By Bashaarat Masood
ON Monday, as thousands poured into Kulgam for the burial of Dawood Ahmad Sheikh, a Hizbul Mujahideen commander killed by security forces in an encounter the previous night, villagers were forced to delay the burial by at least 90 minutes — and conduct three funeral prayers.
While J&K police and the army have achieved significant success against militancy in south Kashmir in recent months, it is also facing a disturbing trend — growing support for militants in the form of a large number of mourners at their funerals.
“It is something that has been happening for a long time now. It is a matter of concern and we are looking into means and ways to control it,” Javed Mujtaba Gilani, Inspector General of Police, Kashmir said.
According to senior police officers, the new phenomenon has its origins in the glamourised version of militancy symbolised by its modern day poster boy, 21-year-old Hizbul commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani.
So much so, an officer said, that when militants are trapped, youth help them escape by assembling at encounter sites and hurling stones at security forces.
“This is a dangerous trend. The fact that people are out to help militants escape even by putting their own lives in danger is a real matter of concern. It indicates that something has really gone wrong somewhere,” said a senior counter-insurgency officer of J&K police.
In November, for instance, over 30,000 gathered in Kulgam for the funeral of Qasim, a top Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) commander and Udhampur attack mastermind. Residents of Kulgam even observed a shutdown for three days to protest his killing by security forces.
“This is a serious issue for us and it seems that a third generation is getting attracted towards the gun,” a top police officer told The Indian Express. “For quite sometime now, people in the valley had started to de-legitimise the gun. But what is happening now, is bringing back the relevance of gun as a medium of resistance. It is a big worry for us,” he said.
Qasim’s funeral, in fact, forced J&K police to change their strategy of handing over the bodies of Pakistani militants to local residents for funerals, and revert to burying them close to the Line of Control (LoC).
Police have also issued an advisory asking people to stay away from encounter sites while the state government has banned the assembly of civilians in a radius of two and-a-half kilometres of such locations.