What militant funerals foretell

As the killing of two more militants at Padgampora and their massive funeral underlines, the situation in South Kashmir is only getting worse by the day. Soon after  Hizbul Mujahideen’s Shahbaz Ahmed Wani and  Farooq Ahmed Hura were killed in what police said was a “chance encounter”, thousands of people attended their nimaz-i-jinaza. What is more, Hizbul Mujahideen’s commander Sabzar Ahmad is alleged to have been present at the funeral and offered a gun salute to his fallen colleagues. The video of the funeral has since gone viral on social media. 
This was  the second encounter at Padgampora. Earlier encounter in February had left two militants and a civilian dead. Security forces had brought the wife of one of the militants Muhammad Shafi Shergujri to persuade him to surrender. Though she pleaded with him on the loudspeaker to give up the gun for the sake of his family, Shergujri didn’t respond. The encounter resumed and he was killed shortly after.

However, more worrying than the funerals is the attempt by people to disrupt the ongoing encounters. It is a trend which has reared its head over the past one and a half year. As soon as the security forces track down separatist militants and the encounter starts, the residents of the area go up in revolt. They try to gherao the encounter sites and help the trapped militants escape. It was in response to these mobilizations that a fuming Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat had threatened harsh action against future swarming of encounter sites, a statement that snowballed into a massive controversy as it was read as a warning to civilian population of the state.  

It is difficult to explain this trend in rational terms. Even the protesters themselves can’t articulate it with clarity. But the situation on the ground gives it away: the seething anger and alienation among people, the pro-jihad graffiti on the walls and the growing cult of militancy reveal a grim state of affairs. There is a strange death wish brewing among a significant section of youth in Kashmir, which if nothing is urgently done to address it, could graduate into something even more sinister. 

So far, more than ten protesters have lost their lives during encounters. Many have been injured and many others have sustained pellet injuries in their eyes.  But this has hardly deterred the people. Not even the Army Chief’s stern warning  that those trying to disrupt anti-militancy operations in Kashmir will be treated as “overground workers of terrorists” and can be fired on. In fact, a day after General Rawat’s issued the statement last month,  hundreds of people attacked the forces with stones at Urivan village of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, when they were about to launch cordon and search operation in the area, forcing them to call it off, lest it results in loss of civilian lives. 

This state of affairs has come as a further reminder of a deepening pro-militancy sentiment which has since led to a spike in militant recruitment, more so in the months since the killing of Burhan Wani in July last. According to a security estimate, the number of militants in Valley is now around 300, up from around 180 before Burhan’s death. This should be a deep cause of concern for the state and central government but the reality seems to be the contrary to it.  New Delhi seems only interested in a security response, a strategy that has only fanned the armed rebellion. One can only hope that the central government does the immediate course correction and prevents the situation from worsening further. The alternative will hurt peace not only in Kashmir, but also in South Asia.      

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