SOFT POWER?

THE TAC­TI­CALLY USE­LESS LO­CAL MIL­I­TANT POSES A STRATE­GIC NIGHT­MARE SCE­NARIO IN DEATH

India Today - - KASHMIR - —by San­deep Un­nithan

The night­mare for se­cu­rity forces in Kash­mir has al­ways been the Pak­istani mil­i­tant—fight­ers from its Pun­jab prov­ince who pass through a three-month mil­i­tary-style train­ing camp in Pak­istan Oc­cu­pied Kash­mir (PoK) and in­fil­trate the Line of Con­trol to at­tack se­cu­rity forces in Jammu and Kash­mir. They are trained to am­bush and en­gage in long fire­fights with the se­cu­rity forces. This year, Pak­istani mil­i­tants laid three am­bushes, killing 15 se­cu­rity per­son­nel; the worst, the June 25 am­bush of a CRPF con­voy, killed eight troop­ers.

Se­cu­rity forces saw the lo­cal mil­i­tant as more of a nui­sance value el­e­ment. A heav­ily guarded LoC fence meant cross­ing over into PoK for ei­ther arms or train­ing was di’cult. With­out train­ing, the lo­cal mil­i­tants had lim­ited util­ity, and were mostly in sup­port roles, act­ing as guides for Pak­istani mil­i­tants. Their real util­ity seem­ingly lay in so­cial me­dia. Pho­tographs and videos of lo­cal mil­i­tants bran­dish­ing as­sault ri­fles snatched from se­cu­rity forces turned them into poster boys for mil­i­tancy and fu­elled fresh re­cruit­ments. And in death, they would prove to be far greater phe­nom­ena. The first signs of their post­hu­mous ap­peal came in Jan­uary this year when huge crowds thronged the fu­neral of a Hizb-ul Mu­jahideen mil­i­tant in Pul­wama. Shakir Ahmed had been gunned down by the se­cu­rity forces. The crowds were even larger than the one for J&K chief min­is­ter Mufti Mo­ham­mad Say­eed’s fu­neral in Anant­nag on Jan­uary 8.

Se­nior army o’cials point to a twopronged strat­egy Pak­istan put in place af­ter the vi­o­lent 2010 stone-pelt­ing protests: cross-bor­der in­fil­tra­tion of ter­ror­ists and a fo­cus on cre­at­ing trig­gers for ag­i­ta­tional pol­i­tics within the Val­ley.

Fewer than 200 mil­i­tants are now thought to be ac­tive in Jammu and Kash­mir. Around 40 per cent of th­ese are lo­cal mil­i­tants. Re­cruit­ments of lo­cal mil­i­tants, which be­gan in 2010, peaked last year when over 60 lo­cals, most of them from south Kash­mir, joined groups like the Hizbul Mu­jahideen. In Burhan, lo­cal mil­i­tancy found fresh life. His mis­sives, ea­gerly shared by lo­cals on so­cial me­dia, ei­ther re­as­sured Amar­nath ya­tris of their safety or warned se­cu­rity forces of at­tacks. Strangely, the Hizb-ul Mu­jahideen com­man­der in J&K had no FIRs filed against him and no killings to his name. Army o’cials say po­lice would have found it hard to frame a case against Burhan if he had been caught alive.

Burhan’s death in a July 8 en­counter has now trig­gered a mael­strom of vi­o­lence in the Val­ley, reason why for­mer chief min­is­ter Omar Ab­dul­lah tweeted on July 9 that “Burhan’s abil­ity to re­cruit from beyond the grave would far out­strip any­thing he could have done on so­cial me­dia”.

In­ci­den­tally, re­cruit­ment lev­els of lo­cal mil­i­tants had gone down this year. Less than 30 lo­cals are thought to have joined the ranks of groups like the HM. Af­ter the fresh cy­cle of vi­o­lence, no one is quite sure if this trend will hold. In any case, the lo­cal mil­i­tant has es­tab­lished him­self as a per­ma­nent thorn in the flesh of the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment.

THE CROWDS FOR THE SLAIN MIL­I­TANT’S FU­NERAL IN JAN­UARY WERE EVEN LARGER THAN THAT FOR FOR THE LATE CM, MUFTI SAY­EED

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