Sabzar Ahmad Sofi's death signals urgent need to weed out 'handlers' turning Kashmiri students to militants
Within hours of the gunfight in which Sabraz Ahmad Sofi was killed, photographs of him looking 'dashing' flooded social media first and mainstream media soon after, as it happened in the case of Burhan Wani in 2016 and more recently after PhD scholar Manan Wani's killing.
Once again, news of a scholar-turned-militant being killed made news on Wednesday. Reports said security forces had shot dead two militants on Wednesday morning during a gunfight in the Soothu Kothair locality of Jammu and Kashmir's Nowgam village. But later, one of them was identified as Sabzar Ahmad Sofi, who was a research scholar at Jamia Milia Islamia before he joined the Hizbul Mujahideen.
Some reports said he was a PhD scholar, while others said he had done an MPhil. Later, Jamia Milia categorically denied any association with Sofi.
Whatever be the case, two things are clear — one, this young man was a studious Kashmiri who abandoned his studies to join the militant ranks; and two, soon after he was killed, his projection as a poster-boy militant was executed meticulously.
As it happened in the case of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in 2016 and more recently after Aligarh Muslim University PhD scholar Manan Wani's killing in an encounter, within hours of the gunfight in which Sofi was killed, photographs of him looking "dashing" flooded social media first and mainstream media soon after.
Just like Manan Wani and many others before him, Sofi had gone far from his home in Kashmir to study and build a career. One of the photographs circulated was that of the library of books he kept in his room, suggesting that he had a genuinely keen interest in studies.
In fact, it is well acknowledged in security circles that the average life of a militant is just two to three years at best, especially since Indian security forces launched "Operation All-Out" to weed out militants from Jammu and Kashmir.
The question one must ask is this: If Sufi and others like him leave their homes for further studies, why do they suddenly dump their dreams and ambitions to join militants?
A local cab driver in Srinagar once told me that well-to-do Kashmiri parents send their children, especially sons, out of the state for higher studies to save them from "bad influences" in the Valley. His statement is corroborated as you interact with more Kashmiris and also when you realise how many Kashmiris study in different universities and institutes across India.
Then how do these very sons turn into militants? Do they make a sudden decision or does someone brainwash them slowly, steadily? Who are the people who approach these students at universities and influence them to the extent that these youngsters agree to suicide missions?
Security agencies must find answers to these questions. Forces and their intelligence networks should now focus on weeding out these underground, but effective, brainwashers.
Just like when dengue fever turns into an epidemic, when the focus turns to wiping out mosquitoes in their entirety, Indian security agencies must focus on the "handlers" of terror groups who convert bright students into killers, and finally into corpses.
The author is director of media at the Jammu Kashmir Study Centre
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