In February 2017, Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat sent a stern warning to the Kashmiri youth for hampering Army’s counter-insurgency operations in different parts of the Valley. He said those pelting stones on Army to save the militants during encounters would be treated as “anti-nationals” and will be “dealt accordingly”. This loud and clear message from the Army chief was followed by several prohibitory orders from the police authorities, who asked people to stay away at least a radius of 3 kilometres from the place of the encounters between security forces and the militants.
But the well-delivered message and warning by the Army and police officials was not well received by the youth. Since then more than 50 young people were killed and hundreds injured by bullets and pellets, while they were stoning security forces to help the militants escape during the encounters in different areas particularly in South Kashmir.
Mobs attacking on the Army and security forces during their counter-insurgency operations, weapon snatching from policemen at isolated places, joining funerals of the slain militants in thousands and lakhs and giving gun salutes to the dead militants on their graves have become a trend in Kashmir for past two years, causing a new challenge for the security agencies.
On several occasions stone-pelting mobs succeed to help the militants flee and force the Army to call off its operations. In this regard a recent example is of Turkwangam village of the southern district Shopian, where three trapped militants including Zeenat-ul-Islam,a top commander of the HizbulMujahideen escaped during the gunfight on May 3, after the local youth with stones came to their rescue. Seeing the local youth disrupting the anti-militant operation, Army and other security forces resorted to pellet firing and teargas shelling at the violent protesters injuring 30 of them.
The government and the security agencies seem helpless to tackle the stone pelting phenomenon which has emerged during past two years. Even arresting the stone-pelters also do not seem to be of any help to the authorities. According to the official figures as many as 11,290 stone-pelters have been arrested in the past two years. Most of the arrested people were later released on bail by the courts. According to the legal experts, it becomes very difficult for the police to substantiate or prove the charges against the accused. The police also fail to produce any witness to the court. Most of the accused get bail due to absence of any concrete evidence. In the winter session of the legislative assembly, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti informed the House that “as many as 3,773 FIRs have been registered against stone-pelters in the state during last two years in which 11,290 persons were arrested and later released on bail”.
Like stone pelting, internet has become another toll in the hands of youth to give vent to their anti-state frustration. Internet has become a menace for the security agencies, fighting militancy. Most of the youngsters use social media to vent their anger and frustration against the state. According to national media there are more than 250 WhatsApp groups active in Kashmir coordinating the youth with anti-India agenda. There are hundreds of active Facebook pages spreading pro-militant content round the clock. The police believe that most of these Facebook pages are active on fake identities, making it difficult for the authorities to tackle the challenge. Last year in April, the authorities in a bid to stop the menace banned 22 social networking sites and applications including Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter in Kashmir Valley saying that these networking sites are “misused by anti-national and anti-social elements to fan trouble”. But the ban turned out to be a joke as the youth started using proxy servers like virtual private networks (VPNs), to run the banned sites. Interestingly, some top police officials and the bureaucrats were also seen using VPN. This forced the authorities to lift the ban.
In three decades of militancy, this is for the first time that the local youth are fearlessly and furiously taking part in anti-India activities. The Army launched “Operation All-Out” with intention to kill all the militants in Kashmir, in May 2017. As many as 210 militants, mostly the locals, were killed last year and more than 100 this year till now.
But despite all these militant killings, “Operation All-Out” seemingly failed to yield desired results, as the new recruitments in the militant ranks are going on. According to the police, 126 youth joined militant groups last year and more than 50 this year so far. Reasons for youth joining militant ranks are believed to be several including high-handedness of police and security forces, unemployment, pan-Islamisation, glorification of rebels by the common people and large crowds attending the funerals of the slain militants and provocative sloganeering.
Media recently reported that 28 youth from the districts of Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian have joined militant groups after Army killed as many as 13 Kashmiri militants in different encounters in a single day on April 1. Killing the local militants in such a big number in a single day was declared “biggest strike on militants in a decade”, by Army’s Valley-based Corps Commander Lt Gen Anil Kumar Bhatt.
Shockingly, many of those joining the militants belong to the well-to-do families and are well educated. Take an example of Dr Muhammad Rafi Bhat, who was recently killed, just four days after he had joined the militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen. 33 years old Bhat was Kashmir University’s doctorate scholar and an Assistant Professor. He had his masters in sociology and had also cleared the National Eligibility Test (NET) twice. He was killed in an encounter with in Badigam Shopian.
Another well-read militant Aetimad Ahmad was killed on April 1 by the Army. Aetimad, after completing his M.Phil from Hyderabad, had joined militancy instead of pursuing his career. He was a potential candidate for a government job as he had cleared the NET.
Another example is of Junaid Ahmad Khan, the son of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat chief Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai, who recently took over from hardline Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Twenty-six years old Junaid was an MBA from University of Kashmir. He joined the militant ranks in March this year. In January this year, Manan Wani (26) from border district Kupwara in North Kashmir, chose to be a militant while shunning his potentially a ‘better’ future. He had completed his bachelor’s and M.Phil in geology from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). He was now pursuing PhD from the same university, when he disappeared to join militants. Manan, son of a lecturer, was awarded the Best Paper Presentation Award in an International Conference on Water, Environment, Energy and Society held at AISECT University, Bhopal.
There are numerous examples of literate youth belonging to well-off families joining the militancy. A few years ago, former RAW chief A S Dulat, in an interview expressed concern about this. “A lot of these boys are from good families, middle class, upper middle class, qualified engineers. So why are they getting into this? That’s the scary part.” he said.
despite everything, “Operation All- Out” seemingly failed to yield desired results, as the new RECRUITMENT’S in the militant ranks are going on
Enrolling in militant ranks by the literate youngsters is not the only challenge for the security agencies in Kashmir but the policemen joining militant ranks after decamping with their service rifles is also an emerging challenge for them. During past three years at least nine policemen and soldiers, mostly belonging to South Kashmir, have joined the militant groups. Two cops have joined Hizbul Mujahideen in this year by now. In a most recent case, a policeman, Mir Idrees Sultan, belonging to Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry ran away from the duty and announced his joining militant group Hizbul Mujahideen through social media. A photograph showing him holding a rifle in his hand went viral on Facebook. According to police officials an investigation to see the reasons of cops joining militants has been started so that the measures to prevent the trend could be initiated. Army has also initiated a separate investigation.
The most dangerous trend among the youth in Kashmir seems to be emerging in terms of their growing support to the global terror organisations like ISIS and al-Qaeda. In the month of March as many as five militants including a Pakistani national and one from Telangana were killed by the security forces in two different encounters at Balhama in Srinagar and in Anantnag district. Hundreds of radicalised youth expressed their sympathy to the slain militants during their funerals, by raising pro-ISIS slogans and unfurling the flags of the terror outfit. Pertinently, ISIS declared its presence in Kashmir two years ago while describing Kashmir as a part of Khorasan province. In its first terror action in Kashmir the ISIS killed a police officer in Srinagar in February this year. Jammu & Kashmir police chief Shesh Paul Vaid has already confirmed the presence of ISIS terrorists in Kashmir calling it “a cause of worry”.
Senior minister in Mehbooba Mufti’s cabinet and the government spokesperson Naeem Akhtar while emphasising on a political process in Kashmir has recently cautioned New Delhi that worst is coming in terms of the militancy if not taken care of now.
In an interview he said that even China is on its way to assume “a bigger role in Kashmir”. Akhtar claimed that Beijing has “adopted JaisheMohammad”, the terror group responsible for many deadly attacks including a suicidal one in Kashmir. “The Kashmir issue isn’t limited to the fight between India and Pakistan now. There is another major factor involved…All the big attacks inside J&K or even outside during last more than three years are attributed to Jaish-eMohammad, a group led by Masood Azhar,… How can one not see that he (Masood Azhar) has been adopted by China?” Akhtar said in the interview. “The youngster who throws stones in Kashmir is doing so only because he lacks a gun…and in this new great game, these weapons can come from China too.” He warned, while stressing on an immediate political initiative in Kashmir.
Not only have the top political leaders from mainstream but veterans from the armed forces have also been emphasising for a political solution. A number of former Army officials have also been expressing their concern about Kashmiri youth getting “radicalised” and “fearless”. Lt Gen Hooda, who has been the Northern Army Commander, is on record as having said, “Youngsters seem to have overcome both– fear of death and love of life.” Lt Gen (Retd) Hooda blames BJP-PDP government in Jammu & Kashmir for the prevailing situation in the Valley. He recently spoke on Kashmir in a function in Pune. He said, “People in J&K had high hopes from the government, but the ruling alliance does not appear to have worked well owing to ideological differences…People (in Kashmir) do not see any political outreach and the same have made them more frustrated and angry.” Most of the defence experts believe that the Kashmir issue cannot be solved by the barrel of the gun but it can be resolved through a political process. Former Chief of the Army Staff General Ved Prakash Malik is of the same opinion. In an interview last year, General Malik had said, “Conflict resolution has to be done at the political level. It’s not right to place the complete burden either on the Army or CRPF. If the Army is expected to resolve the Kashmir issue single-handedly, it cannot be done. A political solution is a final solution.” Lt Gen (Retd) Harcharanjit Singh Panag, former General Officer CommandinginChief Northern Command while referring to Kashmir wrote on Twitter, “When the state starts looking like a mirror image of the terrorists, it spells ominous portents.”
Clearly, more than an Army action, a political process needs to be initiated in Kashmir to resolve the problem and reclaim the angry youth of Kashmir. But the Modi government at the Centre does not seem willing to read the writing of the wall. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recently ruled out ceasefire proposal conceived in the all parties meeting in Srinagar on May 9, which was headed by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and attended by the representatives of all major mainstream political parties including BJP, PDP, Congress, National Conference and others.
In the annual report of the ministry of home affairs released in April 2018, it was said that since the advent of militancy in Jammu & Kashmir in 1990, a total of 13,976 civilians and 5,123 security personnel have lost their lives till December 31, 2017. Last year, Union home ministry in response to an RTI application, said that 21,965 militants have been killed since the advent of militancy in Kashmir. The message is loud and clear that the armed forces have failed to wipe out the militancy in the region even after fighting against it for 30 long years. Prevailing situation also indicates that violence in Kashmir would be continued but not ended unless a concrete political process to create a positive change is not initiated. The truth is that Kashmir needs a political solution not the armed one. The hearts and the minds of the youth can be won by giving them a hope not the bullets and pellets.