At least five recent incidents in Srinagar are indicative of the fact that restive Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital is no more a “militancy-free” district.

Srinagar, it is feared, is back on the militancy map.

The events are the killing of an engineering student-turned armed rebel Mohammad Eisa Fazili in an encounter on 12 March, Junaid Sehrai, a postgraduate in business administration, joining ranks of the militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen on 23 March, another youth Fahad Manzoor Waza joining militancy on 27 March, a group of unidentified militants snatching four assault rifles after attacking an armed guard of Jammu and Kashmir Police’s 13 battalion in the outskirts of Srinagar on 25 April, and suspected militants attacking Zubair Parray, a former cop-turned Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) activist, from close range in the heart of Srinagar on 30 April.

Eisa Fazili hailed from Ahmednagar area of Srinagar while Junaid Sehrai and Fahad Waza also do belong to Srinagar district.

Sources in Jammu and Kashmir police department reveal that at least 10 youths from Srinagar have joined militancy in last three years, out of which four have been killed in gunfights with government forces in various parts of the Kashmir Valley.

Those who are still active as underground militants from Srinagar district include Junaid Sehrai (Baghat, Srinagar), Fahad Waza (Khanyar, Srinagar), Mehraj-ud-Din Bangroo (Fateh Kadal, Srinagar), Dawood Sofi (Zainakote, Srinagar) and Fayaz Hamal Bhat (Nawakadal, Srinagar).

The ones who have been killed since last year include Eisa Fazili from Ahmednagar, Mughees from Parimpora, Sajad Gilkar from downtown Nowhatta, Sajad Bhat alias Shadak from Zewan.

Mohammad Eisa Fazili had joined the armed rebellion in September last year.

Eisa was killed in an encounter with government forces in Hakora-Badasgam village in Dooru area of south Kashmir’s Anantnag district along with his two associates.

One of them was Syed Ovais Shafi, a local from Vailoo, Kokernag, south Kashmir while another one belonged to Hyderabad, Telangana.

The narrative that a Muslim youth from an Indian city had come to Kashmir to fight government forces created a lot of unease in the Himalayan Valley.

Eisa, an engineering student, had left his studies midway to join the ranks of militants. He had gone missing from his hostel room in Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University (BGSBU) in Rajouri in Jammu province on 17 August last year.

Only a few days before Eid-ul-Azha, he passionately talked about the anti-India armed struggle in an 8- minute-and-24 -second-long video message.

In the video, Eisa, sporting beard and wearing a white-colour skullcap, was seen with an assault rifle. He began his message by reciting Quranic verses from Surah At-Tawbah in Arabic.

When roughly translated into the English language, the verses mean this: “Believers! What is amiss with you that when it is said to you: ‘March forth in the cause of Allah,’ you cling heavily to the earth? Do you prefer the worldly life to the hereafter? Know well that all the enjoyment of this world, in comparison with the hereafter, is trivial.”

After Arabic, he switched to Urdu to read: “Maslihat ki niqaabein utaaro bhi ab, kufr ko kufr kehkar pukaro bhi ab…” (Remove the masks of expediency, to describe infidelity [kufr] as kufr).

Using his oratory skills, the then new militant recruit further declared that “jihad in Kashmir is only for the sake of Allah and dominance of Allah’s religion (Islam), nothing else.”

This, he said, could only be achieved through “jihad fee sabeelillah” (the holy struggle for Allah’s sake).

Eisa also talked about problems faced by Muslims in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Palestine, Pakistan, Kashmir and Burma (formerly Myanmar).

“I appeal to the young Muslims, irrespective of their professions as engineers or doctors, to play a constructive role to help the Burmese (Rohingya) Muslims,” he added.

In the later part of his video message, he explained the reasons behind his becoming an armed rebel.

“I know what is happening in Kashmir, what happened in Kunanposhpora (the alleged mass rape of 23 Kashmiri women by Indian army in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district on 23 February, 1991), the Pathribal ‘fake’ encounter and many such incidents like in India’s Muzaffarnagar and Gujarat. I felt as if sisters of my Ummah were calling for my help to come forward to protect them.”

After Eisa’s joining the ranks of armed rebels in September last year, the recent act of weapon snatching by unknown militants was perhaps a reminder that militancy was staging a comeback-of-sorts in Srinagar.

Junaid Sehrai, a youth with a master’s degree in business administration and the son of senior resistance leader Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai, also joined the ranks of Hizbul Mujahideen in March this year.

Senior Sehrai is the newly-elected chairperson of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH) which is one of the constituents of the pro-freedom amalgam All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). The amalgam is led by veteran resistance leader Syed Ali Geelani.

The Sehrai family originally comes from Teki Pora village in Lolab in north Kashmir’s frontier district Kupwara, but it migrated from there in the 1990s to settle permanently in Jehangir Colony in Srinagar’s Baghat area.

Senior police officers apprehend that the 26-year-old Junaid Ashraf Sehrai, an MBA from the University of Kashmir, could entice more educated youth from Srinagar to tread his path.

In some case, highly educated youths with doctoral degrees, postgraduate degrees in business administration and engineering are becoming new recruits.

Before Junaid, a research scholar at Aligargh Muslim University (AMU) Mannan Bashir Wani from north Kashmir’s frontier district Kupwara had joined Hizbul Mujahideen.

A photograph of Manan, who was pursuing his PhD in applied geology at AMU, appeared on the social media in which he is seen holding an under barrel grenade launcher.

According to the photograph that appeared on Facebook and Whatsapp, Mannan joined Hizbul Mujahideen on 5 January.

Meanwhile, Srinagar was perceived a ‘militancy-free’ district from 2007 until 2014.

“Not anymore,” says a top police officer.

He adds that the armed militancy was now returning to Srinagar.

One of the reasons behind this development, he explains thus: “After Burhan Wani’s killing in 2016, the mindset of a section of youth has drastically changed. Like south and north, Srinagar too is getting affected.”

Once the tech-savvy Hizb commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani became a symbol of Kashmir’s new-age of indigenous armed rebellion in south Kashmir, post summer agitation of 2010, the militancy in the Kashmir Valley made a spectacular comeback.

According to sources in Jammu and Kashmir police, there are about 250-270 militants currently active in entire Kashmir region. About 140-150 of them are believed to be locals while 110-120 of them foreigners. Hizbul Mujahideen is in front with 120-130 active militants, followed by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) with 110-120, and 15-20 Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).

At least eighty per cent militants belong to south Kashmir, police sources say.

“Angry youth are ready to take up guns,” they add.

What has changed so drastically in Srinagar in recent years that ‘militancy is now returning to the city’?

Swayam Prakash Pani, Inspector General of Kashmir Range, says “it is premature to say that militancy is making a comeback of sorts in Srinagar.”

“There is no resurgence of militancy in urban settings, primarily because of the lack of community support for the idea. There may be glamour in the idea, but in urban setup there is lack of socio-economic acceptance for the same,” he tells this scribe.

The urban activities like opening of new malls, restaurants, cafes, and other public spaces for debate and recreation may have infused a new life to Srinagar city, but militancy is no stranger to Srinagar either.

Police officers dealing with counter insurgency operations insist that social media has emerged as “one of the powerful tools for recruitment” post-Burhan era.

“Burhan became a new reference point in Kashmir’s armed militancy. Social media is playing a role in militant recruitment,” an officer says on the condition of anonymity.

On the other hand, police also claim that “four young boys have renounced militancy across Kashmir and returned to their homes following appeals from their family members in recent times”.

One of them was Majid Khan, a star-footballer from south Kashmir.

Police credits its Police Community Partnership Group (PCPG) meetings which it claims have been successful in pursuing some youth for homecoming.

“We organise Police Community Partnership Group (PCPG) meetings at regular intervals with civil society groups across the Kashmir Valley with the aim to dissuade youth from joining militancy,” says a senior police officer.

“We recently managed to bring back 21-year-old Tufail, a second year student from Srinagar, who had joined militancy. We brought him back. No FIR was registered against him to allow him to lead a normal life,” he claims.

(Cover Photograh BASIT ZARGAR)