Teenage techie apart, the one thing that made a posthumous Burhan Wani towering in Kashmir’s recent history was his capacity to create a rebel module in backyard jungles without crossing the LoC. An impressive organizer, he created his own rules and chased them ruthlessly in such a way that Pakistani radars picked him up at a time when he was already in grave. That was the most amazing part of his fall-and-rise.
Post-Burhan, Kashmir is already in the fourth month of the crisis. The costs have been colossal and it was acknowledged by the separatist leaders who spearhead the literal civil disobedience movement. Amid strikes, processions, and the curfews, the new trend is emerging – the weapon snatching.
Though the weapon snatching was already in vogue, the incidence, however, has gone up in last few months. In last three months, there have been 12 incidents of weapon-snatching in which 67 pieces were snatched. It is mix of weaponry, the vintage 303, carbines, AK-47s, SLRs and the INSAS. Recently a video surfaced showcasing 12 militants, nine of them freshmen, some of them brandishing the same looted armoury.
Burhan’s successor Zakir Rashid Bhat has released a video recently in which he has welcomed the youth to his ranks only after they snatch a weapon. “Anyone who wants to join us, he should snatch a weapon and join us,” Zakir, an engineering student, said. “We welcome them all wholeheartedly.”
Given the climate of hate and alienation, the statement has triggered panic in the security grid. “It is a cause of concern,” Lt Gen Satish Dua, commander of Srinagar-based 15 corps said. “There are some small pickets of the police where they are not able to take care of the situation if the militants come in. It is being addressed jointly with the police.”
Trying to convert its problem into an opportunity, the security grid is planning installing global positioning system (GPS) locator chips in the rifles so that it later leads them to the snatchers. It is to be started from the cops who are deployed on security of minority community. There are nearly 300 such pickets across Kashmir.
Rifle snatching incidents explain three immediate phenomenon. Firstly, the state power has taken a section of youth to such a level that they think there is no option other than militancy. This trend dictated by the use, misuse and abuse of power by the security grid has infused an element of frustration in the newer generation. It also indicates the governance structure lacks any idea of engagement with the youth bulge that makes Kashmir’s more than half of the population right now.
Secondly, it explains that instead of travelling challenging distances and crossover to the other side of the LoC, the youth are keen to keep Burhan alive by following his system – get locally trained and get locally equipped. This apparently is aimed at fighting the perception that the militancy in Kashmir is totally controlled by Islamabad.
Thirdly, it indicates a massive scarcity of weapon in Kashmir. In the last 26 years, the counter-insurgency grid has recovered more than 33000 weapons including rifles, pistols, rocket launchers and the machine guns from militants. But right now weapons are hugely in demand. Though the flow of weapons into Valley has almost dried up, the demand has not.
The larger reality is that Kashmir has survived simmering in a pressure-cooker situation for decades now. The only shift in this is the addition of saffron, in political and metaphoric terms. But if this situation is taking Kashmir back to militancy, then, as many security experts feel, Kashmir is following the script. A militant upsurge means Kashmir becoming easily manageable. The huge legal and physical infrastructure that was created over the years would get strengthened at a time when feeble voices from across the ideological divide were seeking reducing them. Instead of footprints of security men reducing, Kashmir will be re-militarized as has happened in last few months when a couple of new brigades marched into the valley.
Kashmir witnessed killing of an officially estimated 44096 people including 6257 cops, paramilitary and soldiers, 23105 militants and 14734 civilians. Though this statistics has its inherent flaws, it still offers a clear detail that civilians make one-third of the overall loss and militants make more than half of the entire list.
Perhaps this was the key factor why the society marched on the roads in 2008 and 2010, regardless of the motivating factors behind those agitations. Those unrests had suggested that Kashmir has affected a transition from violent phase to clear non-violence. Even in 2016 when militants started making appearances at public gatherings, a restive separatist leadership publicly asked them to avoid it.
After four months of unrest, police say close to a hundred youth are missing and might have joined militancy. There are dozens who have walked out of the police stations, bruised psychologically and frustrated with the happenings around. This situation makes militancy acceptable again.
While militancy’s benefits to Kashmir requires an academic assessment, it is clear that Delhi and Islamabad would like to retain militancy in Kashmir as a strategic chip to manage their own diplomacy and to address their domestic constituencies. But a worst civil strife suits Kashmir better than the best militancy.