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How Killing of Manan Wani, AMU Scholar Who Joined Hizbul, Will Affect Militancy-hit North Kashmir

A PhD scholar from the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), who joined Hizbul Mujahideen on January 10 this year, Wani had managed his entry into Handwara last week, according to the police.

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Updated:October 15, 2018, 12:20 PM IST
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How Killing of Manan Wani, AMU Scholar Who Joined Hizbul, Will Affect Militancy-hit North Kashmir
A PhD scholar from the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), who joined Hizbul Mujahideen on January 10 this year, Wani had managed his entry into Handwara last week, according to the police.
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On October 11, people in the valley woke up to the news of an encounter between militants and security forces in upper reaches of Handwara, a town in north Kashmir. By the time the gunfight was over, it was confirmed that one of the slain militants was the PhD scholar-turned-militant Manan Wani.

Wani’s killing comes at a time when north Kashmir is seeing a revival in militancy, which the state police also acknowledge. A senior police speaking to the Greater Kashmir, a newspaper in the valley, said: “He (Manan) was assigned to rope in local youth of northern districts through his posts on social media and personal approach. That’s why Manan changed base (from south Kashmir) to revive militancy in northern Kashmir.”

A PhD scholar from the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), who joined Hizbul Mujahideen on January 10 this year, Wani had managed his entry into Handwara last week, according to the police. The police, according to the reports in Greater Kashmir, believe that Wani “perhaps, wanted to first meet his family, first time after he joined Hizb in January this year, and later select a place for his hideout in his hometown.”

The 26-year-old hailed from a village in the picturesque Lolab valley, which has a heavy military presence. Wani, according to the security agencies, was seen as “formidable face” of militancy.

“He was not even A-category militant. But qualification-wise he was known through social media and had a formidable respect among his militant associates,” an intelligence officer said.

The killing of Wani, however, is not a one-off incident in north Kashmir. While south Kashmir continues to remain in a vicious cycle of violence and a hotbed of militancy, areas like Kupwara, Handwara, Baramulla and Sopore in north Kashmir, too, are slowly showing signs of change. The landscape of militancy in Kashmir is spreading far and wide.

The North Conundrum

In August this year, two Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militants hailing from Kalaroos area of Kupwara district were killed and had joined the militant ranks months ago.

On August 26, four local youth, according to police, who were trying to cross LoC for arms training were arrested. Hours before their arrest they had posted photos on social media posing with guns. All of them were from different villages of Kupwara and were associated with militant outfit Al-Badr, police said.

Earlier in July, another local militant was arrested from Handwara area. Many of the missing youth in north Kashmir are suspected to have joined militants.

“Unlike south Kashmir, all the militants who join militancy do not post their photographs online to declare their joining,” a local said. “A number of militants who were killed had not disclosed their joining.”

Other than that, some militants hailing from south Kashmir districts are active in parts of north Kashmir. On August 3, among the two militants killed in Sopore, one was from south Kashmir’s Pulwama. Identified as Khursheed Ahmad Malik, an engineering student, he had gone missing a week earlier.

Recently, two families from south Kashmir’s Shopian and Pulwama districts claimed that among the five militants killed in an encounter in Bandipora’s Sumlar were their sons. Forces had claimed that the five militants were foreigners but Hizbul Mujahideen in a statement said that they were locals.

As per a newspaper report in May this year senior Jammu and Kashmir police officers and intelligence officers are apprehensive, given the several incidents in north Kashmir in the past few months, coupled with fresh intelligence inputs —the northern region of the valley could be a major target area for militants.

According to a senior police official, over 300 militants are currently active in Kashmir, highest in the last decade, among which more than 200 are locals. As per a report compiled by the J&K Police, 166 of the total 181 militants active in south Kashmir are locals.

Among the 129 militants active in north Kashmir, 35 are locals.

The Town of Baramulla

Along the banks of river Jhelum, 55 kilometers north-west of Srinagar, is Baramulla. The town is surrounded by military camps. In Kashmir, people call it a “garrison town” because of the huge presence of the army.

In April 2008, two militants from the town were killed. Tanveer and Imtiyaz, popularly known as Tanae Khan, Anae Khan, were associated with Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. For nearly a decade after their killing, Baramulla town remained ‘militancy free.’

Then in November 2017, Suhaib Farooq, a 20-year-old college student from Khanpora, Baramulla went missing. A few days later his photo appeared on social media with a gun, which has now become the signature way of declaring that one is joining militancy.

“He was regularly called by police,” says his father Farooq Ahmad Akhoon. “He was arrested on stone pelting charges in 2014 and since then he was on the police radar. Whenever they would call him he had to report,” Akhoon adds.

Akhoon says police had asked him and Suhaib to report at Humhama police station in Srinagar. Suhaib’s photo had appeared in social media with Nasir Amin Darzi, who had joined militancy.

Darzi, 25, also from Baramulla town was Suhaib’s friend and was involved in stone pelting cases. Suhaib didn’t report to police.

“When we reached Srinagar and we had to take another vehicle to reach the police station, Suhaib went for a toilet break and never came back. I kept waiting for hours but he didn’t return,” he says.

As per police officials, Suhaib had travelled to Pakistan on passport and went for arms training. His parents refuse to talk about it.

But he is not the only militant in town. Mohsin Mushtaq Bhat, a 21-year-old from old-town Baramulla went missing on November 6, 2017. A stone chiseler, who had dropped out of school in class 9, had no police case.

Mohsin, like Suhaib, was also a cricket lover. His friends say that he knew Suhaib and they were cricket pals. It is how he perhaps joined militancy.

Like Tanveer and Imtiyaz, the Baramulla-trio militants are friends and police officials say they can attract other youth towards militancy.

Recently, another youth from the Baramulla’s Khanpora, a neighbor of Suhaib went missing. He is believed to have joined militancy but police and his family refuse to talk about him.

Earlier, in August 2017, Javed Ahmad Dar, 24, was killed in a gunfight. A militant with LeT, Dar was the first youth from Baramulla to join militancy after the killing of two local militants in 2008. His parents allege that the regular police harassment compelled Dar to join militancy. He was a militant for two months.

The Restive Sopore

Baramulla town is not the only 'area of concern' in north Kashmir. Over four kilometers away in nearby Sopore town, is the Brath Kalan area. Consisting of four small villages, with over 1,200 households, this area is local militancy’s ‘focal point’ in north Kashmir.

Currently, at least seven local youth are active militants and, as per locals, nearly five have been killed in recent years.

In July 2015, Gulzar Ahmad Lone, an automobile mechanic left his home and joined militancy. Lone, 27, was a postgraduate in political science. He remained active for over two years and was killed in the summer of 2017.

Months before him, Adil Ahmad and Riyaz Ahmad from the same area had joined Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). Riyaz was pursuing graduation from a local college, while Adil had recently done masters in political science from a university in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.

They were known as main recruiters and were the first militants after many years. Riyaz was killed in an encounter, along with four other militants, in September 2015 while Adil was killed nine months later.

At least seven militants, as per the locals, are active from these villages surrounded by dense apple orchards and paddy fields.

Four of them have joined this year alone. Umar Mir, 22, a madrasa student joined the militant ranks in February. Naseer Ahmad Mir, 28, a driver, joined in March. Naseer’s brother was working in the Army and was killed by suspected militants in 2004. Ishfaq Mir, 20, a student, joined in July.

“No one among the militants, who are active and who were killed recently, was harassed by forces. They were living a normal life and suddenly disappeared and joined militancy,” says a local youth wishing anonymity.

The Garrisoned District

Kupwara, once the hotbed of militancy in Kashmir and the most preferred route used by the militants to cross into Pakistan for arms training, is in news for all the wrong reasons. The presence and recruitment of militants in this district has increased drastically in the last few months.

For example, Furkan Raseed, a bright student who aspired to become a doctor. Hailing from Langate area of Kupwara district, Furkan was a 12th class student of a government-run higher secondary school in Handwara, five kilometers away from his home.

On the morning of May 14, he left for tuitions. He attended his tuitions and was then supposed to go to school. But his friends say he never turned up. As the evening fell, Abdul Rasheed Lone, his father, perturbed, visited the house of neighborhood boys, studying with Furkan. But everyone was clueless.

“It was for the first time my son had not returned home,” says Abdul Rasheed. “He was a submissive boy. I thought he might have gone to some friend’s house and switched off the phone.”

When he didn’t return even the next day, his family started searching for him. They filed a missing complaint few days later. A week after his sudden disappearance, a photo surfaced on social media where Furkan was holding an AK assault rifle and text on the image announced that he had joined Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).

“I never thought my son would take such a step,” says Abdul Rasheed, a farmer, who has never gone to school but wanted his son to be a successful person. There were no active militants in Langate area when Furkan joined the militant ranks.

The area, however, had many militants during the 1990s. Among them was Furkan’s uncle, Basheed Ahmad Lone. Basheer had joined militancy in the 90s, crossing the LoC for arms training. He was later killed in 2001 in a village in Kupwara.

Basheer’s nom de guerre was Aadil Kashmiri. Furkan had taken the same alias. Furkan was two-month-old when Basheer was killed.

As Furkan grew he became familiar with his uncle’s life and death.

“During the protests he used to be furious at home. He would talk about the atrocities committed by forces,” says Rasheed, But he would not participate in the protests, Rasheed says.

A friend of Furkan, wishing anonymity, says he used to talk about his militant uncle, praising him. “But we never thought he will follow his path,” his friend says.

On September 11, Furkan, along with his other Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) associate, was killed in an encounter with forces in Galoora area of Langate.

A Militant for Two Days

A short distance from Abdul Rasheed's house lives the Mir Family. On August 6, Muzaffar Ahmad Mir, 23, left to buy some household items from the market. His sister was married a week ago and she had come home for the rituals.

But Muzaffar did not return that evening. Next day his father, Bashir Ahmad Mir, filed a missing complaint. Three days later, on August 9, police killed a militant in a gunfight in the forest area of Rafiabad.

The gunfight had erupted a day earlier and four militants had already been killed. The police said all the five militants were from Pakistan and had infiltrated into the valley.

At Bashir’s house, a “stranger” dropped a message: “Your son is among the five militants.” Bashir was asked to identify his son from the photograph. Later, DNA samples were matched and it was Muzaffar.

A fortnight later his body was exhumed. Muzaffar was militant for two days. Bashir and his family remain puzzled on how he joined the militant ranks.

Muzaffar had graduated from a local college and was now herding sheep. He was the eldest among the seven siblings and had taken the household responsibilities.

Three months earlier, however, Muzaffar had tried to visit Pakistan.

“He wanted to study in Pakistan and had received the visa as well,” says Basheer. “Muzaffar wanted to pursue higher studies. A few of the local students were studying there and he wanted to study there as well,” Bashir says.

On May 10, he reached the Wagah border to leave for Pakistan. But he was made to go back by the security agencies.

“We don’t know how he met the militants and how he was killed so instantly,” says Basheer. Unlike many boys who join militant ranks, none of his photograph was uploaded on social media.

(The author is a Kashmir-based freelance journalist.)
| Edited by: Ashutosh Tripathi
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