By Farooq Wani
On November 15, this year,17-year-old Nadeem Ahmad, a high school student, was abducted by militants in Shopian, South Kashmir, a hotbed of militancy in the Himalayan valley. The next day, the teenager’s bullet-ridden body was found in an orchard in a village close to where he lived. Hours after the body was discovered, a video surfaced on social media showing gunmen firing a volley of bullets into the victim.Another post showed Nadeem shortly before his death, confessing that he had shared information about two insurgents with the Indian army.
A similar video showing a militant slitting the throat of another young man sent shock waves across the region. The pictures showed the blood-soaked face of the victim, identified as19-year-old Huzaif Ashraf Kuttay, also a resident of southern Kashmir. Huzaif,a baker by profession, was abducted on November, 16 by armed men, along with his two cousins. The cousins were later released but Huzaif was killed.
At his two-story home in Safangari village in Shopian, Manzoor Ahmad Bhat, aged 50, is devastated. Bhat’s son Nadeem was the first whose execution was posted on social media. In another village in the nearby district Kulgam, the family of19-year-old Huzaif Ashraf — the other victim — is in shock. “We do not know why he was killed, we want to know the truth,” Huzaif’s uncle Muhammad Amin Ganai said. “We saw a video of my son’s dead body on the internet,” Huzaif’s father Mohammed Ashraf said, adding, “Those who killed my son, I want to ask them, why was he killed. We deserve an answer atleast.”
The incidents are undoubtedly a gross violation of human rights and barbaric in nature. Kashmir’s largest armed group, Hizbul Mujahedeen, which claimed responsibility for the murders, justified its stance shortly after the incidents took place. “From today, we’ll only be exposing videos of death. And whoever betrays our movement will face the same consequences,” Riyaz Naikoo, the outfit’s commander said in a clear warning to the so-called “informers,” adding that the group’s”do or die” squad had executed the men.
According to the police, the execution videos released by the insurgents were a new phenomenon in Kashmir’s two-decade-long insurgency and made with the aim of frightening local people.”I think this is part of a media blitzkrieg strategy to instil terror.Also, they [the militants] are trying to copy Islamic State’s strategy of beheading and other means of brutal killings.”A top police official said “These crimes are gruesome” and added that propaganda related to the same was also a criminal activity. “The cases have already been registered. There are some [social media] handles from where such content is propagating. I am sure that with the help of service providers, we will be able to nail them,” he added.
Earlier data suggests that militants have abducted 12 people, killing four of them, including a former police officer. The rest were set free. Similar incidents occurred in August, when armed gunmen abducted several policemen, threatening to kill them if they didn’t quit their jobs.
Ajai Sahni, an expert on counterinsurgency and the executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, said that the number of such killings has increased over the past two years. “They (militants) have always targeted people sympathetic to state agencies, from the beginning of the militancy. The difference this time is that they have put the videos on social media,” he said.
“When militants come under a lot of security force pressure in narrowly targeted operations, they turn to people. The narrowly targeted operations are always intelligence based,” he added.
“This is to spread fear in a totally chaotic situation. I think, in these cases, social media is being used negatively. During the current government’s rule in India, videos of the lynching of Muslims were being circulated on social media and that was just to create fear among the population in a similar way,” he explained.
Shopian has been riddled with tension since 2016, when Burhan Wani, a 21-year-old commander of the Hizbul Mujahedeen was killed by forces, prompting several months of civil unrest and an increase in armed combat between security forces and militant groups. According to a recent report, the number of people killed in the region in 2018 is the highest in the last nine years. The number included 144 civilians, 234 militants and 142 security personnel. Earlier, forces launched an operation ‘All out’ to kill militants to bring normalcy in the region.
“The barbaric policy of militants abducting and killing innocent civilians that has been witnessed in recent times is something to be worried about. It, undoubtedly, is being pursued on orders from across the border. The intention is to create an aura of fear among the common people who are no longer providing to militancy the kind of support that is required for its sustenance, said Jaibans Singh, a reputed defence and security expert.
“There is a need for a joint effort by the people and security forces to negate this challenge. Vigilance has to be increased and efforts to root out militancy intensified. Effort has to be made to wean the Kashmir youth away from the path of militancy,” he added
Kashmir is a pending dispute between India and Pakistan. The two countries have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over the region, which they both claim in full but rule in part. Kashmir has witnessed heavy unrest since 1989, with some separatist groups demanding a sovereign nation and others calling for a merger with Pakistan. Pakistan has been training and arming the militants and sending them to Kashmir where they have spread debilitating levels of violence. The protracted unrest in the region has claimed tens of thousands of lives in the last three decades. It is time now for all stakeholders to join hands and save the innocent people, especially the youth, from being brutalised and killed.
*Farooq Wani is a Kashmir senior journalist , columnist and political commentator