By Khursheed Wani
Kashmir militancy is replete with surprising stories of the cadre that sustained the anti-India campaign for around three decades, now. Every individual who joined the militant ranks has a story behind his decision. Thousands of them are slain and resting in special cemeteries that sprouted up in Valley’s every nook and cranny. Thousands more were arrested, jailed for shorter or prolonged periods. Some of them picked up arms again and for much more, the incarceration became a turning point for renouncing the violent path. There were people who surrendered their arms for varied reasons and a lot of them actually changed the track to become counter-insurgents. Some rebels even joined politics, both in pro-India and anti-India camps while others took up jobs and businesses to flourish in their lives. Many militants chose to go into oblivion and dedicated the rest of their lives to their families.
The number of militants and their motivation did not remain the same every time. Compared to thousands of militants in early 1990s when they used to occupy territories, hold courts and actually run the affairs of governance, in the latter half of 1990s militants, their sympathisers and families were virtually on the run. The number of militants dwindled and the state forces took control over the situation. The liberated zones like Jogi Lankar and Nowhatta in Srinagar, Lolab Valley and forests of Tral and Kulgam were reclaimed by the state. A senior police officer, who commanded the provincial police for a longer tenure, once, told me that the arms and ammunition seized from the militants over two decades were enough to equip an army brigade.
The crests and troughs in the militancy continued as Kashmir cauldron remained boiling. The introduction of Fidayeen attacks, carried out exclusively by non-local (mostly Pakistani) militants punctured the security control and lack of political initiative sustained the constituency of militants in the post-1996 Kashmir when a sham election introduced a new crop of politicians who reached the echelons of power without any public support or sympathy.
The subsequent 2002 assembly election was not too different though the public participation was comparatively better and voluntary in many parts. During this period, a semblance of political process weakened the militant constituency. The number of militants considerably dwindled. An intelligence sharing system resulted in countless deaths of intruders along the Line of Control (LoC). This period even saw groups of unarmed recruits, on way to training camps, being massacred on the LoC.
This period was crucial and could have paved way to wipe out militancy from the region if the sincere political dialogue was carried out within Jammu and Kashmir and between India and Pakistan. Instead, the forces inimical to sustained peace misconstrued the ground situation and attempted to celebrate the dwindling militancy as the final defeat of secessionists. The 2008 agitation against the transfer of land to Amarnath Shrine Board was Kashmir’s reaction to this brazenly hegemonistic mindset. This agitation was a watershed that resurrected militancy and its habitat. The subsequent events in 2009 (death of two women in Shopian), 2010 (staged encounter in Machil sector followed by summer agitation and brutal force to quell it) and 2013 (hanging of Afzal Guru) prepared the stage for the revival of militancy.
The events of 2016 in the aftermath of Burhan Wani’s killing reflected the drastic change on the ground level. The use of brutal force against the rebellious population compelled many youngsters to take up arms. A year down the line, 16-year-old Fardeen Khanday, son of a policeman, is seen carrying out a Fidayeen attack on a CRPF formation. His death occurred on the night straddling between 2017 and 2018. When 2017 began, the official figure on the number of active militants was 282 and in the beginning of 2018, the number still remains at 229 despite the fact that a sustained counterinsurgency campaign including the ‘operation all-out’ resulted into killing of 218 militants.
Since the 1990s, the profile of militant recruits and their motivation has been debated. The immediate causes for youngsters joining militancy may vary but their motivation is somehow linked to the politics. Unfortunately, there are no efforts to address the cause.
A few days after Khanday’s death at Lethpora in south Kashmir, pictures of another militant recruit created headlines. Manan Wani, a PhD scholar in applied geology at prestigious Aligarh Muslim University left the research midway to join Hizbul Mujahideen outfit. His pictures holding an under-barrel grenade launcher shocked his parents back home in Lolab who wanted his return. Very little is known about Wani’s decision to abandon the research laboratory and head towards the inhospitable forests where militants generally take shelter.
A former militant commander who has recruited hundreds of militants in the heydays of Kashmir insurgency and subsequently spent 18 years in jails was upset over Manan Wani’s decision. He told me that Wani was an upcoming scientist and Kashmir required him more as a scientist than a militant.
This is the sordid state of affairs that the political strife has thrown them in. There is no concrete effort to bring the youngsters out of this crisis.