The security forces were most likely tracking the movement of Kashmir’s now slain Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani for over a month, a source aware of the developments told this newspaper. “The police and the security forces are said to have got several tip-offs about Burhan for a month now, and for some time they had been tracking his movements, though they were never able to catch him as Burhan would have escaped to a new location by the time the police and the forces got clues,” the source said, adding, the police also wanted to avoid any operation during Ramzan, as that would have triggered wider protests.
When asked if the tip-offs were provided to the police by local Kashmiris in the villages where Burhan had been hiding, the source neither confirmed nor denied this. “It is difficult to say how they (J&K police, security forces) ‘use’ these people (locals),” the source said, alluding the tip-offs may have come from the locals, but under duress.
Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani, too, refused to confirm if feedback from the locals helped the police hunt Burhan down. “I cannot give information on that. We are not at liberty to share the operational details,” Gillani told this correspondent.
He had told the media earlier that Burhan’s encounter was a “huge success” for the security forces. “It will dent the strength of the Mujahideen in the valley,” he had told the press, adding they had acted on specific intelligence on Wani. Burhan, 21, had become the poster boy of new age militancy in Kashmir, ever since he dropped out of school six years back and joined the terrorist ranks. As his social media campaigns, in particular on Facebook and WhatsApp, gained momentum and more and more educated youths were enticed to take up the gun, the government announced a Rs 10 lakh reward for anybody providing clues about the hiding terrorist. Through audio and video messages on social media, Burhan would appeal to the youths in the valley to join the “holy war” and promised them a “fulfilled life”.
The most wanted terrorist in Kashmir was gunned down in the Kokernag area in Anantnag on Friday in a joint operation by the Army and counter-insurgency cells in Srinagar and Anantnag districts. Wani and his two associates shot at the security forces and hurled grenades in a bid to flee, but all three were killed when the forces bombed the house where they were trapped. One of his associates has been identified as Sartaj Ahmed Sheikh.
Burhan’s killing has led to huge gatherings in Tral, his hometown, alerting the administration which responded by imposing curfew in Srinagar and north Kashmir and putting all separatists on house arrest.
Contrary to reports that the administration has restricted movement in Tral, the source quoted above said people were allowed to assemble for Burhan’s funeral. “They have cut off all phone lines in Tral, but they were not trying to stop the procession. They allowed people to move in Tral. Nearly one lakh people may have assembled for Burhan’s funeral,” the source said. The source added that the administration took this decision as they were sure any attempt to stop the funeral procession would have led to violent reactions from the people.
The source said that all educational institutions have been closed. “Schools were already closed. They have now also closed the colleges. Even in colleges where exams were scheduled, the administration has asked the college authorities to reschedule them,” the source said.
Burhan’s encounter has attracted violent protests in parts of Kashmir. The local media in Jammu and Kashmir reported that although a mob resorted to stone pelting on a police installation in Arwani, police personnel did not react. In Chichilora near Gulmarg, locals who had gathered to offer funeral prayers in absentia clashed with police. There were also reports that the youth in North Kashmir’s Baramulla and Palhallan districts clashed with the forces. Stone pelting was reported from the Bellow area of Pulwama while a BSF bunker in Bandipora was torched.
While the authorities fear that Burhan’s death will impel some J&K youth to take up arms, former J&K Chief Minister and opposition leader Omar Abdullah, too, expressed the same fear. “Mark my words — Burhan’s ability to recruit in to militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media” Omar wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, as a precautionary measure, the administration has suspended the Amarnath Yatra. When this correspondent spoke to Kashmir IG Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani, he confirmed the news, but also clarified that the suspension is temporary and they “plan to resume the Yatra this (Saturday) evening itself”.