The recent release of a video by Burhan Wani, a 21-year-old self-styled Commander of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, must have raised a few eyebrows in Kashmir. For those following events in the region since 2008, the rise of Burhan and his men is nothing surprising. What, however, is significant is that their brand of militancy has achieved prominence in the absence of an ‘invisible’ hand, and ‘moral and political support’ from across borders.
Underlying Burhan’s video is the fact that out of the two competing narratives unfolding in Kashmir since 2008, one is emerging victorious. After 2008, Kashmiri youth participated in pro-freedom protests on ever greater scales and in ever more remote areas. The violent attempts of the government to suppress their voice by maiming, arresting, and killing have led nowhere. More so, the youth who participated in these protests were confident that throwing stones on ageing vehicles and cane-armour would not amount to violence against the ‘Indian State.’ But the government thought otherwise. Many have been detained under the PSA, the ‘lawless law’ as the Amnesty International calls it. Of those who landed in jail, many took to substance abuse to cope with the pressures of growing up in lonely, unfriendly, and cut-off conditions. They hit the road on release, only to fall deeper into substance abuse – a pattern of ‘societal degradation’ that is not unique to Kashmir, one that has been employed with great success in the Punjab and the North-East.
The narrative of life is losing. The narrative of death is winning.
For all the money that the Central Government has spent in Kashmir, and all the forces that are stationed at every turn and crossing of every major road to ‘guard’ the borders of India, the youth in Kashmir are still not convinced of the supremacy of Indian ‘democracy.’ The ‘five police station’ argument can be put forward by detractors, pointing to militant resurgence in Tral (which always was a hotbed of militancy), but that would not explain the renewed ‘interest’ in militancy the Central Government has taken. The NSA, Ajit Doval, that architect of counter-terrorism in whose reign thousands were killed in Kashmir, had to pay a visit to the Valley to ‘take stock’ of the rise in militant activities. India lost an opportunity in 2008, and again in 2010, when the youth of Kashmir were calling for change and reform. Nothing happened, and on the contrary, Kashmiris were subjected to a humiliating ‘Interlocutors Report’ which has been gathering dust since 2011, and out of which nothing concrete emerged. In 2014, India voted overwhelmingly for a man who belongs to an organisation that has yet to recognise the formation of Pakistan, not to talk of recognising the genuine rights and voice of the people of Kashmir. And India turned over a new leaf – but put the clock back two decades in Kashmir.
The ‘Burhan Video’ appears to be honest and mature, with Burhan displaying the kind of political acumen that one would expect from a seasoned politician. However, his ‘phenomenon’ is unlikely to take-off. In coming out so openly, he has made himself an easy target for informants and the Armed Forces, and the fact that his imminent capture or death will deal a blow to the militancy is not going to be lost on anyone in the Central Government. There were many before him who bore the brunt of unintended consequences of exposure.
It is sad that a dozen young boys have been pushed to the wall to the extent that they have been made to forego even ordinary futures and forced to live life on the run, where death is always a companion. India has failed them, and with them a whole generation of Kashmiris who were calling for peaceful change in 2010. As much as Burhan and his young men are a minority, there is a majority in Kashmir who identify with their sense of alienation and frustration.