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North Kashmir most vulnerable as new wave of militancy sweeps Valley

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A photo of AMU scholar Mannan Wani carrying a gun had gone viral on social media, fuelling fears about highly-educated youths falling prey to militancy.

Lolab, Kupwara (North Kashmir): At the peak of militancy in the 1990s, the sound of bullets would often shatter the silence of the picturesque Lolab Valley in north Kashmir’s Kupwara. Despite the relentless violence and bloodshed, Bashir Ahmed Wani, a school teacher in Tikipora village, ensured that his two sons followed “the path of knowledge”.

Bashir Ahmed Wani, Mannan Wani’s father / Rahiba Parveen

However, all hell broke loose on 7 January when he learnt that his son Mannan Wani, a PhD scholar at Aligarh Muslim University, had “taken to the path of militancy”. A photo of Mannan carrying a gun had gone viral on social media, fuelling fears about highly educated youths from north Kashmir falling prey to militancy.

After Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed on 8 July 2016, a new wave of militancy has swept the Kashmir Valley, especially south Kashmir, Burhan’s hometown. Local youths from across villages took up arms to fight security forces.

Now, a lack of progress in the peace process initiated by the Centre, along with the Modi government’s muscular policy against militants, is seen to be contributing to the revival of militancy in the Valley.

Viral image of AMU student Mannan Wani

Unlike south Kashmir, the number of local militants in the north has been few and far between. Instead, this region is said to be infested with foreign militants from outfits such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad and Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami, who frequently target security forces.

“There is absolutely no recruitment of local militants in Kupwara district. Only Mannan’s case got reported from here, but he was in AMU from where he reportedly joined the militant group,” Farooq Qaisar, additional superintendent of police, told The Print.

“This is the first case in the past three years,” Qaisar added.

A bolt from the blue

A memento presented to Burhan Wani for his speech on feminism in AMU | Rahiba Parveen

The news of Mannan joining the Hizbul had left his father “devastated”.

“This was incomprehensible,” said Bashir, who has taught Urdu literature in the village school for three decades now.

“He (Mannan) was a genius. He was not any ordinary boy. How could he do this to me?” Bashir asked.

After completing his BSc from Amar Singh College in Srinagar, Mannan pursued his M.Sc., and M.Phil., in geology at AMU. He was three months away from getting his Ph.D., degree, according to his family.

A missing report was filed at a police station nearby. “We were sitting home when the phone rang on 7 January to break the bad news,” said Bashir.

Militancy in north Kashmir

Apart from Mannan, there is another militant, Ahmed Tedwa, who is active in north Kashmir, said ASP Farooq Qaisar.

“He is more of a guide to foreign militants. He keeps going in and out (cross border). All he does is help foreigners as a guide,” Qaisar added.

Commenting on the growing number of foreign militants in north Kashmir, Lt. Gen. (retd) Syed Ata Hasnain, a former GOC of Srinagar-based 15 Corps, said, “It could be because of the porous border.”

He explained that the terrain of the border in north Kashmir makes it possible for the militants from Pakistan to cross over.

“The border alignment at Line of Control (LoC) starts from Gulmarg and goes up to Kaobal Gali  in Gurez. From Gulmarg to Uri, the area is devoid of cover and it’s not easy to infiltrate,” Hasnain said.

“In Uri, from Haji Peer to Kala Pahar, infiltration is possible because the height is between 4,000 and 14,000 feet; the ground is extremely rugged and at least some routes are open through the year,” he added.

“Infiltration is also possible through Leepa, Tangdhar, Machil, Keran and all these routes lead straight to forested areas,” Hasnain told ThePrint.

While infiltration is difficult during peak winter because of heavy snowfall, Hasnain said militants sneak into the Valley during summer and take shelter in forest areas before moving to “safer havens”.

“The forests of Lolab Valley and Handwara are locations where big encounters usually take place,” said the former top army officer.

Inspector General of Police of Kashmir range Swayam Prakash Pani also confirmed the presence of foreign militants in north Kashmir.

In October last year, two Indian Air Force commandos were killed in an encounter at Bandipora. In November, six LeT militants were killed in Hajin, Bandipora.

Hajin was once the hub of counter insurgents or Ikhwan but today, it a hub for foreign militants.

In December, three more LeT militants were shot dead in Unisoo, Handwara.

With thousands of people joining the funerals of foreign militants, the local support to terror outfits is quite visible in the Valley, say security experts.

Will Mannan become north Kashmir’s Burhan?

A team of Jammu and Kashmir Police was sent to AMU to find out what influenced Mannan to join a militant group.

“He was a bright student. We sent a team to the university and found out that he never talked about any radical issue. He was of a liberal kind,” said Qaisar.

“There is no confirmation on his whereabouts except the photos on internet. He never operated in north Kashmir but there are rumours about his presence in south Kashmir,” the police officer maintained.

Recalling a discussion he had with Mannan, Bashir said he was like any other Kashmiri boy. “He felt the pain on the street.”

“He asked me once, if there is injustice on the road, you must go out and stand by your people,” Bashir said.

According to Hasnain, north Kashmir is relatively calm since many youths have joined Indian armed forces.

However, on the way to Kupwara from Baramulla, one could find Mannan’s name on everyone’s lips, perhaps a sign of the danger lurking behind the relatively calm Lolab Valley.

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