J&K : Militancy is a black hole that sucks in young budding stars in Valley

Atimaad Fayaz, a resident of Shopian’s Amchipora, was pursuing his M.Phil. in Urdu when he was reported missing on November 3. Now, he is believed to have joined the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen.

According to a senior counter-insurgency official, “Fayaz has no history of participating in any major street protests. He is known to be a studious and religious person. [However] A preliminary investigation suggests he has joined the Hizbul Mujahideen.” The development has left Fayaz’s neighbours equally surprised.

But Fayaz is not the only educated Kashmiri to turn to militancy. Despite major successes against local militant networks in Kashmir in ‘Operation All-Out’ — launched in May this year — police data suggest that around 10 local youth join the militant groups every month in the Valley. And more recently, many of them are educated youngsters from affluent families.

Varying backgrounds

The fresh recruits are drawn from varied backgrounds — one is an M.Phil., another an ace footballer who was a regular at government-run sports events, and third a young matriculate student, according to the police.

A science student, Umar Ganai, of the Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipora, in south Kashmir, and an engineering student Eisa Fazili of the Pir Panchal Valley-based Baba Ghulam Shah University, continue to elude the security forces — Ganai since November 2016 and Fazili since August this year.

According to police records, even those enrolled in varsities in other parts of the country are drawn to militancy. Sabzar Ahmad Bhat, 32, who was pursuing a Ph.Din Botany from Jamia Millia University, has been underground since October 2016. The family was preparing to send him to New Delhi. However, he was sucked into the protests triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen ‘commander’ Burhan Wani. The area where he lived witnessed heavy stone pelting and Bhat joined the protests, residents say..

A resident of off-road village of Naina in Anantnag’s Sangam area, Bhat, who completed his MSc from Burkhatulla University, Bhopal, in 2013-14, had wanted to join the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) and was preparing for the exams before he came to the Valley. “Bhat was supposed to reach Delhi in October 2016 but instead joined militancy,” said his relative.

Muzamil Badroo, who was killed in a fierce encounter on November 11 in Kulgam, had been admitted to a B. Tech course in a Banaras Hindu University-affiliated college. “All admission formalities were done. He was to start the professional course. Instead he joined the Hizb,” said his friend.

Many students-turned-militants have already been killed this year. In August, 22-year-old Irfan Sheikh, a resident of Maldera-Zainapora, Shopian, and a graduate of the Islamic University of Science and Technology with B.Tech in Food Technology, was killed in Awneera village. Sheikh’s friend said his discussions always revolved around the “unresolved Kashmir dispute and state of Muslims.”

“Sheikh’s father is a rich orchard owner. He was the only son with six sisters. The death has devastated the family,” said the friend.

Militant handlers are finding the Valley a happy hunting ground for recruits, as anger grows with little signs of a political resolution to the unrest..

Take Shariq Ahmad Mir’s example. A resident of north Kashmir’s Kupwara, he has been missing since October 30. Mir is believed to have joined the “swelling ranks” of the militants in north Kashmir, otherwise less dominated by militants unlike south Kashmir this year.

“He (Mir) is just a matriculate. The fact that he disappeared in otherwise militancy-free border district of Kupwara is alarming,” said the police official.

 Turning point?

The return of recent recruit Majid Khan, who was fast becoming a poster boy of militancy, is a departure from the trend. His ailing mother’s viral online video and social media appeals helped the police ensure his surrender on November 17.

An ace footballer and B.Com student, Khan was seen leading his friend Yawar Nisar’s funeral earlier this year. Yawar, a class 12 student, had turned to the gun and was killed on August 4. Khan was photographed kissing the forehead of his slain friend. The day he went missing this month, he went about his normal routine. He went to see friends and local shopkeepers. “By the evening”, said a police officer, “Majid had joined the Lashkar-e-Taiba.”

A picture on the social media circulated last week, showed Khan toting an AK-47. “Why look up at the stars when the biggest star is me,” read his last Facebook post before he joined the LeT.

A police official said his surrender paves the way for more armed youth to return to the mainstream. “I hope many more will follow Khan,” said a counter-insurgency official in Anantnag.

According to J&K’s Director General of Police S.P. Vaid, 65 youth have been weaned away from the militants’ ranks this year.

However, the security agencies are worried by the fresh militancy graph, with “sustained militant recruitment” this year despite Operation All-out. Around 73 local militants have been killed in the operation, police data show. On the flip side, according to the data, over 50 locals have joined militancy since July.

“On an average of around 10 militants [join] a month” mainly in the Pulwama-Awantipora-Tral belt and the Shopian-Kulgam-Anantnag belt. “Half of them have been killed,” the police said.

About 105 local youth joined the militants this year. “Over 150 locals continue to remain active, mainly in south Kashmir,” said the police.

Worryingly, the number of militants’ remains by and large the same as in May when Operation All-out’ was launched.(TH)

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