SRINAGAR: After Manan Wani, a research scholar at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), and Junaid Sehrai, a master’s degree holder in business administration, joined ranks of the armed rebels this year, the militancy graph in the Kashmir Valley is witnessing an upward trend.

As many as 70 Kashmiri youth, who include a few graduates and post-graduates in various streams, are believed to have joined ranks of various militant outfits operating in the restive Kashmir Valley since January this year.

“Out of 70, 54 youth are believed to hail from south Kashmir districts of Shopian and Pulwama alone,” said a reliable source.

However, another top source in the intelligence grid believes that the number of boys who have joined militancy in 2018 is actually 80. He said nearly 70 per cent of militants come from south Kashmir.

On average, a youth is picking up arms every second day since the beginning of this year (from January until May 2018), according to a report prepared by Jammu and Kashmir’s intelligence wing.

The latest statistics are alarming and highest since the summer uprising of 2008 when Kashmir was on the boil following the Amarnath land row that witnessed over 60 civilian killings at the hands of government forces during street protests.

“South Kashmir’s twin districts of Shopian and Pulwama are the worst hit,” said a source, adding that “there is spike in local recruitment and the trend is alarming and disturbing because educated boys are joining ranks of the militants.”

“In the month of May alone at least 20 boys have joined militancy,” the sources told The Citizen.

Following Burhan Wani’s killing in July 2016, several top commanders of Hizb, Lashkar and Jaish were killed as part of the much publicised ‘Operation All-Out’, an anti-militancy operation that was launched in 2017.

Those killed include Sabzar Bhat, Saddam Padder, Sameer Bhat alias ‘Tiger’, Bashir Lashkari, Bilal Maulvi, Junaid Matto, Yasin Itoo, Abu Dujana, Abu Ismael and a few others.

The killings of local armed rebels has not deterred youth from joining militancy.

Most of the boys have joined Hizb and some have also proclaimed their allegiance to other militant outfits like Lashkar, Jaish and al-Badr etc in a now customary fashion that of posting their pictures on social media while holding assault rifles in their hands.

A top source, who is not authorised to speak to the media, told The Citizen that twin districts of south Kashmir—Shopian and Pulwama— have witnessed a massive spike in local militant recruitment.

“In the first five months of 2018 over 70 youth have joined militancy out of which 54 are from two districts alone, which is about 70 per cent of the total militant recruitment across the Kashmir Valley,” a source said.

A few of them are highly educated with Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in various streams.

This, they maintain, is a “deeply worrying and upsetting trend”.

In 2018, two highly educated youths one each from north Kashmir’s Kupwara district and summer capital Srinagar joined militancy.

Mannan Bashir Wani, a former research scholar at the AMU who is a resident of frontier district Kupwara, joined Hizbul Mujahideen.

Soon after Wani’s joining, 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 Hizb in March this year.

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 fear that the 26-year-old Junaid Ashraf Sehrai and Manan Wani both could attract more educated youth from various parts to follow their path.

The joining of Wani and junior Sehrai is perceived as an attempt to revive militancy in north Kashmir and Srinagar respectively and to give a new face to the new-age of militancy post-Burhan era.

Last year in September, an engineering student from Srinagar’s Ahmednagar locality Mohammad Eisa Fazili had joined the ranks of armed rebels.

Eisa Fazili was killed in an encounter in south Kashmir recently.

As part of a new trend, reasonably educated youths with doctoral degrees and from good socio-economic backgrounds, are becoming new militant recruits.

Greater Kashmir, a local English daily published from Srinagar, reported on 4 June that a science graduate from south Kashmir’s Shopian district Aijaz Paul too has joined the armed rebellion.

Reportedly, Paul also announced his joining in a now customary signature style by posting his picture on social media space and posing an Ak-47 rifle.

According to the newspaper, Paul joined al-Badr Mujahideen, an armed group which was active in Kashmir in the early and mid-1990s.

Apart from Wani and junior Sehrai, the fresh recruits include Nawaz Wagay from Shopian and Tauseef Wani from Pulwama.

Wagay is reportedly a postgraduate in Urdu while Wani a graduate.

A recently released government report also revealed that “after the killing of Burhan Wani on July 8, 2016, 121 militants have been killed and 216 local youths joined militancy.”

The report also said that “of the 461 local youth who joined militancy since 2010, 331 came from South Kashmir.”

The report noted that the massive funerals of killed civilians and militants become a reason for many a youth to join militancy in an emotionally charged atmosphere.

“The deaths of these protesters further trigger protests supplemented by large funeral processions. Such a charged environment is a perfect blend of emotions and anger that is required to attract militant recruitment.”

However, pro-independence leader Mohammad Yasin Malik of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) contests this claim in an article that he wrote for a local Weekly Kashmir Life.

Malik argued that “From 2016, we have received coffins of around 600 young boys, girls, and children. Some of them had guns kept on their chests but the majority had marks of bullets and pellets on their bodies especially eyes. Blood of Kashmiris is being spilled all over without any remorse and even blame is laid on the poor victims. So in this situation what should be our response as Kashmiris? What do we think of this new trend of young educated youth joining armed path and sacrificing their lives?”

“…This lack of political space forced a whole generation to arms in 1988, and as they say, history repeats itself exactly after 20 years, same was being done to the new generation of Kashmiris. Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the protagonist of the present generation of youth also faced same apathy,” he wrote in his long opinion piece.

Since 2016, Government forces have killed over 700 youth, which include 465 armed rebels and 236 civilians.

Normalisation of civilian killings at the hands of government forces, choking of political space for dissent, ban on student politics in campuses and criminalisation of political aspirations of Kashmiris are perceived to be the biggest factors behind current uncertainty and fresh militant recruitment.

(Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR)