A MILITANT ICON IS BORN
|| ZAHOOR GULZAR
By the time the drizzle stopped the clock had struck past midnight. The sound of the vehicles outside the mosque was growing louder with each passing hour. At 2:45 am the announcement was finally made. The body of Burhan Wani, the face of the new age militancy in Kashmir, was on way to home. The news that Burhan, the most wanted militant from Shariefabad in militancy hot-bed of Tral, was killed on the stroke of dusk on July 8, along with his two associates, in what was described by the officials as “brief but fierce encounter” in Kokernag area of South Kashmir’s had already drive people, young and elderly, out of their home.
Within minutes the lawn of Wani’s house, the orchards circling it and the streets leading to the House were full with people, trying to be first to have last glimpse of their “hero”. The brain behind the revival of local militancy in Kashmir, Burhan, who carried a reward of Rs 10 lakh, was an “inspiration” for young Kashmiris, most of them from south Kashmir, who followed his footsteps. Tonight, the youth who had travelled from far off areas of Kashmir many of them had walked miles on foot – were competing to see Burhan for one last time and touch his body wherever they could. “Oh my brother! Why did you leave us alone?” a youth in his late 20’s cried among mourners, beaten his chest as young men around raised pro-Aazadi and pro-Burhan slogans. Soon the slogans grew louder. “Tum kitne Burhan maroge? Har ghar se Burhan niklega (How many Burhans will you kill? A Burhan will emerge from every home)!” The frail-bodied Burhan who had left home at the age of 15 had in past six years rose to the highest ranks in Hizbul Mujahedeen.
Initially Burhan walked in the shadow of his cousin and top militant, Adil Mir to grow in the militant ranks as not much about him was known during his initial years when he took up the gun. But, after Mir’s death, he came to the forefront to become the most wanted rebel who had left home to spend countless nights in jungles under open skies to chalk the road for bringing into the limelight the militancy in the Valley which was fading away fast. What set Burhan apart from other militants particularly the ones of 90’s was that he shunned mask to reveal his identity to security establishment, sending them in tizzy.
The tech savvy Burhan choose social media as his battle field – it worked to attract the young and elite brains into the world of militancy in Kashmir, the like of Ishaq “Newtown” a topper in 12th class. In just two year after 2014, he became a “daring youth icon” and a household name, more so when he decided to introduce himself and his rebel group to the world, all dressed in army fatigue and carrying Kalashnikovs, through pictures and videos. Kashmir’s new-age rebel was openly inviting youth to join militancy.
The killing of 21-year old Hizbul Mujahedeen commander, Burhan Muzaffar Wani, has been termed by the security forces as “huge setback” to Kashmir militancy. In his death, however, Burhan, who was the architect of psychological war against the forces, could give birth to a new phase of militancy by inspiring young men to join the rebels
The strategy was working as during his command, for the first time after 90’s the local militants outnumbered the foreigners in the Valley. The move to release pictures and videos was described by police and security agencies – as an attempt to galvanize the militancy and bring back the romance of early 1990s to the militancy when thousands of young men joined militant ranks with a dream to achieve Aazadi (independence) for Kashmir. But behind Burhan’s meteoric rise and him hogging the international headline, much to the worry of the state and central security establishment, lies his encounter with the police’s Special Operation Group personnel in Tral in 2010 when he was a class 10thstudent, a legend which has travelled to far off corners of the Valley. Burhan, along with his elder brother Muzaffar Wani and a friend had gone for bike ride when it was cut short by the SOG men who asked the class 10th student to get cigarettes for them. Amid argument Burhan found himself and brother Muzaffar in the clutches of SOG men.
While he managed to free himself, Muzaffar – he was killed by security forces when he had allegedly gone to meet his brother last year – and the friend were beaten by the SOG men. The assault changed Burhan, a soft spoken son who came from a middle class family, forever. Son of a Government school principal, he was categorized as A-plus-plus militant by security establishment which has been spinning different theories about causes that make educated youths, especially from south Kashmir, to join militancy. Though his videos Burhan would talk about issues concerning Kashmir and openly invite young men to join him in fight against India.
The Hizbul commander, in his fresh video message, had threatened attacks on proposed separate colonies for Sainiks and Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley. He had also issued fresh threats at J&K police. “He (Burhan) had very well understood the power of social media and use it to lure young and educated boys into militants’ folds; he was using this power to the fullest now,” said a senior police official. “He was glamorizing militancy with deadly effect through use of social media.” That was the reason that security establishment was finding it difficult to counter his offensive on social media. and that also explains J&K’s police chief K Rajendra Kumar remarks that killing of Burhan was a “major success” for police and other security agencies.
Burhan, the most wanted militant, was killed, on the stroke of the dusk on July 8 along with his two associates in what was described by the officials as “brief but fierce encounter”.
The ‘Hero’s’ farewell
By the time the first rays of sun touched the lofty mountains of Tral on July 9, tens of thousands of people, young men and wailing mothers, braving weather and defying strict curfew across Kashmir, had swarmed to Tral to pay bid adieu to Burhan. His body was carried in a huge procession from his home to Tral Eidgah early morning and when his first funeral prayers were held at 10:30 am, the number of people had swelled to more than two lakh, the 137-kanal Eidgah was full to its capacity.
“It is unprecedented in the recent history of Kashmir that funeral prayers of any militant has been held at such large scale,” said Muzaffar Hussain who had travelled from Kulgam to participate in Burhan’s funeral. A local Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din said he had for the first time seen people filling the Eidgah to its capacity. “It has never happened during my entire life time,” said 73-year old Mohi- ud-Din. The funeral prayers were also attended by some militants, who gave gun salute to their militant commander, as people crowded around them to provide them safe passage.
The brain behind the revival of local militancy in Kashmir, Burhan, who carried a reward of Rs 10 lakh, was an “inspiration” for young and educated Kashmiris, most of them from south Kashmir, who followed his footsteps.
Four big funeral prayers and nearly two dozen smaller ones were eventually held for Burhan, to accommodate the mourners before he was finally buried in the “martyrs’ cemetery” at the Eidgah at around 3:30 pm. “I have seen funerals of many top militant commanders, but I have not seen anything like this before,” said a 32-year-old youth from Srinagar Kashmir militancy after Burhan A day after Burhan’s death, former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said his killing had made him the icon of the young and angry Kashmiri youth, warning that more Kashmiris could join the militancy after his death as compared to when he was alive. “Mark my words — Burhan’s ability to recruit into militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media,” Omar tweeted. Burhan, the working President of National Conference said, wasn’t the first to pick the gun and won’t be the last Kashmiri youth to do so. “JKNC has always maintained that a political problem needs political solution,’’ said Omar.
The worry for J&K police and other security agencies is that Burhan’s death could inspire more Kashmiri men, young and educated, to give up luxurious lives and join the new age militancy in Kashmir.
Police and other security agencies are quite aware about the fact that Burhan’s death could inspire more Kashmiri men, young and educated, to give up luxurious lives and step into the world of militancy. “There is no doubt that Kashmir militancy will not die with the death of Burhan. It remains to be seen now how will this militancy shape up when Burhan is gone,” said a senior political analyst. “We could be in for yet another phase of militancy wherein Burhan might continue to inspire Kashmiri youth to join militancy from his grave,” the political analyst said.
In life the young militant commander was instrumental in motivating more than 100 Kashmiri youth, most of them from south Kashmir, to pick up guns. It remains to be seen whether Burhan phenomenon would continue after his death.