Published On: Sat, Oct 22nd, 2016

Burhan: Conflict Folklore’s New Icon

The architect of ‘new insurgency’, Hizb commander Burhan Wani’s psychological warfare against security forces has turned him into a legendary figure in the conflict folklore. As Kashmir simmers, the story is unlikely to end with his death, amid fears that it may provide the missing impetus to waning insurgency in the Valley.

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The architect of new age militancy in Kashmir, Burhan Muzaffar Wani, was killed in a gunfight with forces in Kokernag area of South Kashmir’s Anantnag district on July 8 with police terming his death a “major dent to militancy” in the Valley.

22-year-old Burhan from Tral, the most wanted militant who carried a reward of Rs 10 lakh on his head, died along with his two associates in Waybemdura village of Kokernag.

A senior police official told Kashmir Scan that the gunfight started at around 6.30 pm on July 8 and lasted for little less than an hour while giving out details about the encounter that was jointly carried out by “men from Cargo (Srinagar), Army’s 19 RR and Special Operations Group of Police”.

The official said J&K police had been tracking Burhan for “many days”. “Then it was decided that the ‘next big step’ will be taken only after the by-poll to Anantnag Assembly constituency ends,” said the official.

Burhan, the divisional commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, was the brain behind the revival of the indigenous militancy in Kashmir and it was under his command, particularly from 2014 to 2015, that the local militants outnumbered the foreigners in the Valley, first time since early nineties when insurgency broke out in Kashmir.

Rise & Reach of Burhan

Son of a principal of a higher secondary school, Burhan, who came from a highly educated family, left home to join militant ranks in October of 2010 as a teenager when Kashmir was in the midst of the summer agitation in which over 120 civilians were killed in police and CRPF action.

He climbed the ladder in the militant ranks under the command of his cousin, Adil Mir, who died in 2014. Mir’s death saw Burhan take the command of the militants in south Kashmir, home to a resurgent militancy in the Valley as he became a known name among households with the story of a shy and obedient boy to the high profile militant becoming a talking point on the streets of the Valley.

The young Burhan dared to reveal his identity – a move which set in a new phenomenon in Kashmir militancy and caused ripples among security agencies, for his daring act was seen as an inspiration for young and educated youth to follow the footsteps of the most wanted militant in Kashmir.

But behind his rise to the top position in the militant ranks lay a legend about his encounter with the personnel from the Special Operations Group (SOG) of J&K police when he was studying in 10th class in 2010: Along with his brother, Khalid Muzaffar Wani and a friend, Burhan had gone for a motorcycle ride when they were stopped by SOG men. While Burhan had managed to escape the scene, his brother and friend were beaten by the cops, an incident which according to his friends changed Burhan.

Categorized as A-plus-plus militant, Burhan openly challenged security establishment through use of social networking sites – the move which paid off for him as he succeeded to infuse fresh blood in the militancy. A tech-savvy Burhan hit the headlines in 2014 – Burhan’s brother, an M.Com degree holder, was killed by forces last year while returning from a meeting with his younger brother – after he posted videos and photographs on the social media of himself and other militants wearing army fatigues and carrying Kalashnikovs and making passionate appeals to youths to pick up arms, a move that according to police glamourised fading militancy in Kashmir.

What made him different was his brazen presence on social media – a phenomenon never seen before. One of Burhan’s pictures along with a dozen of his associates went viral on social media last year, causing amazement at the brazenness with which the new-age militants were willing to be identified while as in his last video, days before he was killed, Burhan was seen playing cricket along with his fellow militants at an undisclosed location.

The videos and photographs, meticulously released by Burhan from time to time after 2014, indeed pushed Kashmiri militancy into a new era as dozens of youth from across south Kashmir followed suit and joined militant ranks.

He would mostly talk about contemporary issues through his video statements. In one of his latest video messages released in June, Burhan vociferously criticized the State Government’s proposal to construct Sainik Colonies for former soldiers and setting up transit accommodations for migrant Kashmiri Pandits. However, he had welcomed the homecoming of migrant Pandits.

“Militarily, he (Burhan) might not have been effective on the ground but he changed the discourse of Kashmir militancy to his advantage…here was a youth who readily revealed his identity to reach out to angry and young generation of the Valley unlike the militant of 90’s who would always be conscious of hiding their identity. He glamorized the local militancy at a time when Kashmir militancy had almost become dependent on foreigners,” said a senior police official from south Kashmir. “Today’s militancy, though not effective, has certainly become passion for many young and educated youth and that is where the worry lies.”

Behind this worry for the security establishment was Burhan and that is why J&K’s police chief K Rajendra Kumar termed his killing of Burhan as a “big success” for police and other security forces.

In his hometown Tral, stories of his bravado and his ability to escape army ambushes has turned him into a legend who couldn’t be touched. Though the number of operations Burhan was involved in was far lower than other militants, it was his psychological warfare against the security establishment that made him one of the most wanted militant.

While he operated in south Kashmir, posters and graffiti of Burhan began to appear across the valley. His rise came at the same time as a worrying trend for security personnel with the number of protests and incidents of stone pelting during operations also rising.

What after Burhan?

There is no doubt that Burhan’s killing is a huge setback to militancy in Kashmir but authorities are fully aware that his killing won’t stop others from joining militant groups and in fact his death might inspire more to follow in his footsteps.

A senior police official involved in counter-insurgency operations said there were apprehensions that Burhan’s death could set off another phase of militancy in the Valley which might consist of men who idolized Burhan as their “hero”.

“The young generation of Kashmir which has lived through the turbulent times continues to remain uncertain about any solution to the K-problem. There is lot of anger among youth…for them Burhan was like a hero who could take Kashmir towards the path of solution,” said the official.

“The coming days are going to be very crucial and there is no denying the fact that Burhan’s story won’t end with his death. In fact it may be beginning of new phase of militancy in Kashmir,’’ the official said.

Political analysts argue that Burhan, who was instrumental in motivating over 120 youth to join militant ranks, could become a hero for the angry youth in his death.

“Burhan may be dead but the fallout will be immense. Youth are angry and it was obvious on Saturday (June 9) when tens and thousands of people joined his funeral procession,” a political analyst said.

Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah too sounded a caution. “Mark my words — Burhan’s ability to recruit into militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media,” tweeted Omar. “…… Alas Burhan is not the first to pick the gun and won’t be the last. JKNC has always maintained that a political problem needs political solution.’’

‘Hero’s farewell’

Defying curfew, clashing with police and shouting pro-Burhan slogans, people from across Kashmir reached Tral to attend their “hero’s” funeral on June 9.

Throughout the intervening night of July 8 and 9, people, after walking many miles on foot, gathered outsides the home of Burhan in Shariefabad, å village of Tral, and waited for his body to arrive amid continued pro-freedom and pro-Burhan sloganeering.

When Burhan’s body reached his home at around 2:45 am, the sloganeering intensified as people queued to have a last glimpse of the militant commander. Though the funeral ceremony was scheduled for 11.30 am on Saturday in Tral Eidgah measuring 137 kanals, every inch of its got filled by 10 am as thousands of people struggled outside on the roads and in streets to be part of the funeral that saw participation of more than two lakh people.

By 3 pm when Burhan was finally buried in the “martyr’s graveyard”, at least five big funeral prayers and nearly 20 smaller ones were already held for the 22-year-old militant commander, to accommodate the mourners. While men shouted slogans, women lined the road, wailing, showering flowers and sweets. The funeral also saw participation of militants who were surrounded by people to ensure that they get a safe passage.

“In life, Burhan was our hero and his death will continue to be an inspiration for young men,” said Muzaffar Ahmad who had travelled from Islamabad to attend the funeral.

70-year old Abdul Gaffer from Tral said it was for the first time that the Tral Eidgah had been occupied by the people to full capacity. “It is a sea of people. I have never seen so many people gathering in the Eidgah,” Gaffer said.

Mosques in Tral and different areas across Kashmir reverberated with songs on loudspeakers eulogizing “martyrdom”.  “Tum kitney Burhan maroge, har ghar se Burhan niklega (How many Burhans will you kill? Every home will produce a Burhan)”, “There is only one solution (to Kashmir issue), gun solution, gun solution”, angry youth shouted slogans as Burhan was buried.

But his burial didn’t end the rush of mourners who kept coming to pay their respect to the fallen commander.

The Fallout

Burhan’s killing led to massive protests across Kashmir which were responded to by the security personnel with the use of force which resulted in killing of over 36 youth in three days (July 9, 10 and 11) and setting in a new cycle of unrest in the valley.

While 12 youth succumbed to the bullet injuries on the day Burhan was buried, the death toll kept rising for the next three days. Over 1500 civilians were also injured in the action by police and CRPF, most of them receiving bullet injuries above their waist.

A policeman was also killed when protestors pushed a police vehicle into Jhelum while as over 500 policemen and other security personals, according to police statement, were injured in the first three days of protests across Kashmir.

In Srinagar, doctors worked overtime in major hospitals including SMHS and SKIMS to attended to the injured ones who were brought from different districts of Kashmir.

As the situation simmered in Kashmir, the Government appealed to separatists to help restore normalcy in the valley even as it asserted that law enforcing agencies were being “forced to retaliate” which has resulted in civilian killings.

“There were a number of attacks on police stations and camps which forced the law enforcement agencies to retaliate,” said Government spokesman and senior Minister Naeem Akhter. “The mobs set ablaze so many police stations and police vehicles and tried to overrun security forces camps at various places…I urge the youth not take protests to a level where the forces are forced to use their weapons in retaliation.”

J&K intelligence chief S M Sahai asserted that “mob” carried out series of attack on police stations and other security installations at different places across Kashmir which forced police and CRPF to retaliate. However the injured persons, some of them battling for their lives in the hospitals, accused the forces for using excessive force to quell peaceful protests.

With Kashmir simmering in the wake of Burhan’s killings, it remains to be seen how the situation would unfold in coming days as people recall the 2008 and 2010 summer agitations in which over 180 youth were killed in police and CRPF action.

 Box

Names of all 36 protesters killed during protests against Burhan’s killing

1) Ashraf Dar of Halpora Kokernag

2) Showkat Ahmad of Hassanpora Bijbehara

3) Safeer Bhat of Sarigam Aishmuqam

4) Aamir Khan of Batapora Verinag

5) Aijaz Thokur of Siligam Aishmuqam

6) Danish Ayoub Shah of Achabal

7) Zubair Khanday of Kolepora Qaimoh

8) Yasmeena Rehman of DH Pora Kulgam

9) Jahangir Ganai of Hassanpora Bijbehara

10) Imtiyaz Mandoo of Nandpora Islamabad

11) Sajad Thokar of Kreeri Utroosa Achabal

12) Mashook Rather of Kund Qazigund

13) Altaf Rather of Rajpora Pulwama

14) Irfan Malik of Warwan Pulwama

15) Muzaffar Hussain Bhat of Kigam Shopian

16) Fayaz Waza of Nikloora Pulwama

17) Shabir Mir of Tengpora Bund Srinagar

18) Aazad Thokar of Pudsoo Shopian

19) Jahgangir Pandit of Mohanpora Trenz Shopian

20) Saqib Manzoor of Khundroo Achabal

21) Bilal Shah of Dooru Islamabad

22) Abdul Majeed Machi of Arwani Bijbehara

23) Haseeb Ganai Khanabal Islamabad

24) Rashid Kumar of DH Pora

25) Muneer Pandit of Mohanpora Shopian

26) Shahid Gulzar of Zainapora Shopian

27) Feroz Mir of Begummilo Kulgam

28) Mushtaq Dar of Ujroo, Dooru Islamabad

29) Shahid Hamid margay of Larnoo Kokernag

30) Khursheed Mir of Harwat Kulgam

31) Aqib Manzoor of Khundroo Achabal

32) Habibullah Malla of Brenti Achabal

33) Bilal Ahmed Shan of Zawoora Shopian

34) Javed Ahmad of Islamabad

35) Zahoor Ahmad Sheikh of Warsoo Kupwara

36) Feroz Ahmad of Police SPO

About the Author

Ajaz Rashid

- Ajaz Rashid is a renowned journalist writing on Politics, conflict, Business, Society, Health etc in Jammu and Kashmir over the last 10 years.

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