Burhan Wani, a 22-year-old militant leader, was killed by security forces in a gun battle in Indian-controlled Kashmir on July 8, 2016 (1). Wani, a former top commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, a Kashmiri separatist group, is deemed responsible for reinvigorating and bolstering militancy in the predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley.
Kashmir, a contentious area claimed by both Pakistan and India, has been an ideological battleground for over 60 years, since the partition of India in 1947 (2). After the first Indian- Pakistani War in 1948 over Jammu and Kashmir, the United Nations created a ceasefire boundary that divided the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan. Later, in 1972, the ceasefire line became the Line of Control (LOC) through the Simla Agreement, but it is recognized that the LOC is a de facto border and is not formally recognized internationally (3). Although India has accepted this boundary and would like to make it an official international border with only slight modification, Pakistan has rejected the Line of Control because the principally Muslim Kashmir Valley would still be under Indian control.
The ramifications of the LOC that separates Indian and Pakistani controlled Kashmir are massive. The dispute over autonomy has partially led to India’s most important internal security issue, the Kashmiri insurgency between separatists and nationalists (4). The fight between the Kashmiris and the Indian army has been deemed as a problem of civil unrest and has therefore garnered very little international attention.
Burhan Wani was an important activist for the separatist movement on social media against the Indian control of Kashmir. He leveraged various social media platforms to recruit, enlist, and inspire the youth of Kashmir. He was especially influential because he did not hide his face behind a mask on social media, unlike many other tech-savvy militants. Although considered a terrorist by local police, he symbolized the essence and morale of a young Kashmiri generation. In fact, his activism was the reason that many young males decided to fight against the Indian state.
Burhan Wani’s death has sparked street violence that has resulted in the death of 31 people (5). But even more significantly, the legitimacy of the Indian state has deteriorated rapidly in the aftermath of his killing. No more can people believe that this is just a local autonomy question. Instead, it has become clear that there is a deep divisiveness and alienation of the citizens of Kashmir.
The aftershocks of Wani’s death reverberated across the Himalayan region, as tens of thousands attended his funeral. His death triggered anti-Indian feelings, which manifested in violent attacks on military posts and police stations. This stands in contrast with the past decade, in which fighting had finally begun to dwindle in the region. Compared to the 90’s, the militancy movement in Kashmir had been greatly reduced in recent years, yet Wani’s death has begun a new era. A new cycle of unrest has the potential to be triggered as the violence in Kashmir increases. Like a wildfire, the locals and armed forces are battling across the valley in bouts of stone-pelting and shootings.
The regional and global aftershocks of Burhan Wani’s death are still being felt. Wani has quickly become a martyr, and authorities are now seeing Burhan Wani as more dangerous dead than alive. Although the Kashmir version has had its fair share of martyrs in the past, this could turn into a strong homegrown resistance (6). In the past, resistance has been outsourced to other organizations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Hizbul Mujahideen – Pakistan oriented organizations – yet this time the local youth and public are in charge.
Increasingly, the Kashmiri youth are militarizing to show their protest with India. Everyday, local children and young boys are subjected to abductions and injuries at the hands of the police. Muzaffar Wani, Burhan’s father, explains how this violence and suppression contributes to the downward spiral of new recruits, “young boys are getting radicalized because of everyday torture and humiliation they face… to douse that fire you need water, not petrol.” The shootings and injury that the police are subjecting the pro-separatist youth to is just adding flames to the fire, instead of helping the situation.
Interestingly, the new generation of young Kashmiri militants often come from secure financial and well-educated backgrounds which stand in stark contrast to the past. Many were not alive during the violence of the 90’s and beyond. They are now affected by a new set of political problems in which there is no political party with a modicum of credibility to place hope in. Importantly, this corresponds with movements across the world where militants are newly inspired by transnational Islamic radicalism and extremism as an escape from their current lives. As a writer for Focus Web reiterates perfectly, “Some join the militants, others take to stone pelting, still others vent their anger on the social media, but all in all the young in Kashmir are disturbed, alienated and angry… Those out on the streets, or before their computers, or with terrorist outfits all have one thing in common—they are young, they are all part of a generation born and brought up in conflict. Unlike their parents, their patience is limited, their aspirations high, and their tolerance for abuse low” (7). Burhan Wani’s death was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and his passing has the potential to start a new cycle of radicalization, recruitment, and local militancy in the Kashmiri and Himalayan region.
The violence in the Kashmiri region also raises a host of geopolitical concerns. Both India and Pakistan have considerable nuclear weapon power. As their relationship grows more volatile, there is fear that the region could become a ground zero for nuclear attacks. Furthermore, peace in Afghanistan is not possible without a solution to the Kashmir quagmire. It is probable that the violence against the predominantly Muslim population in the Indian-held valley will anger and incite hostile youth in Afghanistan, which will work to create more militancy in the region as a whole (8). Also, much of the Pakistani army is fighting and protecting the Kashmiris from Indian security forces. As a result, the Pakistani army is not using its full force to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan. This has the potential to hurt countries involved in the region, such as the U.K. and U.S., as it will be much more difficult to continue to withdraw from Afghanistan if the violence escalates (9).
(1) Bukhari, Shujaat. "Why the Death of Militant Burhan Wani Has Kashmiris up in Arms." BBC News. BBC, 11 July 2016. Web. 19 Aug. 2016.
(2) "The Future of Kashmir? Kashmir Flashpoint." BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2016.
(3) "Kashmir Fast Facts." CNN. Cable News Network, 31 Mar. 2016. Web. 19 Aug. 2016.
(4) "Who Are the Kashmir Militants?" BBC News. BBC, 1 Aug. 2012. Web. 19 Aug. 2016.
(5) Mehta, Pratap Bhanu. "After Burhan Wani’s Killing, an Illusion Is Shattered in Kashmir." The Indian Express. The Indian Express, 13 July 2016. Web. 19 Aug. 2016.
(6) Irfan, Hakeem. "Burhan Wani Incident Shows That Homegrown Militancy Is Back after a Prolonged Hiatus." The Economic Times. India Times, 17 July 2016. Web. 19 Aug. 2016.
(7) Mustafa, Seema. "Kashmir, Before and After Burhan Wani." Focus on the Global South. Focus Web, 02 Aug. 2016. Web. 19 Aug. 2016.
(8) Schuurmans, Laura. "Kashmir | The Geopolitical Implications & Its Impact on Regional Peace and Security." Pakistan Defence. Pakistan Defence, 5 Dec. 2013. Web. 19 Aug. 2016.
(9) Ahmed, Nazir. "Kashmir Is a Global Threat | Nazir Ahmed." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 21 Sept. 2010. Web. 19 Aug. 2016.
Image: © Pod666 | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/editorial-photography-kashmir-demonstration-trafalgar-square-london-th-october-image46062967#res14972580">Kashmir Demonstration Trafalgar Square London</a>
Alanna Schenk is a student studying International Relations with a minor in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence at the University of Southern California. Her primary interests are in ecological security and human security, specifically related to the regions of Northern Europe and Africa. She is particularly interested in how geospatial technologies can be used to study and offer suggestions for humanitarian intervention and issues of human security. Specifically, she fascinated by how satellite and remote sensing can be used to improve documentation capabilities and research across the fields of human rights and humanitarian intervention. Furthermore, she is a research assistant for the Lab on Non-Democratic Politics at USC and has also spent time conducting field research in the Arctic. On campus, Alanna is a fellow with the Levan Institute of Humanities and Ethics, a Senator for the Undergraduate Student Government, and a member with USC's Teaching International Relations Program.