arrested on January 26, 1998. “Four days later, he was killed in a staged encounter few kilometres away from the site where his son was killed today,” one of his family members said.

Liyakat Muneer Wani

Liyaqat was barely two-years-old when he became a double orphan. His mother had died a year before. “When he grew up, Liyaqat often used to talk about his father’s killing,” the family member who wishes to stay anonymous said. “While he was pursuing graduation in Degree College Pulwama, he became politically conscious.”

Quite soon, Liyaqat started reacting to the situation. In 2016 unrest, following the Burhan Wani killing, he was active on the streets.

“His right eye was hit by pellets outside his house in Bellow during clashes and he underwent two surgeries at SMHS hospital,” the relative said. “The injury didn’t calm Liyaqat and he attempted to join militant ranks several times but was made to return home.”

The family member said that they would routinely counsel him against joining the militancy. They would tell him that he has the responsibility of his younger brother. He added, “Even after multiple attempts to join the Hizb, the militant outfit refused to recruit him.” He shocked everybody by joining Lashkar on March 10, 2018. A month later, his BA results came out. He had secured 92 per cent marks.

After LeT, he later switched to Hizb, days after his militant cousin, Rayees Ahmad Wani, was killed in March 2017. He was reportedly close to Manan Wani.

The family member said that he called home on the day of his killing, promising that he would come home the next day. He did come but dead. He was buried next to the grave of his slain cousin, Rayees Ahmad Wani.

Same was the case with Nawaz Ahmad Wagay, son of Ghulam Qadir Wagay of Reban Shopian who was killed in his native village on November 17, 2018.

Wagay had completed his masters in Urdu and joined the al-Badr outfit. “He left home after Friday prayers in June and within hours his photo carrying AK-47 went viral on social media within hours,” one of his relatives said.

Prior to his joining militancy, Nawaz was arrested several times by police for having contacts with militants. Sara Begum, his mother, said her family has been devastated by Nawaz’s decision to join militancy. “I am helpless. I took a lot of pains to finance his studies,” Sara said. His father, Ghulam Qadir Wagay, was also killed at his native area in 1996. Wagays’ are an economically sound family. Nawaz is survived by mother, three sisters and one brother.

Tariq Ahmad Sheikh, 23, a resident of Chitragam village, is yet another case. He was killed along with two other militants in Adkhara village near Imam Sahab. His father Shamim Ahmad Sheikh was a Hizb militant as well.

Shamim was from the very first batch of militants who crossed the LoC during the initial stage of militancy, during the Muslim month of fasting, the Ramzan in 1989. For two years, Shamim stayed there as his family was unaware of his whereabouts.

In 1991 summer, Shamim showed up in the premises of his home. He was welcomed with tight hugs by all the family members and neighbours. But the Ak-47 slinging down his shoulder had made Shamim different.

Active for three years, Shamim was killed in Shopian’s Molu village on January 14, 1994. After two months of his killing, his widowed wife gave birth to Tariq.

Tariq was raised as an orphan and has a telling story of his pre-militancy days. “He was literally living on thorns,” said his brother Inayat Shamim.

Tariq had pursued his Moulana course from Dar ul Uloom Rahimiya in Bandipore. Apart from being a certified Mufti, he was also a Hafiz-e-Quran – a Muslim who has memorised the entire Quran.

The relatives allege that Tariq was continuously harassed by the counter-insurgency grid which eventually pushed him into militancy. “Whenever there were some untoward militancy-related incident, Tariq would be summoned by police or the army,” Shamim said. “He had to bear tortures for no reason.”

Tired of managing the crisis, Tariq’s uncle Nazir Ahmad, also his step-father, decided to send him to Darul Uloom Rahimiya in Bandipore where he memorised the Quran. Nazir had married Fatima, Shamim’s wife after she got widowed at the age of 23.

This migration helped him a bit. After completing his courses from the institution, the family advised him to stay there and find some job. The situation back home was not good.

Tariq joined a Masjid in Tangmarg where he would lead the prayers. The fate chased him there too. One day, he received a call and he was summoned to a local army camp. There, Inayat alleged, he was tortured for his alleged militant links.

“It was a routine for the army to harass him. They used to call him on his phone and was asked to give the details of a militant cousin, Bilal Molvi,” Inayat said. “He even changed his SIM cards, but every time, the army would get his new number somehow.”

To “get rid of this unending crisis”, Tariq joined militants on March 30, 2018. The last location his family knew was Panzgam in Pulwama where he led the Friday prayers.

To trace Tariq, police arrested his step-father Nazir Ahmad, and booked him under the PSA for six months at Kot Balwal Jammu.  “I was falsely implanted in an attack case on Shopian police line and was sent to the jail,” Nazir said. “They told me if I give them the information of Tariq they will let me go.”

Tariq Ahmad Sheikh

The phenomenon of the second generation militants is seen through a different prism by the police. They do not see the generational shift as a change. Militant, for them, is a militant, regardless of who his father was. They do not have any immediate plan or a strategy to deal with this new trend, albeit small. A top cop from south Kashmir described the phenomenon as the “collective failure of the society”, insisting it was “madness.”

“There are people like Saddam Padder’s mother who encourages boys to embrace her son’s path,” the senior police officer said. “Also, father of the al Badar chief Zeenat ul Islam also talked the same language, and in contrast, there are few others who make appeals to their sons to shun the path of violence.” Basically, people need to accept that they cannot succeed this way, he added.

Is this trend a sort of madness as the police see it or there are some other factors that engineer this new trend? Sociologists deem this rising phenomenon as the result of many negligences from the government and the society to some extent. “Once a militant is killed, our society is not yet that conscious that they will take care of the family that is left behind,” sociologist Dr Khursheed ul Islam said. “Also from the government side, there are no such concrete policies to rehabilitate these kids and families of the militants. Rather they are stalked at each and every step.”

Khursheed says that if kids of the militants do not get a passport for studies, they have to struggle and have to prove their innocence at every level. Obviously, this pressure and negligence will yield such results only. “But it is good that these incidents are far and few between,” he insisted.

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