Driven by ideology, sons of slain militants in Kashmir are taking up arms
Shopian: In the predawn hours of May 3, 2018, a gunfight raged Malibug village of Shopian district in south Kashmir. The gunfight concluded with the killing of three Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militants including a top commander, Tariq Ahmad Sheikh, 23. Tariq had followed to choose his father’s footsteps, who was a militant in the 1990s when militancy in the restive valley was in its initial stages. His father, Shameem Ahmad Sheikh, crossed the Line of Control for arms training in Pakistan administered Kashmir. He met the same fate. But unlike his father, Tariq was a homegrown militant.
The new age homegrown militancy in the restive valley which has boomed over the past few years is both worrying and baffling at the same time. The children of many slain militants are following their footsteps and picking up arms.
Tariq used to be summoned whenever any militancy-related incident occurred: Stepbrother
Recalling those fateful days of the 90s, Nazir Ahmad Sheikh, stepfather of Tariq, said that he left home suddenly without confiding his plan with anyone to cross the border. The family doesn’t remember the exact date of Shameem’s departure but remember that it was during the holy month of Ramzan in 1990. After getting trained across the Line of Control(LoC), Shameem remained active for three years before being killed on January 14, 1994. Two months later, the Shameem’s widow, Fatima Banoo, gave birth to a baby boy and named him Tariq.
“He (Tariq) faced tough times during his childhood,” said Inayat Ahmad, his stepbrother, while accusing the armed forces of torturing and harassing him, which pushed him into militancy.
“Whenever there was any militancy-related incident, Tariq used to be summoned,” added Inayat.
Despite the family’s best attempts, they could not save him from the clutches of militancy. They sent him to a distant seminary, where he became a preacher. He was then summoned and tortured in the local army camp, claimed Inayat.
Ultimately, on March 30, 2018, Tariq joined the militant forces, following his father’s footsteps, only to return as a corpse.
The militants, when they are ordinary citizens are regularly summoned for questioning or are being tortured, take to the path chosen by their father as the best way to resist. According to media reports, in southern Kashmir, families of militants are regularly raided or have their family members arrested, and in many cases, the houses of militants were vandalised, and their family members assaulted severely. Last year, militant outfits in retaliation abducted over a dozen of kin of police officers who were later released safely.
Failure of state pushing youth to militancy: Professor
23-year old Ishfaq Ahmad Wani’s family in Koil village of Pulwama attempted to woo him back from militancy, after his photo with an AK-47 went viral on social media. His mother appealed for his return but to no avail. An MBA holder, he had left a high-paying job at a bank and started a successful business. His decision to join Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) still baffles his family and more so his brother, from whom he never kept any secrets.
“I was sure, he will come back because he never used to do anything without telling me, but this time the scene was different,” said Aijaz, his brother. Aijaz regrets that he could not read the clues his brother gave him, consequently missing a chance to persuade him not to take a step towards extremism. His friends too, were left surprised, who remember him as a hardworking and compassionate person.
Ishfaq returned dead on December 28 in 2018, wearing blood-soaked camouflage army fatigues after 161 days of joining. He was lowered in a grave next to his father’s. His father, Mohammad Yousuf Wani was district commander of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militant outfit and had crossed to the other side of Kashmir in 1991 for arms training. Ishfaq was born while his father was in Pakistan and he was a month-old baby when his father returned with a gun, recounted his mother, Rafiqa.
Wani was arrested in 1994 and tortured. During the interrogations, his left leg got damaged, which made Wani limp. He was released after a year, but he joined his previous militant organisation within the next six days. Finally, on August 31, 1996, Wani along with two other militants was killed in an encounter in Pingelan village of Pulwama district.
Farah Qayoom, Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology in the University of Kashmir, said that there are numerous reasons as to why the children of former militants to choose the path of their fathers. She pointed out that the first reason is primary socialisation, while explaining that the primary values come from father and once there is no father and it becomes a single-parent family and the son from his childhood would hear about the woes of his mother and at the same time is curious to find answers related to his father. “For these children, their fathers become role models, and the death of their fathers is celebrated as martyrdom,” she added.
She further pointed fingers at the role of the state in pushing these youth to militancy.
While pointing out that it is the failure of the state to address such cases despite being their primary responsibility, she said that the only give statutory rules and orders (meant for reservations in the Jammu and Kashmir government) and other ex-gratia to the children of people who were employed but the needs of the children of slain militants are not addressed. She feels that this isolates them, resulting in their failure to participate socially and economically in society. “Once the families of militants are raided, or the mother of these children is being questioned, the child stops seeing the state as a cruel one. These raids and summons could be justified for the state, but for the children it’s cruel,” she added.
Liyaqat became politically conscious while he was pursuing graduation: Brother
Not far away, at Bellow village of Pulwama, former divisional commander for Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Muneer Ahmad Wani was killed in what his family believes was a “staged encounter”. His son, Liyaqat Muneer too was killed in the nearby Tikken village after being holed up for hours in a residential house in the locality.
Imtiyaz Ahmad Wani, younger brother of Liyakat, stated that Muneer left his government job as a laboratory assistant in 1989 to receive arms training in Pakistan. He returned as Colonel Jameel on December 1990, his brother recounted. He was close to Hizb chief, Syed Salah-ud-Din, who was famous for his guerrilla strategies and remained active for nearly nine years
Imtiyaz said that Muneer was arrested by the armed forces on January 26, 1998, and was killed after four days. His son was only two when he was killed, and his wife had died a year before.
Imtiyaz mentioned that pellets hit Muneer in his right eye outside his house in Bellow during 2016 protests and he had to undergo two surgeries at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital. He was restless, while he was recuperating, remembered Imtiyaz. He also revealed that Muneer often used to talk about his father’s killing and had become politically conscious, while he was pursuing graduation at Government Degree College in Pulwama. Muneer took part in the 2016 street protests, which erupted after killing of Hizb commander, Burhan Wani, which is where he got injured.
Members of family asserted that he had attempted to join the militant ranks several times but was coaxed back to his home by the efforts of his family. “Every relative used to counsel him saying that he should look after his younger brother and forget about joining militant forces,” Imtiyaz said, while adding that he never listened to them and made countless attempts to join Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, a militant group which was headed by his deceased father in Kashmir at one point of time.
The family members said that Hizb-ul-Mujahideen had refused to recruit him knowing that he was an orphan and had to look after his family. Nevertheless, Muneer joined militant ranks on March 10 in 2018 after writing his final year examinations. A month later, his results were declared where he had secured 92 per cent marks.
“He called us up one day before he was killed, saying that he would come home the next day,” said Imtiyaz. He was killed in a gunfight at Tikken village in the wee hours of November 10, last year.
Sarabjit Singh Dhillon, an Army General, recently in a press conference promised a special rehabilitation for the militants who will shun the path of militancy. He also requested the mothers of these militants to stop them from choosing a life of militancy. He also announced that he would provide full rehabilitation to those who shun militancy.
[The author is a Shopian-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters]