Saturday, July 09, 2016

The sordid tale of Burhan Wani: From school principal’s son to Hizbul commander

In what can be termed as a big breakthrough for security forces in the Kashmir Valley on Friday (July 8, 2016), Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen was killed in an operation. The 22-year-old ‘poster boy’ of the terror group was reportedly cornered in Bumdoora village of Kokernag by a joint team of police and Army.

Following the news of the death of the "local hero", who was also Kashmir Valley's most wanted militant commandant, protests in several places with call for complete shutdown in Jammu & Kashmir on Saturday by separatist leaders against Burhan’s killing have been reported.

For quite some time now, the flagging militancy in the Kashmir Valley had been witnessing a dangerous trend – young, educated Kashmiris getting sucked into the resurging vortex of the terror storm that has bloodied the flowers of the Himalayan meadows.

And the face that represented the new breed of Kashmiri militancy in the Valley was a young man from a well-to-do family in Tral in south Kashmir. Burhan Muzaffar Wani had emerged as the force behind the resurging militancy among Kashmiri youth in south Kashmir, which is said to be the traditional hot-bed of militancy in the Valley.

The good-looking son of a government school principal had risen to become the commander of the deadly terror group Hizbul Muzahideen in south Kashmir, which he joined after his older brother, Khalid Muzaffar Wani, was allegedly assaulted by security forces in 2010.  Burhan had reportedly vowed to take revenge for the assault.

Khalid, however, was allegedly killed in an encounter by the Army when he went to meet Burhan in the thick Tral forests on April 13 last year. According to J&K Police, Khalid, 25, was “involved in overground (militant) activities” and had led a group of three potential recruits to meet Burhan. When the Army closed in on the hideout, the militants fled and Khalid was killed.

Tech-savvy and a good motivator, Burhan is said to have effectively utilised the social media sphere to spread Islamist propaganda to attract and recruit young Kashmiri men into the militancy fold. For quite some time, Burhan’s presence on social media had been relatively high with videos, photographs and messages. He had also become the star of a video that was circulated on Facebook and WhatsApp in an attempt to recruit young Kashimiri men. The video, which had gone viral, showed him embracing an armed militant.

Last year, a group photo (above) of local Kashmiri boys, mostly new militant recruits of the Hizbul Mujahideen, went viral on social media, sending security agencies into a tizzy. In a daring attitude, the 11 young Kashmiri militants donning army fatigues and holding firearms posted their photograph on Facebook. Those in the photograph included Burhan Wani and ex-constable of Jammu & Kashmir Police Naseer, who ran away with two AK-47 rifles while on guard duty with Altaf Bukhari, a minister in the Mufti Sayeed-headed PDP-BJP government.

The location where the picture was shot seemed to be somewhere in orchards of Shopian or Pulwama in South Kashmir, which has of late become a fertile ground for recruitment of youths into various militant outfits.

The Intelligence Bureau had estimated that there are now lesser number of militants in the Valley compared to the grim scenario over a decade ago. But on the flip side, a majority of these militants are now homegrown. Wani, who had dropped out just 10 days before his Class 10 board exams, seldom actively took part in militant strikes, but was said to be the brain behind many.

What really matters now is whether the educated youth, who were motivated by Wani, will give some thought to the sordid role of fatalistic religious dogmas and violence that turned a paradise into a blood-laden valley. And also, whether the authorities would take a logical and humanitarian approach to cleanse this extremely dangerous flow of hatred.

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