Srinagar: Support for militancy in conflict-ridden Kashmir may be in a dormant stage on the ground, but social media seems to have openly embraced the militants.
Militants or their sympathisers sometimes put out pictures, videos or speeches of ideologues on Facebook, Whatsapp or Twitter, often generating huge traffic and fan following. For instance, a video from the scene of a battle between militants and the army, some years ago, where a soldier was caught by the militants, went viral across online platforms. It invited scores of comments and likes on Facebook, with many describing it as revenge for Kunan-Poshpora, the villages in Kupwara where women were mass-raped by Indian army men in 1991.
Recently, a group photo of armed militants (in what looks like an orchard) uploaded on Facebook pages shows eleven militants wearing army fatigues brandishing AK rifles. Such a scene is a reminder of the ’90s when militants would often wear such clothes and pose for photographs. In fact, such photos seem to belie the claims of security agencies that militants lack weaponry – over the last 2-3 years ultras had developed a strategy of snatching weapons from government forces possibly because of a shortage of weapons.
Interestingly, a prominent face from the new generation of militants in Kashmir, and a most-wanted Hizb commander, is Burhan Muzaffar. Burhan, whose brother was killed by forces in the forests of Tral in April, is often invoked on online platforms. He carries a bounty of Rs 10 lakh on his head, and yet seems to have become an icon for youngsters. His pictures are often circulated online and he is eulogised as the “Robin Hood of Tral” – given that he is reputed to never attack “innocents”.
All this may be meant to attract more youngsters into militant ranks but it is a double-edged sword due to round-the-clock surveillance by the security network. An official avers the police have detected over 45 such social networking pages, broadcasting ‘propaganda’ since 2010, when protests led to a 5-month long shutdown in the Valley. He says the police thinks it isn’t ‘big activity’ since they have ‘already clipped the wings’ of those propagating such things on online platforms.
He, however, also says there is no embargo on the use of online platforms because laws are yet to be constituted to check such activities. “But it’s a useful tool for (security) agencies. It’s counterproductive for them (militants) because it helps in identifying them easily,” the official said. But it’s believed the militants don’t upload pictures on social media themselves, and instead it’s mostly done by overground workers.
Another official explains that the presence on social media matters to militants in this era because it increases their popularity. Globally, many insurgent groups use these platforms to propagate their agenda. Inspector General of Police Javid Mujtaba Gilani says it is a “disturbing act” but that such activity in Kashmir could not be construed as being linked with global insurgent groups like ISIS. “It’s a disturbing act, but we are countering it,” Gilani told Kashmir Reader.
After 9/11, says the official, insurgencies have undergone a big change by removing the veil of anonymity and openly endorsing their activities: “It helps them in luring potential jihadists. For them, violence is an adventure. They (militants) have no goals but to create disruption and panic and social media is one such platform where they can do it without fear.”
Whatever the reason, the bottomline is that militants have turned tech-savvy and now build such narratives to attract youths. And then there is the fact that youngsters are again being drawn to militancy in the Valley.