Will Mannan Wani’s killing revive militancy in North Kashmir?

Mannan Wani who was killed along with his associate Ashiq on Thursday in a gunfight in Kupwara was not an ordinary militant. A Phd scholar at Aligarh Muslim University, Wani had joined militancy in January, becoming the highest educated youth in Valley to do so.  He thus added a new layer of appeal to militancy for the youth. And sure enough, many youth followed him into the ranks of militancy. According to an estimate, more than 130 Kashmiri youth have taken up arms this year, with frequent killings of militants by security forces acting as no deterrent.

According to sources in police, Wani had recently moved from South to North Kashmir to revive militancy there. Among the 129 militants active in north, 94 are foreigners and just 35 are locals. Wani’s task was to help recruit more local youth. But a week into his stay in his hometown, Wani was tracked down and killed.

It has triggered a wave of sadness in Kashmir. Hurriyat issued a call for shutdown on Friday which was completely observed.  The IAS officer Shah Faesal termed the death “saddening”. The former J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said the killing was “entirely our loss”. 

Even though Wani’s death is unlikely to witness an extended protest across the Valley unlike that of  Burhan  Wani, it could very well inspire a revival of local militancy in North Kashmir. This is just what the killing of Burhan in 2016 accomplished in South: in the six months after his death, number of militants went up from 180 to around 300. And ever since it has only grown from strength to strength, killings notwithstanding.

The hardline policy pursued by the centre has hardly changed anything. Its only achievement so far has been the disproportionate increase in the killings of the militants. According to a police estimate, around 581 militants have been killed from 2015 up until July this year. And since then around 30 more have been shot dead.

However, the resurgence of local militancy has been overwhelmingly confined to South Kashmir. Central and North Kashmir have so far largely remained unaffected by the new militancy. This includes also Srinagar, once the hub of militancy, where only less than a dozen youth have taken up arms.

This has been a source of comfort for the security agencies. But it is here that the killings like that of Mannan Wani can spell trouble. “Recruitment to militancy is driven by complex processes. But sometimes a powerful image or incident too becomes a trigger, just like it happened with Burhan,” said a police officer. “We hope this doesn’t happen with Mannan”.