Hizb-ul-Mujahideen's Burhan Wani takes to social media to influence youth in Kashmir

When Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the young militant commander of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen outfit in south Kashmir, addressed people directly for the first time on a public platform in August last year, he spoke on a different note — the Khilafat.

The idea of Khilafat - different from traditional demands of Kashmir's ageing separatists asking for implementation of UN resolutions in Kashmir — was Wani’s way of communicating with Kashmiri youth, and with Islamist movements elsewhere. This was a clear departure from old practices of sending faxed and email statements to media outlets and intended to not just for audiences within Kashmir, but outside too.

The video was uploaded on a Facebook page, dedicated to militancy in Kashmir, and within minutes it was fiercely circulated on WhatsApp in Kashmir. The 22-year-old commander seen as new face of tech-savvy militants in the valley contrary to his traditional counterparts, in the video urged youth to join his outfit and asked the Kashmir police to shun their fight against the militants.

“We want to send a message to the people of Kashmir, especially youth, that they should come and join us,” Wani, said, while being flanked by two gunmen in military fatigues. A
Kalashnikov, a pistol and a Quran were neatly arranged in front of him.

The production and the style of Wani’s sermonising stunt was highly influenced by propaganda videos by al-Qaeda and Islamic State style propaganda videos, trying to attract recruits from the Muslim world for the pan Islamic Jihad. This was, and till now, remains the only video of any Kashmiri militant addressing people directly through social media.

The Kashmir police swung into action but the video had gone viral even before they could have alerted a Central agency in Chandigarh to block the page, which carried the video.

Since then the Cyber Cell of Kashmir police in Srinagar has been at the forefront of a new war waged in the virtual world between militants and security forces. It constantly monitors activities of militants and their “sympathisers” on a daily biases, and there is even “a proposal of upgrading these cells in every district of Kashmir in near future,” as IG Kashmir, Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani, recently informed.

But fighting a war, in the virtual world, with a majority of the population sympathetic towards militants in valley is almost impossible. And as one of the old hands — a counter-insurgency specialist in Kashmir police told Firstpost, “we are presently fighting this war in virtual world with least qualified staff and meager resource. For the movement God seems to be on our side.”

But despite thousands of Facebook pages dedicated to glorifying militancy in valley and generating content to attract youth towards the idea: it is not clear if this strategy has paid off for drawing new recruits from outside the Kashmir. But what it has done, to a large extent, is attracted and influenced, if not made part of, young minds to the idea of militancy.

GOC of Srinagar-based 15 Corps, Lt General Satish Dua told The Indian Express recently that separatists in Kashmir are being helped by an “ongoing global internet and social media based radicalisation campaign.”

“We are aware that the separatists’ design is also drawing mileage from the ongoing global internet and social media based radicalisation campaign, which is impacting adolescent minds.” Lt General Dua told The Indian Express.

It is true that Wani’s sermonising video was influenced by the global internet phenomena and its power of outreach, but it has hardly been able to attract recruits from the outside world. For example, even if you go by the Army’s own admission, less than 20 militants have successfully infiltrate across the LoC till April this year. The number stood at 25 last years, down from 65 in 2014 and 97 in 2013. Few five years back the numbers could have well stood at hundreds and ten years back it could have well been in thousands.

The near impossible job for militants to infiltrate towards this side of Kashmir is also largely attributed to the strong counter-infiltration grid, which has become more robust over the years.

“Although he (Burhan) has failed to attract cadres from outside but in Kashmir there is no dearth of him. If there is a unifying tool apart form religion in Kashmir, it is the social media. The use of Facebook is rampant in Kashmir that could be the reason they (militants) have become hero’s in the minds of young people,” the counter-insurgency specialist, said.

“Even my nine year son know the name of Burhan,” the police official, said. That could well be the reason the numbers of aspiring to be militants are swelling. Experts say a sustained campaign of continuously uploading pictures and video by militants does have an impact, when it comes to attracting youth towards the militancy.

“But no militant has been arrested till now for the reason he was active on social media. I think there are hundreds of pages being managed by people in Pakistan,” another police official, added.

For example whenever a militant is killed these days in valley immediately after his funeral a picture of his dead body is uploaded on a Facebook page dedicated to the ‘martyr,’ it gets thousands of ‘likes’ on the same day and next day police blocks the page and some where another page appears suddenly.

Gillani, the IGP says, the police has blocked more than 300 pages on Facebook "and they are not only related to Burhan (the militant commander). They include those pages which were objectionable." Adding that there has been a slide in the activity of militants on Facebook since the police started taking action against these pages.

"We devised a strategy by which we were able to control them now." Gillani said.

Although majority of Wani's accomplices have been killed in recent months, including two on Tuesday, police officials in south Kashmir say there is no dearth of young recruits who often are influenced through social media.

"But there is a shift now," another police officer based in south Kashmir said, "notice a recent video in which a militant is seen pushing the crowd and training his gun towards them -they perhaps wanted to escort him out of the crowd. This video is an eye opener, conforming that the militants don't even trust Kashmiris because they think they are responsible for the surge in recent killings of local militants by security forces," he said

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Updated Date: May 23, 2016 19:46:39 IST

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