As Educated Youth Go Missing In Kashmir, Fears Of A New Jihad

29 June 2014
Sameer Yasir

Srinagar: Sameer Ahmad Wani, 24, seldom hung out with with local youngsters of his age in his village, Dooru, a tiny settlement on the outskirts of north Kashmir's troubled town of Sopore. Early last month, Wani left his modest house, apparently to buy a pair of jeans. He never came back. Wani's mother is still numb with shock. She hardly talks and his grief-stricken father cannot add much. His mother said they had lost the most precious thing they had to Kashmir's never-ending conflict. But they reject the notion that their son may have joined militancy. He'll return soon, they hope. But that does not stop the villagers who talk in whispers about Wani joining the renewed face of militancy in Kashmir, a sparse but deadly new trickle. If the security agencies are to be believed, Wani is among a slew of young men who have reportedly joined the militancy in Kashmir. There are others the security agencies identify as suspects now: In the nearby village of Brath Kalan, Adil Ashraf Mir and Reyaz Ahamd Mir, both in their late twenties, left home one evening last month. Both said they would return soon from a nearby market. They were never seen again. Almost 40 kilometers from Sopore, Ishfaq Farooq Lone, an M Phil student in a Bhopal university, and Mehraj-ud-Din Bhat, a post-graduate in Science, left their home last month for a nearby plateau in the Andargam village, Pattan. The two were good friends and would often discuss politics and religion, acquaintances remember. No one has seen them after that day. Another youngster, Ashiq Hussain Wani, completed his law degree recently from the Central University of Kashmir; he too is missing. In south Kashmir, over the past few months, several young boys belonging to upper middle class Kashmiri families have gone missing. The youngest among them is Tariq Ahmed Malik, a class XII student from Chandgam Tahab in Pulwama district. He too is missing. According to security agencies, these are some of the new faces of jihad in Kashmir. There numbers are swelling every passing month. The majority of these boys are from middle class families, and barring a few, all are well educated. Worryingly, their goal posts and ideological conviction are somewhat more strident then their peers of the nineties, say sources in the security agencies. What was about Kashmir is now about pan Islamism and global jihad. The young are choosing this dangerous path with a conviction and, as anybody in Kashmir will tell you, its ultimate end is death. When one such youngster dies, thousands attained the funeral prayers, celebrate his martyrdom, mehndi is applied on his bare hands as most of these boys remain unmarried. Grieving Kashmiri women sing songs in his honour, and slogans reverberate the graveyards. These funerals become local legends and on the next day someone else is missing from his home. A youth had been killed in firing which took place in Sopore on Monday. AFP Representational image. AFP Kashmir, says Rao Inderjit Singh, Minister of State (MoS) for Defence, is under control and has improved over the years. He credits the armed forces for not letting the situation to go out of hand. What he doesn't admit is that this 'control' is seen by many young Kashmiris as the raison d'etre for many to join a new face of militancy, even though many who started the movement and laid its foundations are now returning home, fatigued and seeking out a normal life. Most often, analysts say, what leads to young men disappearing and joining militants' ranks is the killings, human rights violations and intolerance for dissent in Kashmir. What slowly translates into anger finally leads towards the path of militancy. Just this Tuesday, an indefinite curfew was imposed in Sopore town following the death of a youth named Arshad Ahmed in firing by the security forces. Since then, police and para-military forces have blocked all roads leading to Sopore with coils of concertina wires. The killing of this youth, according to noted political commentator Shujaat Bukhari, is standing testimony to how Kashmiri society, particularly the youth, are identifying themselves with a new surge of violence. 'Arshad Ahmad was not part of a group that was demonstrating against the breakdown in power supply He was part of a group that was protesting against the killing of a militant. His killing is a grim reminder of how the state has lost control over its forces,' Bukhari says. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the killing of protesters leads to a ferment of separatism in the minds of the young, it has been evident following every killing in Kashmir since 2008, when the Valley was in flames. Mehbooba Mufti, Opposition leader and president of the Peoples Democratic Party, says people get emotional after encounters. She has expressed her concern over reports that educated youth are joining militants' ranks in both north and south Kashmir. For her, the reason behind this gradual rise in the number of educated youngsters joining militancy is the failure of institutional injustice, political processes and the continuing atrocities that force the young to believe they have no other option but violence. 'I think of this incident (the killing of Arshad Ahmed) and the Tral incident where a militant's mother came on record saying her son was forced to pick up guns because of atrocities and I know all of us should be concerned about whether we aren't pushing our youth on the path of militancy due to excesses,' she said. On Monday, during the Sopore encounter in Krankshiven colony, police brought the mother of Javaid Ahmad Matoo, a local militant, to persuade her son to surrender. The mother shouted, tears rolling down her cheeks: 'Javida lejiya, Mouj Karta, surrender.' But the militant declined, and he managed to flee from the encounter site. Such an occasion, says Wani's mother, should never come to her.