Armed forces

Will More Young Militants in Kashmir Follow Suit After Majid Khan’s Surrender?

The government believes the return of the footballer, who was emerging as militancy’s new poster boy, will lead to more surrenders as it mulls a new rehabilitation policy.

Majid Khan, 20-year-old ace footballer, who had joined the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, surrendered and returned within a week. Credit: Twitter/ANI

Srinagar: The long-implemented “take no prisoners” policy in Kashmir is set to be replaced by a new surrender policy for militants.

The arrest of three local militants after a deadly encounter and the surrender of 20-year-old ace footballer Majid Khan, who had joined the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, but returned within a week, is seen as part of the government’s initiative for a new rehabilitation policy for militants who want to return to the mainstream.

“We are for saving lives,” Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kashmir Munir Khan told media, as he shared the details of the operation in Kund village in Kulgam district. One soldier and one militant were killed in the gun-battle.

The security forces believe these arrests are vital as these youth were fast-emerging as militancy’s poster boys in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district.

New trend

The return of Majid Khan from Anantnag is seen as a departure from the trend of new-age militancy in Kashmir, wherein the rebels, often young local boys, having just rudimentary arms training, get killed by security forces, offering little resistance during encounters. The average life of a militant, according to the police, is between two to six months.

Militants killed in encounters get martyrs’ farewells with the participation of thousands of locals in the funeral processions, a cause of concern for the government.

Majid Khan “surrendered” to the Army on November 17, a week after he took up arms, after an emotive video appeal by his mother and a sustained social media campaign by his relatives and friends, urging him to return home.

Reacting cautiously, IGP Khan said, “Majid was neither apprehended nor did he surrender. He went on his own and has come back on his own.”

On the other hand, the LeT denied that he surrendered. “Majid did not surrender. We respected his mother’s call and sent him back to serve his parents as he was their only son,” said a statement, issued by the militant outfit. It was in fact for the first time in Kashmir’s 27-year-long militancy that any militant organisation came up with a statement explaining the return of its recruit to the mainstream.

Majid Khan. Credit: Twitter/@FaraaahKhan

Turning point?

One of the militants arrested in the Kulgam encounter, Shamsul Waqar, was a friend of Majid Khan. Security forces saw Waqar and Majid Khan as a potential threat, capable of motivating more youth to pick up arms.

Waqar is a former student of Srinagar’s prestigious Delhi Public School and had secured admission in Kashmir’s Central University before he picked up the gun. Both were, however, popular among the youth in Anantnag town as talented sportsmen. Waqar has played under-19 cricket at the national level and Majid Khan is known as a cricketer and footballer.

Anantnag town, which remains the nucleus of South Kashmir, hadn’t seen any local youth joining militancy for over a decade. When Waqar took up arms in April this year, it set alarm bells ringing within the security establishment.

Different militant organisations, according to a senior official from the intelligence wing of the J&K police, had been trying to lure the youth from Anantnag town since the 2016 summer uprising, which had its epicenter in South Kashmir.

Waqar’s plunge, it seemed, had opened the doors for militant organisations in the town. Two months later, Yawar Nissar, another childhood friend of Majid Khan, left home to join the militancy. But 22-year old Nissar survived for just 17 days.

On August 4, when his bullet-riddled body was brought home for last rites, Majid Khan got extremely emotional.

Nissar’s death, according to friends, “totally changed” him. That was also evident from his Facebook posts. He would write about the time spent with him and share their pictures on social networking sites.

Three months later, when he finally decided to pick up the gun, a photograph of him posing with an AK-47 went viral on social media.

For the security establishment, the challenge ofpreventing militancy from gaining ground in the home constituency of chief minister Mehbooba Mufti got even tougher.

“He (Waqar) was the motivating factor for Majid to pick up the gun and both could have together lured many more youth from the town into militancy,” said a senior police official from Anantnag.

“That is why this is a huge success in our endeavour to bring back local youth, and prevent any fresh recruitment. We are hopeful that this will have an impact on the present situation in south Kashmir.”

A ‘renewed appeal’

“Despite losing a soldier, we arrested the three militants and one of them (Malik), who was critically injured during the encounter was taken to hospital by our men for treatment,” IGP Khan said.

According to a senior police official, local militants, who are operating in Kashmir but want to return to their families and fresh recruits would be the focus of the new rehabilitation and surrender policy.

“We will accept the surrender of militants even during the middle of a gunfight. If a local militant puts his hand up during an encounter, we will let him live and help him join the mainstream,” Khansaid.

An Indian policeman patrols a deserted street during restrictions a day before the death anniversary of Burhan Wani, a commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen militant group, in downtown Srinagar July 7, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Danish Ismail

The army has gone even a step further. General Officer Commanding of theVictor Force, Major General, B.S. Raju said that they would provide full opportunity to Khan to pursue his career in academics as well as nourish his sporting talent. He said, “The youth who have gone astray and have treaded a wrong path but are not involved in any criminal act must follow Khan’s footsteps and return to the mainstream. Those militants who have been coerced into committing criminal acts can also return within the provisions of law.”

While both the J&K police and other security agencies are hoping that the arrests and the surrender will have a “positive impact” on the situation on the ground, particularly in south Kashmir where more than 60 youth have joined militancy this year alone, some early signs have already begun to crop up.

Three days after Majid Khan’s surrender, another Kashmir youth who had joined militancy returned home, according to a police statement today. Though the police are tight-lipped about his identity, residence and the outfit he was working for, a senior official said he (the militant) belonged to South Kashmir.

“We didn’t arrest him, nor did he surrender. But he is back with his family. I can’t say anything more,” the police official said.

This has now prompted two more families from South Kashmir’s Pulwama and Shopian districts to make emotional appeal to their sons, who have joined militancy, to return.

One among the two militants is Ashiq Hussain Bhat, a trader from Shopian. Married for less than a year, Bhat went missing last week. A few days ago a photograph of him with a gun surfaced on social media. He is believed to have joined Lashkar.

In a video that has gone viral on social media, Bhat’s wife is seen pleading, asking her husband to return. “We have no support except him (Bhat). Please come back. I only want you to come back (and) if you won’t return I will commit suicide.”

These new developments come after security agencies on Sunday assured local boys, who have picked up arms and are willing to return to their homes, to receive them in an “honorable manner without any harassment”.

“There are many gun-wielding local youth who want to return and are looking for an opportunity. They can dial our helpline number and we will facilitate their return,” inspector general of CRPF (operations) Zulfikar Hassan told the media.

Previous policies 

Meanwhile, there have already been at least two surrender policies in place. The policy announced in 2004 was for militants living in Jammu and Kashmir, while the one launched in 2010 focused on Kashmiri militants living in Pakistan who wanted to return. The new policy, according to sources, will focus on militants who joined the militancy recently and want to reunite with their families.

Mudasir Ahmad is a Srinagar-based reporter.