SRINAGAR/NEW DELHI: The killing of Hizb commander Burhan Wani in mid-2016 and the subsequent five-month unrest not only led to militancy spreading to newer areas, but towns that were declared “militancy-free” in 2015 returned to the bad days. South Kashmir, especially Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian districts, had traditionally been the breeding ground of local militants. But, security officials said, many youth from central Kashmir, including the State capital Srinagar, and north Kashmir began to wield the gun in the turbulent months after Burhan Wani’s killing.
Not only this, even some areas in south Kashmir, such as Kulgam, that were “militancy-free” in 2015, came under the grip of militants, the officials said. The same was the case with Budgam and Ganderbal in central Kashmir and some areas of north Kashmir comprising Baramulla, Bandipora and Kupwara districts.
After being free of militancy for about a year, these districts witnessed militant recruitments and gunfights since last year. “Till 2016, only foreign militants were operating in north Kashmir; but now, local militants also have a good presence in the region,” security officials said, adding that over two to three dozen youth from north and central Kashmir, including Srinagar, have joined militancy.
On August 27, four youth, who had a day earlier released photos of them joining militant group Al Badar, were arrested by the army near the Line of Control while trying to cross over to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to receive arms training.
According to a police officer, most of the arrested boys hailed from north and central Kashmir.
In September last year, Mohammad Eisa Fazili, an engineering student from Srinagar, turned a militant. He was killed in an encounter in south Kashmir this year.
‘PDP’s alliance with BJP left people disillusioned’
South Kashmir was the stronghold and base of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. But after the PDP shared power with the BJP in the state and following the 2016 unrest, the PDP lost base and the region has become a militant stronghold. Militants belonging to the Lashkar-e-Tayebba, Hizbul Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Ansar Ghawzat-Ul-Hind (an Al-Qaeda Kashmir cell headed by former Hizb commander Zakir Moosa) are active in the region.
While the security estblishment is worried over the new developments, Ajai Sahni, Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, felt that there was no cause for alarm. “Militancy is spreading but it is too early to arrive at a conclusion and call it a trend in radicalization or recruitment pattern,” he said. According to Sahni, trends can only be drawn “in an enduring conflict of almost last 30 years. The Burhan Wani episode happened only two years ago and it’s almost dying.”
Sahni blamed Pakistan for the increasing recruitment of locals. “There has been a dramatic shift in Pakistan’s strategy. Earlier they had marginalized the Hizbul Mujahideen but now they are supporting the Hizb. Money is being poured into the Hizb rather than the Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammed so there will be more local recruitment,” he said.
The security expert said there was a lot of international pressure on Pakistan over Kashmir so they were pushing the Hizb in order to project the Kashmir issue as a domestic insurgency. National Conference youth leader Imran Nabi Dar, who belongs to Kulgam, said the PDP came to power by promising to remove the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and starting a dialogue. “The youth believed in the PDP campaign during the Assembly polls. But they got disillusioned after the PDP aligned with the BJP and formed a coalition government in 2015,” he said.
Dar said the anger and resentment “ got amplified” in 2016 after the killing of Wani. “Even some youth who had campaigned for the PDP in the 2014 Assembly polls joined militancy and were killed in encounters,” he said.PDP spokesman Rafi Ahmed Mir called the present situation “very messy.” He said there could be no denying that alienation was deep and admitted that this had only grown by the excessive use of force to quell the street agitation after Burhan’s killing.