Burhan Wani: harbinger of tech-savvy militancy

By Dr. Javid Iqbal :

Burhan Wani, harbinger of techno-savvy militancy is no more. Widely called poster boy of new-age militancy, he bade adieu to his home in 2010, at the tender age of 16. The stimulus to leave home and join militancy was provided reportedly by harsh treatment meted to Burhan and his brother by armed forces personnel. They were asked to fetch cigarettes, an attitude they resented. Burhan, it is said, promised reprisal. Whatever the truth of it, such an  arrogant attitude of some armed forces personnel has been experienced by many in multiple interactions, which is highly unfortunate. Whether this was the only stimulus that motivated Burhan or there were other factors, the net result was the phenomenon that he turned into over next six years, when he met his end, aged barely 22 years.

Burhan Wani used all available tools that modern technology provides to become the poster-boy of new-age militancy. He earned recruits to the cause he held dear; the ground situation supported his quest. The initial wave of militancy that started in 1989-90 had been controlled to a large extent by the turn of the century and by 2004-05 it was waning. Militant forces led by the likes of Yaseen Malik had been lured to lay down arms with promises of exploring a peaceful solution to Kashmir dispute. The luring effort was led by members of Indian civil society with Kuldip Nayar and his other associates amongst them. The ruling establishment in Delhi promised the moon.

Former PM—Narshima Rao related short of Azadi, sky being the limit. Vajpayee talked of talking within the ambit of ‘Insaniyat’ if not within Indian constitution. And, Manmohan Singh said neighbours cannot be changed, which implied living in peace with the countries in neighbourhood, mainly Pakistan. Pakistan mainly, as strained relations with the country contribute largely to the perpetuation of Kashmir dispute, and the resultant strains in South Asian region. The strains that have led to South Asia turning nuclear, with atomic arsenal in possession of India and Pakistan, the strains where India’s cold start doctrine is designed to be met by nuclear deterrent. Pakistan being outpaced in conventional warfare feels, she may have no option but to resort to nuclear option, if attacked.

South Asia has come to this sad pass, due to lack of political will. The dialogue between India and Pakistan by fits and starts has mostly been a dialogue of deaf and dumb. India in her pronouncements expresses willingness to discuss Kashmir, however remains shy of sincerely addressing it. Instead, India over years sought concessions on Trade, Tariff and Transit. Comparatively, a much larger economy India in search of markets in Afghanistan and Central Asian countries opts to widen economic gains, limiting concessions to semantics. The semantics, otherwise known as confidence building measures (CMB’s) did come to fore off and on, such as cross LoC travel and trade at some points, however it remained insignificant. Insignificant to an extent, where even exchange rate for goods traded could not be settled over a decade, and still remains in limbo.

As it stands, nobody in his right senses could be against trade between neighbouring countries, as well as regional hiking of trade. Trade between countries in any region ultimately has a rich windfall for masses; however brushing aside live disputes, such as Kashmir cannot be a recipe for hiking trade in the region. The dialogue has to be composite, in order to be productive. Lack of meaningful dialogue over a decade of comparative peace ultimately resulted in Burhan Wani finding a fertile ground for propagation and widening of new-age militancy. In social strata, political leaders, civil society members, writers, columnists in Kashmir have been warning repeatedly over the last decade to make most of the prevailing peace and take meaningful steps to resolve the conflict. However, the peaceful motives fell on deaf years. And, it is fast getting back to the tense years of 1990’s.

As I note these lines on the evening of a tense Saturday, with reports of more and more deaths coming in, I am one of the thousands worried over what the future holds. The phenomenon of Burhan Wani is not going to die with his death, given the prevailing conditions. Not only that there is no visible effort to resolve the conflict, on the contrary signs are ominous. Instead of resolving the conflict meaningfully, the efforts to provide settlements to migrant population, thrust to create Sanik conies, separate clusters for Kashmiri pandits, referring transfer of property bill to select committee in JK legislature are ominous signs, recipe for disaster, as well as steps to fuel militancy.

The efforts of some Indian channels to dent the image of Burhan Wani by attributing base motives might fetch them some additional viewers; in Kashmir it is going to have an adverse effect. Dead Burhan Wani might prove to be a greater problem for agencies to tackle than a living one, as is being widely suggested.

Kashmir is by any measure a political question that needs political will to settle. Short of it, there could be one Burhan Wani or another finding reason enough to resort to militancy with telling effect.

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]

The author is doctor in medicine, a social activist, and a senior columnist