Kashmir witnesses a new breed of militants—educated young people who are driven by ideas of freedom and Islam. Reopening the process of dialogue is a must to counter this. By SHUJAAT BUKHARI in Srinagar

AFTER a long period of apparent normalcy on the security front, militants have struck again in the Kashmir valley. The attack was not a “high-level” one, but the ingredients of this resurgence of militancy are a matter of concern for the authorities, right from Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to Lt. Gen. Om Prakash, who recently completed his tenure as the Commander of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps. Many security experts had expected this “backlash” after the hanging of Mohammad Afzal Guru, who had been sentenced to death in the Parliament attack case. Though the militants did not strike immediately after the hanging, the spurt in violence, according to security officials, indicated that the militants would take “revenge”. The fidayeen (suicide) attack on a patrol party of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on March 13 was seen in that light. The attack, which took place after a three-year lull in Srinagar city, claimed the lives of five CRPF men.

Attacks continued after that, with brief intervals. Encounters between militants and the security forces are a routine affair in Jammu and Kashmir now. But the fact remains that in the past several years, the level of violence was drastically on the decline. According to the 2011-12 annual report of the Ministry of Home Affairs, there was a perceptible decline in the number of terrorist strikes and civilian and security forces’ [SFs] casualties when compared with the previous year. “The year 2011 witnessed a 30 per cent decrease in the number of terrorist incidents and 34 per cent and 52 per cent decrease in civilian and SFs’ fatalities respectively compared with the year 2010,” it said.

The report further stated that the internal security situation in the country in 2011 had shown distinct signs of improvement over the previous years. “The level of infiltration from across the borders and the resultant terrorist activities in the valley of Kashmir showed a significant decline. The incidents of terrorist violence declined from 708 in 2008, 499 in 2009 and 488 in 2010 to 340 in 2011. The number of security forces killed declined from 75 in 2008, 79 in 2009, and 69 in 2010 to 33 in 2011. The number of civilians killed also declined from 91 in 2008, 71 in 2009 and 47 in 2010 to 31 in 2011. The number of terrorists killed declined from 239 in 2009 and 232 in 2010 to 100 in 2011; showing the effects of better domination of the Line of Control and the resultantly lower infiltration,” reads the report.

This clearly shows that there was a significant change on the ground which paved the way for the arrival of a record 1.4 million tourists in 2012. The trend has been encouraging this year as well, despite Guru’s hanging and the recent incidents.

An emerging trend is the active participation of well-educated, even professionally qualified, men in the recent terror attacks. The profiles of the militants killed in recent encounters with the security forces are a reason for worry. For instance, Saifullah Ahangar had a diploma in civil engineering; Masiullah Khan was a mechanical engineer; Sajad Yousuf Mir had an M.A. in Islamic Studies (he had not completed his MCA); Omar Ahsan had an M.Sc. Physics; and Hilal Ahmad Rather was a mufti (a scholar in Islamic law) from Deoband. There are more examples that show that all the militants who got killed in recent encounters were not from the less educated sections of society. Most of them had studied up to the 12th standard. And this trend is not an outcome of Afzal Guru’s hanging. These are youth who joined the terrorist ranks in the last three years; many of them joined after the 2010 uprising in which 120 people were killed by the State police and the CRPF.

The families of most of the militants blame the security forces for pushing their wards into militancy through constant harassment. The father of Altaf Baba, a 26-year-old youth from Pulwama who was killed in a June 6 gunfight, blames the police for his son becoming a militant. “They would always come and look for him and ask him about his friend who was probably a militant,” he told Frontline. He said that his son was pursuing his second year of B.Com and there was no reason for him to become a militant.

Similarly, the families of Muzamil Ahmad Dar, Atir Ahmad (both from Sopore) and Ashiq Ahmed Lone of Shopian blame the security forces for harassing and intimidating their wards to the extent that they had no option but to embrace militancy. However, the police maintain that this is not true. “We do investigate when we get inputs, but that alone is not the reason for them to take up arms. Money also plays a role,” a senior officer said on condition of anonymity.

But those who have been keeping a watch on the Kashmir situation believe that monetary considerations do not necessarily tempt youth with higher educational qualifications. Islam, they say, is the biggest motivating force for them to take up arms. For example, Hilal Ahmad Rather, who was killed in Srinagar on May 23 in a fierce gun battle, was an inspiration for new recruits. He was a militant commander from the Palhalan area of north Kashmir. Soon after his killing, an undated video of his speech went viral on social media. In it, he profusely quoted from the Quran and Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), and one can see a large number of people listening to him. “Let India’s dark empire listen to this, let the agents listen to this,” he thunders in the video. “We will say this until we die. It will be either martyrdom or Sharia [Islamic rule].”

Not only the entry of educated youth in organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen, the attendance of thousands of Kashmiris at the funerals of the dead militants cannot be ignored.

However, it is not purely the general radicalisation that forces the youth to join the militant ranks. The absence of a process of dialogue and reconciliation to resolve the political problem of Jammu and Kashmir is also seen as an important factor. After the peace process between India and Pakistan received a jolt and the internal dialogue ended in a deadlock, despair is ruling the political firmament in the State.

The political scientist Gull Mohammad Wani, who heads the Institute of Kashmir Studies at Kashmir University, believes that the stifling political environment is mainly responsible for this. “It is an alarming situation, and I think repressive measures play a role in this as the place is devoid of accountability, a responsive administration and a regime of justice,” he said. The derailment of the peace process has pushed the people of the State to a state of hopelessness, he added.

“It is a matter of concern for us and we are looking at all the angles,” Omar Abdullah said in response to a question about the increasing number of educated militants. Director General of Police Ashok Prasad, however, sought to downplay the issue.

“The officers always tend to play down the issue until things go out of control,” said an insider, expressing surprise over the DGP’s statement.

Lt. Gen. Om Prakash, who recently handed over charge to Lt. Gen. Gurmeet Singh, also found the trend disturbing. “It is a reality, and we must find the reason and not shut our eyes to it,” he told Frontline. However, he was of the view that radicalisation was behind the phenomenon.

The armed struggle in Kashmir has always had the backing of educated people. Al Fateh in the 1960s was the first armed group that challenged Indian rule in Kashmir. It was led by educated people who later became top-level officers in the government. Similarly the first batch of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front militants in 1989 comprised fresh college graduates. Later on, a number intellectuals, doctors, lawyers and academics threw their weight behind the “freedom movement”.

Though violence is being seen as a rejected option to achieve the political goal, the resurgence of militancy is surely something that cannot be brushed aside. This amply makes it clear that the constituency of peace has not been capitalised on and the political establishment has not recognised the transition from violence to non-violence. People in Kashmir have shown their dislike for violence, but the continued absence of political engagement leads to an atmosphere in which they feel betrayed. To neutralise the emerging trend of violence again, reopening the process of dialogue and reconciliation is a must. Otherwise, Kashmiri youth will repose their faith in violence irrespective of the results it will throw up.