India can’t afford to ignore the growing Burhan’s of Kashmir

New Delhi must start a dialogue with moderates like the Mirwaiz and Yasin Malik before more youth turn to armed uprising.

India can't afford to ignore the growing Burhan's of Kashmir21-year old Burhan Muzaffar Wani — a local militant commander of the largest indigenous guerrilla outfit Hizb-ul-Mujahideen — is fast emerging as the new face of armed rebellion in the Kashmir Valley. He is the poster boy of new militancy and carries a cash reward of Rs 1 million on his head.

Last Friday, a group of young boys were seen holding pictures and posters of Hizb commander, dressed in army fatigues with an AK-47 assault rifle slung over his shoulder, just outside the historic Jama Masjid (central mosque) in downtown Srinagar.

Who is Burhan? And why is he emerging as the new face of anti-India armed uprising in Kashmir? Burhan hails from South Kashmir’s Tral, a town known as one of the bastions of anti-India sentiment in the Kashmir Valley. He had not even gone beyond his matriculation when he joined Hizb in 2010.

Only recently, Burhan’s five-minute long video appeared on the internet in which the “most wanted” militant commander is seen making a passionate appeal to the Kashmiri youth to join militant ranks. By invoking religion, he urges the youth to fight the Indian armed forces. He warns police informers of serious consequences but draws an interesting parallel that “unlike police’s practice of targeting family members of ‘Mujahideen’ (holy warriors) the members of his outfit will not target family members of the police, army and paramilitary personnel.”

The video has gone viral.

The Jammu and Kashmir police have registered a case in this connection. Inspector General of Police Javaid Mustafa Gillani told a news gathering agency, “We are probing the matter and will take necessary action.”

The young militant commander’s group photo with 10 fellow gun-wielding youth was making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter in July this year. Afterwards, a small video of the same group was posted on social networking websites.

Waheed-Ur-Rehman Parra, the young political analyst to Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, says that militants like Burhan should return to their homes to make positive contributions to the society. While talking to this author, Parra admitted that his party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was “deeply concerned” about a section of youth joining armed insurgency.

“You take extreme steps like joining militancy to make a point. Our government has programmes and policies in place for a serious dialogue with all stakeholders,” Parra argues. He also said that Mufti-led PDP-BJP coalition government was serious about convincing the Kashmiri youth to lead normal lives.

Why did Burhan take up arms at such a young age?

Muzaffar Wani, Burhan’s father and principal at a government school, told The Indian Express that it was because of one incident which forced his son to choose a different path.

On one summer evening of 2010, Khalid Muzaffar Wani, Burhan’s eldest brother, was riding on his motorcycle with Burhan and a mutual friend Anayat Ahmad riding pillion. The trio was stopped by the Special Operations Group (SOG) of the J&K police.

Media reports suggested that Khalid had taken his motorcycle, a red-and-white Yamaha FZ. The police personnel, they reported, ordered the boys to get cigarettes for them. Once they returned after fetching the cigarettes, the SOG personnel and paramilitary troopers allegedly ruthlessly beat the trio. As the soldiers were beating the three, Khalid fell unconscious. Reports suggested that Burhan escaped from the scene, and while running away, he declared: “I will take revenge for this.”

That is how a Class 10 student embraced militancy and later rose to the rank of a commander in South Kashmir.

Khalid, Burhan’s eldest brother – aged 25 – was shot dead by the Indian Army in Tral on April 13 this year. According to reports, Khalid had planned a trip to the forests with some of his friends to meet Burhan. Other reports suggested that Khalid had taken “biryani” with him for his younger brother, Burhan.

Muzaffar Wani told media that he never expected to see the body of Khalid reaching his home. For the family, relatives, friends and neighbours, Khalid was a civilian while the police believed he was an Over Ground Worker (OGW).

South Kashmir’s Tral has around 109 villages. The town is surrounded by soaring mountains and thick jungles. Like Sopore and Palhalan in North Kashmir, the town and Kakapora in South Kashmir are considered a traditional militant hotbed.

For the security apparatus, Burhan remains a “dreaded” militant who carries a bounty of Rs 10 lakh and involved in beheading of three soldiers in 2013 and other anti-state operations. But for a section of new generation of Kashmiris he is the new poster boy of anti-India revolt!

Burhan has a brother named Naveed Alam Wani who stays at home. According to family, he can’t even sleep properly. His sister Iram studies in Class XII. Burhan’s mother is a graduate who teaches Quran to children at home.

In the absence of any breakthrough on Kashmir in a dialogue and no forward movement on Kashmir-centric CBMs, there is a section of youth in Kashmir which is of the firm belief that armed movement remains a “pragmatic” approach to bring India on the negotiating table. They feel India has choked all democratic space for Kashmiris. They argue there is zero tolerance for dissent.

India’s riders and preconditions before any substantial dialogue with Pakistan on all outstanding issues, more particularly the Kashmir dispute and drawing of new “red lines” may push a vulnerable section of the Kashmiri youth to the wall. The writing appears to be on the wall.

Burhan-like symbols will always be attractive for susceptible age groups, which should obviously be a serious concern for the Jammu and Kashmir government and New Delhi, but it seems the governments are least bothered about addressing the real issues and adamant on adopting a policy that may fuel more violence without offering any solution.

According to police records, at least 34 boys from various districts of South Kashmir have joined militant ranks during the first six months of this year alone. There is a danger that Burhan’s videos and pictures might lure other youngsters to join the combative path.

If India continues to sideline political faces like Mohammad Yasin Malik, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a political vacuum will be created that could lead to further aggression and anger.

The ball is in India’s court. It needs to decide whether it wants to pursue a hostile policy that produces new Burhans or talk to peaceniks and moderates like Maliks and the Mirwaizs for lasting peace.

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