How handsome is the face of our brother,” reads a post on the Facebook page Tral: The Land of Martyrs. Under it is the picture of a bleary-eyed Burhan Wani, the Hizbul Mujahideen commander for south Kashmir, with his hands languidly clasped behind his head.
In the first 12 hours after it was uploaded, the post draws 900 likes and more than 60 comments, all of them exhibiting awe and a fawning admiration for Wani, who has emerged as the poster boy for a new generation of Kashmiri militants, credited with resuscitating a dying jihad in this part of the Valley.
Just 22, Wani joined Hizbul in the turbulent summer of 2010 when the Valley was in the throes of an extended spell of mass protests over the death of a teenager Tufail Mattu in police firing. A beating he received at a roadside army camp while running an errand for his family provoked him to join militancy three months after the incident.
“He was furious when he returned home. He wondered why he was beaten up when he had done nothing wrong,” recalls his grandfather Haji Ghulam Mohammad Wani, a grey-bearded former state government employee, who is proud of his grandson’s decision to take up arms. “He has always been a nice boy, who prayed five times, and an obedient son. Now that he has become a militant for a right cause, we stand by him.”
Five years on, operating from somewhere in the hills near his hometown Tral, Wani has changed the face of Kashmir militancy by giving it a robust online presence. What started with the occasional upload of his pictures holding a Kalashnikov has now become a deliberate, calibrated campaign to draw in more recruits. His group now puts up photographs with weapons dangling from their shoulders. They also post videos of their life in the hills. And they do all this without hiding their faces with masks but rather striking a pose, smiling and waving at the camera. Far from helping the security agencies to capture them, this online showing-off has helped the Hizbul cause.
If we go by the police figures, Wani is already gaining ground. For the first time in a decade, local militants have outnumbered foreigners in the Valley. Out of 142 active militants, 88 are locals and the rest are from Pakistan or Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (pok). And Wani’s area in south Kashmir has the highest concentration at 60— of the 33 youth who joined militancy in the past six months, 30 are from the south.
This year, around 29 militants have been eliminated in operations along the Line of Control and in the hinterland.
The police have admitted to the increase in new recruits joining militancy. “Yes, there has been some fresh recruitment,” Inspector General of Police, CID, Abdul Gani Lone told Tehelka. “We are looking at measures to tackle it effectively.”