Pulwama Attack: How Educated Fidayeens Are Making Militancy Glamorous in Kashmir

Politics

Pulwama Attack: How Educated Fidayeens Are Making Militancy Glamorous in Kashmir

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

On April 2, 2011, a 12-year-old boy from Gundibagh, a sleepy hamlet in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, found his hero when Mahendra Singh Dhoni won the World Cup final for India by hitting a towering six over long on. For the next seven years, the Indian team’s captain became this village boy’s idol. He cherished every helicopter shot, every rapid stumping, and every triumph. Two years ago, when Dhoni’s team lost to Pakistan in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy, he knew what his Kashmiri friends who cheered for the rival team would have in store for him. He locked himself up in his room, and didn’t step outside for a couple of days.

On February 14, this Team India fan rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a CRPF convoy at Lethpora, Pulwama, on the Srinagar-Jammu highway, killing more than 40 Indian jawans. This Team India fan was Adil Ahmad Dar, known to the world as the teen who executed the deadliest suicide attack on security forces in Kashmir. Adil spent a year waiting to attack, which has taken the Indo-Pak relationship to a new low. But what changed in six months? Until July 18, 2017, the day of the Champions Trophy final, he was still rooting for India.

Adil’s father, Ghulam Hassan Dar, remembers his son as a diligent student who chipped in to support the family. He packed apples in boxes, worked as a painter, took up manual labour, and occasionally led prayers at the local mosque. Nothing seemed amiss and then, on March 19, 2018, just before his Class 12 exams, Adil went missing along with his cousin.

Ghulam Dar says the drawn-out Kashmir conflict is the only reason Adil could have been motivated to join the Jaish-e-Mohammed. He remembers an incident in 2016 that left his son humiliated. Adil was returning home when at the Kakapora area, he was caught in the middle of a clash between stone-pelting protesters and the police. He was detained even though he was not part of the protest. Adil kept asking his father why he was harassed when he had nothing to do with the stone-pelters. The everyday discrimination against Kashmiri youth pushed Adil’s buttons, which was enough to turn him to militancy. The family pleaded with him to return, to no avail.

In a final message, Adil urged Indian Muslims to stand up against “the enemy”. A week after he took his own life and that of several CRPF soldiers, his father calls for putting an end to hatred and initiating a dialogue process between New Delhi and Islamabad. “This is the only way to save human lives on either side,” Ghulam Dar says. “The loss of human lives, whether it is of my militant son or of the Indian soldier, doesn’t benefit anyone.”

In a final message, Adil urged Indian Muslims to stand up against “the enemy”.

It pains him to see so many young, educated men turn to militancy. While Adil was a school dropout, the same cannot be said about the stream of educated youth like the 27-year-old Manaan Bashir Wani, a Ph.D. scholar from Aligarh Muslim University, who joined the militant ranks after 2016’s summer uprising. Wani was killed in a gunfight with the troops in October last year, as were scores of other educated Kashmiri men who choose guns over books. Back in the ’90s, those who joined the militancy were mostly uneducated, marginalised men. Men like Nadeem Khateeb, who were foreign-educated but still returned to Kashmir to join the insurgency, were outliers.

Today, they are the norm. Zakir Moosa, the present chief of the Al-Qaeda affiliate Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind is an engineer. The now-slain Mohammad Rafi Bhat was an assistant professor, and Junaid Ahmad, son of separatist leader Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai is an MBA.

The rise of educated militants has ushered a new phase in the Kashmir militancy, and its stark contrast from the militancy of the ’90s cannot be overlooked. In a way, educated militants have made the idea of taking to arms more aspirational, drawing more young men to it. It has also seen the lives of some brilliant students like Ishaq Ahmad, known to his friends as “Newton”, cut short. In 2015, the 19-year-old from Laribal — famous in school for his brilliant score of 98.4 per cent in his Std X exams — left home to join the Hizbul Mujahideen. A year later, he was killed in an overnight encounter in Tral.

Siddiq Wahid, the former Vice-Chancellor of the Islamic University of Science and Technology, which is based in Awantipora, just a few kilometers from the Pulwama attack site, says the nature of the dispute in the region is why educated youth are joining militancy. “It started off as a territorial dispute and the rights of people. However, the arrogance of the Indian state in the last 70 years has transformed it into a conflict over dignity and, of course, human rights. The educated are more aware of these parameters and are affected by it because they can read its implications for the future. If the dispute were about economics or class, one imagines that the demography would have been somewhat different, whereas today the armed rebels constitute a cross-section of society.”

But are educated militants a bigger threat? Javed Mir, one of the first few youths to have joined the Kashmir militancy in the late ’80s, seems to think so. Mir, who renounced violence after his organisation declared an “indefinite ceasefire”, says when he visits the villages, young people question him about the ceasefire and ask him what it has yielded for Kashmir. “The Kashmiri youth has taken a lesson from that ceasefire and understood that New Delhi and the international community has not fulfilled their promise of resolving Kashmir,” he says.

In a way, educated militants have made the idea of taking to arms more aspirational, drawing more young men to it.

Back in the ’90s, the young in Kashmir were angry, but today, they also have the ability to reason. Today, they question activists and moderate voices over why their overtures of peace are met with an iron fist. In December 2018, national vice-president of the BJP and state-in-charge Avinash Rai Khanna said that Operation All Out would continue in Kashmir until the last terrorist is killed. Since 2017, 496 militants have been killed but more than 150 civilians have also lost their lives in the action by the armed forces. That is a huge number to be brushed under the carpet as collateral damage.

For the young, educated Kashmiri, this is an everyday reality. With access to the internet and social media, young Kashmiris know what unfolds in other parts of the country. Be it the lynchings, the glamorisation of educated militancy, or simply the treatment meted out to fellow Kashmiris in other parts of the country. And in the wake of Pulwama, they are feeling the heat. Away from all conflict, those studying in universities and colleges across the country are subject to discrimination. The government might have dismissed reports of harassment, but two educational institutions in Dehradun declared that they will not admit students from the Valley. Several Kashmiri students and workers in Uttarakhand and Haryana have been forced to leave the state. In Bhopal, six Kashmiri students were expelled from a nursing college after pressure from Bajrang Dal activists and in Ambala, more than 100 students were asked to vacate their rented accommodation, The Indian Express reported.

It is this “otherness” that pushes young, educated Kashmiris to the wall. Adil Ahmad Dar was humiliated by the forces, and now, by asking Kashmiri students to leave another batch of young men is being further humiliated.

In Kashmir, every tragedy is followed by a bigger tragedy. But the cycle of violence has to stop somewhere. Adil Ahmad Dar should not become a phenomenon. The youth of Kashmir earned their degrees in hopes of finding a better life than the violence they live in. They deserve a chance to lead that life.

Comments