A youth icon

Srinagar/Anantnag: Not since HAJY group (HAJY is the acronym for Hameed Sheikh, Ashfaq Majid Wani, Javed Mir and Yasin Malik, the defining faces of the armed insurgency in the late 80s) did a gun-wielding youth inspire a generation as the bearded, handsome face of Burhan Wani did. However, unlike the four JKLF stalwarts, who were ushered into the most turbulent phase of Kashmiri resistance by millions of sloganeering people, Wani appeared on the scene as a lone ranger when the militancy had been written off and the popularity of the gun had dipped in general. That is probably why, finding no other explanation for this phenomenon, the resurgence led by him was simplistically called as “radicalization” of Kashmiri youth by Indian media outlets and “security experts”.
He was probably the youngest divisional commander of Hizbul Mujahideen. At a time when Kashmir’s indigenous militants were seen as playing only a secondary role in the armed resistance, Burhan’s presence led to the emergence of a potent local militant force in south Kashmir. The government recently admitted that the number of local militants has exceeded that of the “foreigners”. Youth eager to join militancy would snatch rifles from police and other government forces as an evidence of their resolve. Even the security personnel of government functionaries and politicians decamped with weapons and joined Burhan. Such was his magnetic pull. Kashmiri youth, offered no hope through dialogue or a political process, saw in his emergence and defiance a reflection of their own sentiment.
Son of a mathematics lecturer and school principal, Burhan plunged into militancy in 2010 at the age of 15, when he is said to have been humiliated by the personnel of SOG, police’s infamous counterinsurgency arm. He was asked to fetch cigarettes and beaten up. He picked up arms and made his base in a dense forest in Tral neighborhood.
His elder brother Khalid Muzaffar Wani was killed by government forces in the same Buchoo-Kamla forests, on April 13 2015, where he had gone to meet his brother. This was the first fake encounter during Mufti Sayeed led PDP-BJP coalition in Jammu and Kashmir. The officials insisted that Khalid had links with militants and died in a cross-fire.
Burhan shot into prominence after his videos, in which he made impassioned appeals to youths to pick up arms, were circulated on social networking sites in 2014 and 2015. The authorities had to book at least five youngsters in south Kashmir’s Awantipora police station to curb the circulation of these videos and pictures. Such widespread presence on social networking sites and the consciousness of restive youths made him the most profiled militant commanders in recent times.
His posters were regularly displayed by masked youth during protests and clashes. Graffiti invoking his valour and defiance are scribbled on walls across the Valley.
During the past four months, several of his colleagues, who featured in his videos, were killed in south Kashmir. One of his colleagues, whom he mentioned in his last video released on June 7, was mysteriously arrested in Pulwama.
(With inputs from A Aalim Ahmad)