Glamour, Gadgets And Social Media: Hizbul Mujahideen Hard Sells Militancy To Kashmir's Youth

15 August 2015
Sandipan Sharma

Srinagar: South Kashmir is abuzz with a new recruitment policy. Rumour has it that Burhan Wani, 'regional commander' of Hizbul Mujaheedin, will recruit fresh militants from August 21. His lieutenants have spread the word that Burhan will offer Rs 35,000 as salary to anybody who is willing to join his outfit. Only those who have cleared class X can apply. Burhan has been active in Tral, known as Kandahar locally since it is the favourite hideout of terrorists, for nearly five years. Son of a government school principal, Burhan is among the most dreaded militants of south Kashmir. Some call him the face of terror in villages south of Srinagar. He carries a reward of Rs 10 lakh on his head. For several years, Burhan and other Hizb commanders depended on terrorists trained in Pakistan to swell their ranks. Now he has found a new tool to attract local youth: social media. Burhan is active on Facebook; he has several websites and fan pages under names like Tiger Tral, HM Tral, Burhan Trali (the names keep changing) and uses Whatsapp effectively to spread his message. For the past six months, Burhan has been releasing videos, photographs and messages through the net and mobile phones to snare youth. In the videos, young men in battle fatigues are seen prancing around with guns, playing with gay abandon in orchards and reading namaz. In some of the pictures he posts, the militants do not even bother to cover their face. They love to reveal their identity. Burhan is the face of new-age terrorism in the Valley. He has become a symbol of the change in the psyche of youth of south Kashmir, who are becoming increasingly vulnerable to jihadi recruiters. 'Kashmir youth no longer need to go to Pakistan for training and indoctrination. It is being imparted on their computers and mobiles these days,' says a senior official of the state. The strategy is simple and deadly. Militants like Burhan now sell terrorism as a mix of risk-free employment and heroism. When he is seen in videos in the company of youth, with fancy weapons, wandering around nonchalantly, it convinces others that militancy is a glamorous profession that has social sanction and carries minimum risk. Heroism is in-built. A few days ago, when Burhan's brother was killed in an encounter with security agencies, hundreds of youth turned up for the funeral. They jostled to click the slain youth's picture; some even tried to click selfies. Burhan's father laments he dreamt of his sons as police officers and bureaucrats, but they turned into militants. But, many youth see him as a role-model and his father as an impediment to his exalted mission. Burhan's case required a detailed analysis because there are fears that militancy is on the rise in south Kashmir, especially in villages and towns of Pulwama and Anantnag districts. After years of calm, militants have started striking with alarming regularity, prompting fears of a return to the dark decade of the 90s. But, are the security agencies equipped with the tools to deal with the new-age militants and his online propaganda tools? Burhan's case suggests that militants are ahead of Indian agencies in this war. In the past six months, police have not been able to track down the source of even a single video or photograph released by militants. Undeterred, they continue to target vulnerable youth with their online propaganda. Militants are evolving, their strategies are changing. A senior journalist with an Urdu channel doesn't want to be quoted, but he gives a detailed account of home-grown terror in Kashmir. 'The commanders now don't waste time on sending youngsters to Pakistan. They first ask them to get a weapon. Then they assign them a target. Those who clear the first two stages are recruited. This serves an ulterior purpose: once a youngster carries out a strike, he can't go back. Loyalty is guaranteed,' he says. Just a few months ago, Kashmir was talking about a recruitment policy promised by the PDP-BJP government. For a while it appeared to be ready for a roll out before getting dumped, mainly because of lack of finances. Kashmir doesn't offer too many opportunities for the youth. The private sector fled to Jammu after the unrest in 2008; new investments are rare; the only jobs available are in the media and telecom industry, where opportunities are scarce. Militants have stepped into this vacuum, targeting unemployment, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the youth to misplaced ideals like martyrdom and immortality. The Indian government needs to come up with a counter offer before militancy becomes a vocation of choice; and Burhan the preferred recruiter.