Zakir Musa killing affords establishment opportunity to reach disaffected J&K youth as security forces press advantage

Zakir Rashid aka Zakir Musa, Burhan Wani’s most high-profile partner in crime, escaped the dragnet of the security forces more than once. Eventually, time catches up. The only advice I gave my officers when there were operational failures in Jammu and Kashmir was this: patience finally pays.

Musa could not keep away from Tral. An alert intelligence source probably spotted him and signalled the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s (JKP) Special Operations Group (SOG). The army unit which executes all operations in Tral — 42 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) — was just a whistle away. It didn't take much time to place a close cordon around the house at Dadsara, but the encounter went on for a long time. Musa refused to surrender, and even managed a brief escape to the adjoining orchards where he finally met his end.

 Zakir Musa killing affords establishment opportunity to reach disaffected J&K youth as security forces press advantage

File image of Zakir Musa. News18

While it is good that Musa has finally been neutralised, what's more important is the ‘what next?’ aspect inevitably thrown up after the neutralisation of a high-profile terrorist. In the 30-year proxy war which has undergone a generational change, there exist more misled youth waiting in the shadows to seek dubious fame. Musa’s profile — being from a middle class family — points to this phenomenon.

Musa was a study in contrast from his better known colleague Burhan Wani; while Wani followed the aim of 'aazadi', Musa was influenced and radicalised enough to seek the establishment of a caliphate. Which is the reason he split from the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) shorty after being appointed Wani’s successor and sent out his famous threat to chop off the heads of Hurriyat leaders and hang them at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk.

The Hurriyat had never been challenged so openly before. Hizbul disowned Musa, which led him to create the Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, an outfit owing allegiance to Al-Qaeda and extolling the philosophy of Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric and leader of the Yemeni Al-Qaeda arm.

Musa’s revolt was the signal which had been eluding the Valley for long: that the Kashmir resistance turned terror had now moved beyond the political to the ideological domain. As if to cement it Musa gave the slogan ‘shariyat ya shahaadat’ which became a signature credo.

Kashmir’s revival of high-profile locally-led terror with the new generation after the low period of 2011 to 2013 was limited to the movement of Wani, which spawned several sub leaders in the wake of his death. With the last of them neutralised what is the chance of another resurgence led by some younger and more radicalised youth?

If that happens, then the next three to four years will once again be expended in neutralising them in hard military operations and effectively blocking initiatives at the political or socioeconomic level; everyone will be happy to abdicate responsibility to the army and the JKP again. This is the cycle which has to be avoided.

Musa’s death occurred just when India was celebrating the BJP’s spectacular electoral victory; symbolically it conveyed the need for a fresh take on Jammu and Kashmir. This fresh look must be something which will conceptually involve the security forces maintaining the initiative and preventing any resurgence while there is room for more consensuses to build. How can that be done?

The nation hardly gives credit to the one entity which knows more about Kashmir’s violent ways than any other and that is the JKP’s CID, or the intelligence arm. This is now the time to listen to it and empower it. While physical domination is as much necessary the priority should be intelligence, not the variety which fetches terrorist kills, but the one which focuses on emerging personalities and preventing them from becoming larger than life.

The traditional bastion of south Kashmir needs to be under much greater surveillance to nip in the bud any fledgling leaders who have ambitions of becoming another Wani. Parents, families, teachers, clergy and other social influence groups have to be sensitised. Anti-national clarion calls must not be tolerated. Social media has to be under constant watch. Small-time terrorists recently recruited would seek greater glory.

The security establishment has, in the past, been successful nipping in the bud a few such attempts and getting some of these youth to return to their families. Let even an amnesty be announced, if necessary. This may be the time to announce the pending surrender policy which has been under review. Lieutenant General KJS Dhillon, General Officer Commanding 15 Corps, immediately after Pulwama asked mothers to advise their wayward sons to surrender and reap the benefits of the surrender policy. This must be done more often with clarity on what the new policy is and how it will operate

My analysis of joining dots of the past points to the current comparatively low period in violence and turbulence to the factor of fatigue in society, the emasculation of the separatists and Pakistan’s forced pull back from active sponsorship of activities in Kashmir due to combined Indian and international pressure. It’s a good window to exploit considering that post-Musa neutralisation, even the streets have not witnessed an upsurge of the type many predicted.

The last time the establishment exploited it — from 2011 to 2013 — to stabilise matters and could not convert it to any political advantage because of lack of understanding by the political establishment. This time with hindsight, a strong central government, Governor’s Rule in place and terrorist leadership in disarray, the establishment should be able to convert this to greater advantage.

The key to that is two-fold. First, prevent resurgence of a high-profile leadership; and second offer no triggers which can act as rallying points once again. That makes it essential for the momentum of counter-terror operations to continue, a surge in intelligence activity and intelligent information operations to appeal to the society.

Keeping the local media positively engaged also helps. The loudness of rhetoric is the antithesis of this. In the euphoria of a defining national-level political victory, which is simply great for the nation, converting the same to rhetoric and threats will not help security forces cement a success which could be within reach.

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Updated Date: May 24, 2019 19:19:21 IST