File image of Mannan Wani | Facebook
File image of Mannan Wani | Facebook
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When youngsters join militancy, photos of them armed with rifles are shared on social media to let the world know, and spread the message of terror.

Srinagar: Once a young Kashmiri man is recruited as a militant, a photograph of him holding a gun is posted on social media, mostly Facebook. The aim is to inform his family and friends, and the public in general, about the “path” he has chosen.

Thus goes militancy’s newest chapter in the Valley, where social media has become the most potent messenger of militants, and a far bigger threat than the Islamic State (IS) terror group according to security forces. Union home secretary Rajiv Gauba was told as much when he visited the Valley this week.

While the Ministry of Home Affairs has said that ISIS does not exist in Kashmir, security agencies have also affirmed that Islamic State has no significance in Kashmir although IS flags were waved occasionally.

The trend of using social media can be traced back to Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, who was killed in an encounter with security forces on 8 July 2016. Wani had arrived on the scene as the face of the new militant, using Facebook to deliver his message and flooding his account with photographs of himself with guns. His posts and messages on Facebook were popular among the youth.

The cyber cell of the Jammu & Kashmir police has been at work trying to identify youngsters who express support for or glorify militants online, but militants continue to log in by the dozen:

  • On Wednesday, a photograph of Srinagar’s Fahad Mushtaq Waza, 18, armed, went viral, suggesting he had joined militancy. He had left home last Friday, saying he was going for ‘jamaat’. His family has made an appeal through the media for his return. Another boy, Rouf Ahmad Khanday from Dooru, Anantnag, in South Kashmir was also reported to have joined Hizbul Mujahideen after his picture went viral on the same day. He was missing since March 8.
  • On 24 March, days after Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai took over as the chief of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, his youngest son Junaid Ashraf announced on social media that he had become a militant. The MBA from University of Kashmir also posted a photo of himself holding an AK-47 rifle, which soon went viral.

Junaid is one of several highly qualified youngsters to have taken up arms of late.

  • In January this year, Mannan Wani, a PhD scholar at Aligarh Muslim University, appeared in a similar photograph. He had lost touch with his family days before the post was made

Videos posted on Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp are serving as efficient “propaganda” tools too, particularly in south Kashmir, seen as the hotbed of home-grown militants in the Valley. Purportedly posted by militants associated with Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the videos show training sessions as well as the harassment of those who the militants think support the state.

Posted last year, this video features 16 militants under training. Among other things, the purported trainer lists the “five principles” a militant ought to follow, including the right position, a strong hold on the gun, proper breathing, and control on the trigger and target.

Here, Hizbul Mujahideen’s south Kashmir commander Riaz Naikoo is seen talking about the mission of the militant outfit. He tells his companions to “take to this path with complete commitment or leave”, and talks about questions on whether their mission is Islamic or political.

Militants appear to be forcing the principal of the Pulwama girls’ higher secondary school to prohibit students from participating in a dance performance on Republic Day. When the principal replies it is a government order, the militants ask the administration “is forcing our girls to dance?” They then say any student who participates will be “dealt with after the Republic day”.

Three militants talking, one of whom is heard saying, “We will burn India, only Pakistan should flourish. We must pray that our militants should be well.”

ThePrint could not independently verify the source of these videos.

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  1. Many army officers have said, When a young man picks up a gun against the Indian state, his name gets inscribed on a bullet. Often, just a matter of months. The numbers of young Kashmiris doing so shows no signs of falling. It is all very well to say, We will hunt down the last militant. But that will not end Kashmir’s tragedy. Now too late to start a meaningful dialogue and outreach. However, for the next administration, of whatever composition, this should be very high on the agenda.

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