On Saturday, the J&K government enforced strict clampdown across the Kashmir as it was the first anniversary of Burhan Wani who was killed in an encounter at Bumbdora in south Kashmir’s Kokernag area. Wani, 24 was a tech savvy militant commander, who used social media to spread his message and managed to become one of the most prominent commanders of Hizbul Mujahideen.
Wani who belonged to a well off family of Shariefabad Tral and son of a school principal Muzuffar Ahmad Wani managed to give new lease of life to the militancy not only during his life time but also after his death, he acted as a catalyst to attract large numbers of youths towards militancy especially in south Kashmir where more and more local youths are showing inclination towards joining militancy and try to become part of ‘’freedom struggle’’.
Wani’s killing sparked an unrest and incidents of violence that led to killing of over 95 civilians and thousands were injured with many blinded with pellets.
For five months, there was a complete law and order breakdown and government was nowhere to be seen. In south Kashmir, Burhan Wani’s death became a rallying point for the militants and over ground supporters and according to police dozens joined the ranks of the militants after his death and local militant’s outnumbered foreign militants in south Kashmir.
Even the new militant commanders, seem to have influenced by the tactics of Burhan Wani and they too are now relying on the same method as used by Burhan Wani. As the countdown for the first anniversary of Burhan began, the administration and the security force officials were on tenterhooks some feared attacks on security force installation and others feared series of protests that could have all the potential of triggering unrest in Valley. Not only joint separatist leadership comprising, Hurriyat chairman, Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chairmain, Yasin Malik issued an extensive programs from July 8 to July 13 to mark the first anniversary of Burhan Wani and Martry’s Day, the United Jihad Council an amalgam of several organizations based in Muzzuffarabad also announced week long program on both sides of the Line of Control in both parts of Kashmir, including online campaign and big rallies not only in Kashmir Valley, but also in Pakistan Administered Kashmir.
And government responded with security clamp down apart from army, police, CRPF additional 21 companies were deployed in south Kashmir as the officials had apprehensions that things can go out of control. In Srinagar, the top police and army officials and political leadership were confident, the things couldn’t go out of control, however, every official had kept his fingers crossed. “The Burhan anniversary is a big test. He was the famous commanders who has good following even after his death,’’ said an officer.
“The government and security apparatus will not take any chances, as we don’t want to repeat of another cycle of violence and deaths in Kashmir.’’
Not only all the top separatist leaders were detained or kept under house arrest, the police also nabbed all the second rung leadership of separatists in every part of the Valley. Even youths with many cases of stone pelting were asked to remain in police stations. A day before anniversary, the police also called the father of Burhan Wani to police station and warned him not to organize any program at his house, otherwise he will face the music.
Though Wani was not detained, however, his summoning to police station was a message by the police that this time they are going to act sternly and will not allow any rally in south Kashmir. Hours before the anniversary, when pictures of Burhan and his associates were being uploaded on the social sites, the government snapped all the mobile internet even broadband services were shut. “This shows that even after death, Burhan is giving sleepless nights to administration and politicians’’ said a local villager from Tral.
On the day of Burhan’s anniversary, not only the entire Tral town was sealed the government imposed restrictions in old city areas and all the parts of south Kashmir and additional check points were established in every part of south Kashmir. Hundreds of motorcycles were seized by the police and nobody was allowed to move towards the house of Burhan Wani. Tral town presented the look of a ghost town with all the roads blocked and when some villagers and supporters of Burhan Wani started assembling at his house and tried to take out a march towards his grave that is located in the vicinity of the town, the police used force to disperse the villagers.
Even Burhan’s father was threatened by police. “They (police) even threatened to burn my house, If I will try to takeout march towards the place where my son is buried,’’ Principal Muzuffar Wani told the media persons. Though, day passed peacefully, however, there were protests at several places and over a dozen of people suffered injuries in these protests. At the end of the day, though officials and leaders of ruling party heaved a sigh of relief, but in the evening, there was a rumor in the entire Tral area that image of Burhan is visible in the moon and many villagers started clicking pictures of moon and even posted on the social networking sites.
“These acts show that people have given high position to Burhan and he is emerging as a cult figure and by imposing every type of restrictions, the government is further giving space to separatists about their power,’’ said another Tral resident. Though next day, the internet was restored, however, government faced sharp criticism for fearing the separatists. “Burhan has been killed, but the sentiment is alive and will keep haunting the government and those who are at the helm of affairs,’’ said a senior separatist leader. Even the government is so fearful that peaceful online protests through social media were blocked by internet ban. Officials, however, say that there first priority was to secure the lives of common people as they had apprehensions that protests or rallies could snowball into violent protest.
“If government would have allowed the anniversary rallies, then it could have been beginning of rallies and protests on the anniversaries of all the big commanders or militants. We won’t allow this. So this time government responded on time,’’ a senior police officer said, adding that the normal situation on the day of Burhan’s anniversary is an indication that people are being forced to take part in rallies and protests.
The officer said that clamp down or security measures helped in securing the lives of people. “The day remained peaceful has helped us to maintain law and order situation in the entire Kashmir. And next day it was normal in Kashmir.’’ Burhan who used social media to spread his message was even praised by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharief for taking the ‘’Kashmir movement forward’’. This is the first time when a local commander based in Kashmir was given importance by Pakistan.
Burhan’s legacy of using of social media has been now adopted by other commanders, even those who in the past termed social media wastage of time. And for the government social media is turning into a big headache and so far –failed to control it. For the social media, the government and security experts has only one answer that is closing down the entire internet, which in 21 century is not good for a democratic country. Time has come when government of state and India should understand the magnitude of situation and initiate steps that will help in restoration of peace and strengthen the process of dialogue, otherwise, things could go out of control any time.
“By adopting harsh measures of stepping up the security we can manage the militancy to bring down to the manageable levels, but we can’t end it. So government has to come forward to look for its political solution, otherwise, things could turn volatile any time again in future,’’ a senior police officer posted in south Kashmir said.
The article appeared in print edition of 12 to 18 July 2017.