The killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani may have triggered violent protests, but it is unlikely to unleash the horror of the 1990s when militancy was at its peak in Jammu and Kashmir, said India’s top military commander in the state.
Wani, who had come to symbolise the face of local militancy, was killed on Friday and the ensuing violence has claimed the lives of at least 24 people.
Speaking exclusively to HT, northern army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda said “some reaction” was expected to the 22-year-old Wani’s death. He, however, said it wasn’t likely to trigger a surge in recruitment of local militants.
“We have to wait and watch. I don’t think it will transform into a spike in recruitment. Local militancy is at its lowest level and things have changed significantly between the 1990s and now,” said Hooda. But he did not rule out “a little bit of sway.”
The Udhampur-based Northern Command is the nerve-centre of the army’s counter-terrorism operations.
“We are hopeful that the phase will soon pass,” he said.
After the killing of 23-year-old JKLF founder Ashfaq Majid Wani in 1990, more than 100 young men died in violent protests. Compared to more than 6,000 militants who operated in the state in the 1990s, the figure is currently pegged at around 200.
Wani used social media to recruit young militants and security agencies were of the view that the youth were swayed by the images he posted online.
“Social media is a huge challenge from the point of view of recruitment and radicalisation. There’s a need to monitor that space and see what’s going on. Also, we need to figure out how we can use it for our own purpose,” he said.
Asked to assess the prevailing situation in Kashmir, Hooda said, “It’s improving and things are calming down.”
On Monday, there was some respite for Amarnath pilgrims who had been stranded for two days following the outrage over Wani’s death.
“More than 20,000 pilgrims were stranded at Baltal for two days after completing their yatra. We were able to move them out. For others, the yatra may resume soon. The army’s effort is to ensure that things return to normal soon,” he said.
The army said there had been a sharp decline in the number of militants in the Valley as the force had tightened its counter-infiltration posture over the years.
“They are having a hard time sneaking in. So the local network is under pressure to keep militancy alive. That’s where the Burhan Wanis come in,” said a senior officer at the Army headquarters here.
He said the Valley had seen far more dreaded militants but the social media had “exalted Wani’s status.”