Burhan Wani: ‘Facebook militant’, ‘Indian agent’ and now hero for separatist cause

Burhan Wani, the deceased Hizbul Mujahideen commander who has ostensibly set the Kashmir valley on fire, was not always regarded as a hero by the common folk of Kashmir despite his popularity on social media, the Times of India reported on Tuesday.

Irrespective of his status, clashes continued in the Kashmir Valley on Monday, even as two more people succumbed to injuries incurred in the violence over the weekend, bringing the number of those killed to 30.

The situation has become so tense that the Union government decided on Monday to send 800 additional Central Reserve Police Force personnel to the state. Further, in wake of the violence, National Security Advisor A K Doval has cut short his Africa visit and returned home.

Hero, ‘paper tiger’ or ‘Indian agent’

However, did Wani’s name always evince such a reaction from the people of Kashmir?

According to the ToI report, common Kashmiris used to call Wani an “Indian agent” just a few months back.

The security forces stationed in the Valley, for their part, would have described him as a “paper tiger”, the report added.

However, once Wani was killed by security forces on Friday, the Union Home Ministry lauded it as a “big setback to home grown militancy”. According to ministry sources, it was a big achievement because Wani, who has been described by media reports as the “poster boy of militancy” in Kashmir, was becoming an icon — one who could attract the youth of the state towards militancy.

In death, Wani seems to have gained real notoriety, more so than his social media posts and pictures earned him. As the ToI report describes it: “… Common Kashmiris propped up Wani along with the likes of JKLF’s (Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front’s) Ashfaq Majeed Wani, an ‘iconic martyr’ of the 1990 Kashmir militancy.”

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah agrees that Wani, in death, has become an icon.

“Aftr many yrs (years) I hear slogans for “Azadi” resonate from the mosque in my uptown Srinagar locality. Kashmir’s disaffected got a new icon y’day (yesterday). Mark my words – Burhan’s ability to recruit in to militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media,” Omar said in a series of tweets.

Citing an anonymous stone-pelter from two months ago, the ToI report illustrates the point. “If he were a real mujahid, he would’ve been caught or killed. Why are the forces letting him post pictures and videos on Facebook when they censor most ‘azadi’ groups? He’s their guy!”

Dead or alive

The people of the valley don’t seem to be the only ones who changed their minds about Wani.

Subsequent to Wani’s death, sources in the Union Home Ministry termed the encounter as genuine and said that it would have been extremely difficult to arrest Wani or capture him alive.

While the message from the ministry is that allowing him to continue his operations would have made him into an icon, the security agencies had held a different view a few months back — Wani would become a bigger icon if he were to be killed.

The ToI report quotes an officer in South Kashmir from back then, saying that Wani was “a Facebook militant” and that the forces would like to “capture him alive”.

Another officer, the report added, said that Wani had not been “militant material” and that in killing him India had fallen into a “Pakistani trap”. The officer said that Pakistan’s aim was to prop up Wani as an icon for the “new generation in Kashmir” and added that Pakistan has succeeded in doing that with Wani’s death.

Burhan Wani: ‘Facebook militant’, ‘Indian agent’ and now hero for separatist cause

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