“As an engineering student, I always wanted to visit the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). I visited the IIT in Indore and Delhi and also the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Indore in August. It was very inspiring," Bilqees Habib, an engineering student from SSM College at Pattan in Baramulla says in a YouTube video.
Students from SSM College at Pattan in Baramulla. HT/Photo
Another video shows three Kashmiri schoolgirls talking about army's talent hunt competition. A Twitter post shows interviews of fresh graduates being held at Handwara and Kulgam by Tata Consultancy Services as part of army's Udaan project and a Facebook community page --- Indian Patriots 2015 --- displays pictures of army rescuing Kashmiris during 2014 floods says, “your pain was personal to us.”
The war on terror in Kashmir is being fought as much in the virtual world as real. And the main protagonists on both sides are Valley’s aspirational youth. Inspired by the Islamic State (IS), which has unleashed a social media war on the west, militant groups such as Hizbul Mujahideen are luring young Kashmiris to join the “holy war” through social media.
In his video and audio clips, Hizb’s top commander in Kashmir, Burhan Wani, speaks in chaste Kashmiri to cash in on the “home-grown” militant feeling and portray a glamorous image to attract more recruits to their movement. To face the new challenge, the army, too, is trying to counter the jehadi propaganda on social media through posts of Kashmiri students and youth speaking for its sadbhawana (goodwill) initiatives.
The additional directorate general of public information of the army which had joined the social media bandwagon in 2013 by launching its twitter handle -- @adgpi -- and a Facebook page, is not the only one helping the security forces in the Valley in the virtual war. YouTube videos posted by Kashmiri names and Whatsapp messages are also a part of all the goodwill hunting.
As it braces for a psychological warfare that is generating a frenzy of extreme opinions in the Valley, the army has ordered absolute restrain in militant operations on the ground. “It is a two-pronged approach to counter terror. First is to prevent infiltration and attack militant hideouts. Secondly, we have to win hearts and wean Valley’s people away from militancy. For this, we have to ensure minimum collateral damage in counter-terror operations, which means there should be no indiscriminate firing to prevent civilian casualties,” army sources in Srinagar said.
This approach of reducing collateral damage has, however, seen militants using populated areas as hideouts or for terror strikes. But it is the reach of the virtual war that is a bigger challenge.