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Gun salutes, slogans by militants at funerals a new flashpoint in Kashmir conflict

Funerals of slain militants often see huge turnouts and several rounds of prayers.

india Updated: Aug 03, 2017 07:24 IST
Abhishek Saha
Abhishek Saha
Hindustan Times, Srinagar
Kashmir,Kashmir conflict,Lashkar-e-Taiba
Suspected militants brandish their guns and shout slogans at the funeral of a slain colleague at Qoimoh in Kulgam district of south Kashmir.(PTI File Photo)

Militants attending the public funeral of their slain colleagues and offering gun salutes has been a trend for some time now. But over the last few months, not only has the frequency of such appearances increased, they are getting brazen like never before, firing several rounds in the air from their weapons and mingling with the crowd in full glare of cameras.

Abu Dujana, the top Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant in Kashmir killed by security forces on Wednesday, had reportedly attended the funeral of Hizbul Mujahedeen (HM) commander Burhan Wani on July 9 last year.

This Sunday, Riyaz Naikoo, a 30-year-old A++ category militant from south Kashmir, appeared at the funeral of a slain militant Shariq Ahmad Sheikh in a village in Pulwama district. Dressed in a grey T-shirt and brandishing an assault rifle, Naikoo was filmed addressing a large gathering of villagers about his “struggle for freedom from India”, before hurriedly making his way out of the funeral.

In the last three months, Naikoo’s was the fourth militant presence at the funerals of slain insurgents.

“If we do anything when they come to funerals amidst a large gathering, there will be heavy civilian casualties. And, I do not want civilian casualties,” director general of state police, SP Vaid told Hindustan Times. Vaid adds that forces will continue neutralising militants, which will automatically lead to stop in their appearance at funerals.

People shout slogans as they gather around the body of suspected militant Shabir Ahmad Mir during his funeral in Mahind village in south Kashmir's Anantnag district on July 30. (REUTERS)

Earlier, most militants used to avoid the cameras, quietly appearing at funerals and leaving soon after giving a “gun salute”. But now, photos their brazen appearances are splashed across newspapers and on television screens.

On May 7, a group of four militants appeared at the funeral of slain insurgent Fayaz Ahmed alias Setha in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district, and fired several rounds in the air. Photographs of all four dressed in pherans (traditional overcoat) and automatic rifles in hands, made to the front pages of many newspapers.

Funerals of slain militants often see huge turnouts and several rounds of prayers. Security sources say militants attend these for several reasons: first, to “express their love for their departed accomplices”, second “spread propaganda and garner support for militancy” and third, as a show of strength against frequent neutralisation by forces.

The trend of militants flaunting themselves on social media through photos and videos was started by Wani.

“In the early 90s, militants used to appear in public without fear. But over the years, the trend changed,” said Kashmiri political scientist Noor Ahmed Baba.

“Today, post-Burhan Wani, civilian support for militants is at a peak. They rush towards encounter sites in an attempt to save them and often end up losing their lives. Militants know this and therefore they come without any fear,” explains journalist Sheikh Mushtaq, adding that it means the militants trust the villagers.

The appearance of militants in funerals no doubt as rattled sections of the establishment and the issue was even discussed in Parliament on July 19.

First Published: Aug 03, 2017 07:08 IST