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Who was the real Burhan Wani, ‘Paper Tiger’ or ‘Indian Agent’?


Srinagar: ‘You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes’. In Kashmir, each killing is just like the matrix that enlarges, complicates and morphs into something else so quickly that it is hard to tell real from surreal.

Hizbul Mujahideen (Hizb) commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani was popular among the social media -addicted teenagers of Kashmir. But, if you asked the common man on the street even a couple of months ago who was Wani, the standard response would have been: “An Indian agent.” If you asked security forces , you would have been told he was a “paper tiger” created by media. Last week, when news of Wani’s killing spread, the narratives reversed instantly. The Indian state called it a successful anti-terror operation and common Kashmiris propped up Wani along with the likes of JKLF’s Ashfaq Majeed Wani, an “iconic martyr” of the 1990 Kashmir militancy.

Such attitudinal somersaults perhaps prevail in all conflict zones. Indigenous violence in the pursuit of ‘azadi’ clubbed with the deep state games played by both India and Pakistan to get at each other, provide fertile ground for mythologies in Kashmir.

Maqbool Butt, the pioneer of the militant movement in the 1970s, for example, was jailed in Pakistan on suspicion of being an Indian spy, but in the end he was executed by India. Butt’s political activism began with the protests against the incarceration of National Conference chief Sheikh Abdullah. Though NC remained pro-India, Butt crossed the LoC and returned to Kashmir in 1966, only to be arrested. He escaped from Srinagar prison, crossed the LoC again and, to his dismay, was detained by Pakistani authorities on charges of being an Indian agent.

“Later, he was released in Pakistan but many in Kashmir then believed he was a double agent,” a seasoned politician in Srinagar told the TOI. “But legends were manufactured after his hanging. He became the poster boy for the militant JKLF in the 1980s and remains part of the insurgency folklore,” he added.

Jaish-e-Muhammed terrorist Afzal Guru’s life was mired in controversy too but he became a legendary face of ‘azadi’ following his execution. “While he was on trial, no separatist lawyer in Kashmir came forward to defend him. Most people in Kashmir believed he was an Indian mole in the Jaish cell that plotted the December 2001 Parliament attack,” a political activist who knew Guru said, adding, “In his case, the ‘collective conscience’ use of phrase by the Indian judiciary catapulted him into a messiah in Kashmir.”

Back in 2007, the dove-eyed, fair-complexioned Wani was just another cricket-loving studious ‘chocolate boy’ from an educated, state-employed, well-off Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI)-influenced family of south Kashmir. But then the 2008 Amarnath land controversy erupted and the teenager found a cause like many others of his generation.

He used to distribute propaganda leaflets on Amarnath, a police officer said, adding that he later became a small-time courier boy for Hizb, JeI’s militant wing.

Until the massive outpouring of grief, mourning and protests, most locals in Kashmir believed Wani was an Indian agent, propped up to project that the new militancy in Kashmir was inspired by the Islamic State, to recruit educated boys from affluent families.

“If he were a real mujahid, he would’ve been caught or killed. Why are the forces letting him post pictures and videos on Facebook when they censor most ‘azadi’ groups? He’s their guy!” a stone-pelter told TOI two months ago.

At the time, the security agencies anticipated that killing Wani could make him a bigger icon than he already was because of his social media agit prop. “He is a Facebook militant. We would rather capture him alive,” an officer in South Kashmir had told the TOI.

So why was Wani killed? A counter-insurgency officer told the TOI, “For how long and to what extent can the state accommodate lawlessness. Wani and his gang were, after all, armed terrorists.” The spate of terror attacks in the last two months, especially the one on the CRPF convoy that killed eight, change the line of thinking within the security establishment. “At some point the state had to send out a tough message against this fresh wave of militancy that is attracting young educated boys from well off families,” the officer said.

Another officer who studied the post-2008 militancy closely, however disagreed, “Burhan was not the militant material. I think we fell in the Pakistani trap. They led us to him to create an icon out of him for the new generation in Kashmir. They have succeeded.”

Courtesy: Times Of India

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