If anything, the popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s first death anniversary on July 8 showed how little Kashmir has changed over the past year. It took an unprecedented security lockdown for the government to ensure that the anniversary passed off relatively peacefully. At Tral, Burhan’s hometown, Government didn’t let people gather at the sprawling Eidgah bordering Martyr’s Graveyard. The attempts by people to assemble elsewhere in Valley which could have billowed up into massive protests were aborted by police.
Separatists had issued a weeklong protest programme called Hafta-e-Shohada (Martyrs Week) beginning from July 6 with a shutdown on the death anniversary and on July 13, the latter in memory of the 31 civilians killed during a protest against the then Maharaja Hari Singh. On other days people were urged to visit the families of the militants and the civilians killed over the past year. A similar roster was also issued for Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
Though strict security measures by the government pre-empted an apprehended mass protest on the day, Burhan’s impact on Kashmir now far transcends the law and order problem his anniversary might have created. The past year has witnessed a complete transformation of the separatist movement in Kashmir. In South Kashmir alone, more than a hundred youth have joined militancy, doubling the number of militants from an average of 150 over the past five years. The already conspicuous public support has become uninhibited and endemic. From its earlier display during funerals, the public support is now manifested in the protests near the encounter sites with people willing to throw their lives on the line to help militants escape.
What is more, the militancy which until his death stayed strictly ideologically neutral has taken a fancy to one. Or so it seems. The commander who succeeded Burhan as the head of Hizbul Mujahideen and has since quit the outfit over ideological differences talks about subsuming Azadi struggle to the pursuit of a caliphate. He says he has no links with ISIS or Al Qaeda but is not against them. He is against allegiance to Pakistan nor does he approve of the hoisting of Pakistan flags or draping militant coffins with them. And on being rebuffed by the PoK based top Hizbul Mujahideen leadership for his views he exited Hurriyat and has since decided to lead an independent outfit.
This division was in play in the run up to Burhan’s anniversary with both groups issuing a video message outlining their ideological worldview. In his video, Musa said Burhan fought for “the superiority of Islam,” and that he was “never a follower of tanzeem (group)”.
However, on the other hand, in his message, the commander of Hizbul Mujahideen Yasin Yatoo indirectly challenged the Musa’s position. “We are fighting for Azadi for the sake of Islam. There is no confusion in this regard. Now if in this day and age anybody tries to start this discussion then about him we can only say that either he has some confusion about his belief and faith or he is wittingly or unwittingly playing in the hands of some force,” Yatoo said. “Praise be to God, there is otherwise no confusion in the ranks of Mujahideen on the issue”.
This ideological divergence in militant ranks is something that is new and therefore yet to unfold in all its aspects. In Kashmir, many people don’t see this contestation for real and are more inclined to hold their judgement until they have seen it play out for some more time. The refrain is that there is so much that is stereotypical about this narrative that it is difficult not to doubt its authenticity.
Interestingly, both the groups claim Burhan as their inspiration and the ideological forerunner. This has turned Burhan into an overarching symbol which can be arbitrarily drawn upon to legitimize the radical courses of militant and political action in pursuit of Kashmir’s freedom.