Why Bloodiest-November For Militancy Will Change Little On The Ground In Kashmir


SRINAGAR — November witnessed the killing of 39 militants in the Kashmir Valley, the highest such number in a month in many years. 

This has already taken the toll of the militants killed this year to 233, already 15 more than the number killed last year. And in the past fortnight, many more killings have been added to this number including those of the two teenagers recently killed in an encounter at Mujgund or the three killed at Pulwama on Saturday along with seven more civilians. 

But will it make any difference to the state of affairs? Not at all, if the history of the past three decades is anything to go by. Beginning this year, the number of the active militants was around 250, so the militancy in the state should by now have been on its last legs. Far from it. By  September, the estimated number of active militants in the Valley had shot up to 300, despite the killings of the 130 militants in the preceding nine months.

A hundred more militants have since been killed but the militancy in the Valley shows little signs of falling apart. On the contrary, the continuing replenishment through local recruitment and the infiltration has turned militancy into a perpetual reality. 

Not that the militancy hasn’t been reigned in occasionally but that has been due largely to the factors other than an exclusively militaristic approach. The latter, on the contrary, has invariably been counterproductive as the deterioration in the situation over the past four and a half years of the BJP-led government has proved yet again. 

According to a security estimate, from a little over 15 militants in 2014, some of them foreigners, South Kashmir saw more than 100 local youth join the militancy following the advent of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on the scene. 

One important factor in this transformation was Wani’s radically unorthodox approach to militancy whereby he jettisoned the anonymity associated with a militant’s life by appearing on social media with his face uncovered. This glamorized the militancy and evacuated it of its inherent dangers and messiness. In fact, a social media picture of Wani surrounded by eleven of his defiant gun-wielding colleagues in 2015 was instrumental in capturing the imagination of new Kashmiri generation and draw many of them towards militancy. All the militants in the picture other than the one who surrendered have since been killed in encounters. 

Three years on, the picture’s powerful appeal remains undiminished. It has now taken on a symbolic dimension as the defining image of Kashmir’s new age militancy.

Militancy ever since has only grown from strength to strength. The rising number of killings have led to corresponding replenishment. The takeaway from this reality is that the violence will go on as it has over the past so many years and may go on in the near future too. 

Going forward there is little hope that this state of affairs will change for the better. As the BJP may have learnt to its detriment, the militancy in Kashmir is so deeply rooted in the public sentiment and structurally so entrenched that it cannot be completely dislodged even by an all-out military operation. Local recruitment and infiltration ensures that the depleted number is easily recompensed.  Or in case of depletion in numbers of the one component, another fills in the vacuum: that is, if local recruitment is down, infiltration compensates for it and the vice versa.  

This was the case through 2004 to 2013 when local recruitment had reduced to a trickle and the foreign militants stepped in to keep the jihad alive. Incidentally, also, this steady decline in jihad had accompanied the then ongoing peace process between India and Pakistan which according to the leaders helming it was close to a breakthrough on Kashmir in line with the then Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf’s four-point formula.

If anything, this long history shows the resilience of the militancy in the state. It can count on a steady stream of local and foreign recruits to keep going despite the killings. What is more, a little over hundred militants are sufficient to keep the pot simmering in Kashmir and create a perception of violence which is disproportionate to their number.

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