By Mir Basit Hussain for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Shareefabad, in Tral, South Kashmir, looks like any other village in the valley. However, a 21-year-old boy who used to live in a three-storey house in front of the village mosque has made the area known to everyone interested in conflict-ridden zones of the world.
Burhan Muzaffar Wani, often described as the ‘poster boy’ of the new phase of insurgency in the valley, is the new district commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen and a most wanted militant nowadays. Upon entering his house, I see a Wagon-R and a modified motorbike parked up front; the family is well-to-do by local standards. His father, Muzaffar Ahmed Wani appears from the rear entry of the house with his hand out for a shake.
“Last time I spoke to the national media, I was disappointed. My full statement was not used. They used only a portion of it,” Wani tells me straight away.
He is referring to a report by a mainstream Delhi-based newspaper. What it used was, “Islam allows you to go for Jihad (struggle) against cruelty and oppression. My son has chosen this path for himself.”
Wani, while holding his beard in his hands, adds that he was hoping they would show the reason behind Burhan picking up the gun. “They didn’t include the root cause. And that is what India is doing to our children here. Their policies towards the population here are the real reason for that (the militancy). Young boys are getting radicalized because of the everyday torture and humiliation they face.”
Wani adds, “Burhan is not the only one or the first one. ‘Yahaan aag pehlay se lagi hui hai (Kashmir is already burning). Toh us aag ko bujhanay kay liye pani chahiye, petrol nahi. (So to douse that fire, you need water, not petrol).’ They didn’t use this statement of mine.”
Wani, the principal of the Higher Secondary School of Tral, also alleges that another statement of his was twisted. He says that the statement which they twisted was that “if guns would be readily available, the majority would decide to use them.” According to him, they omitted the reasoning behind the youth taking up such steps.
He further clarifies, “Now anyone can claim that I promote gun culture. But I don’t. I just wanted to highlight the reason (behind it).”
As a father whose one son was allegedly killed in an “encounter”, and another is the ‘poster boy’ of militancy, how does he stay calm? Wani says he finds solace in the belief that a ‘martyr’ never dies. “First of all, I am mentally prepared for that. I do get disturbed sometimes that one day I will see him (Burhan) dead. Then I remind myself that Allah is above everything. I know my son (Khalid) is with Allah and alive. Burhan is away from me, and I do feel for that. But I know that if he dies on this path, he too will be a martyr,” Wani asserts.
He says this is what keeps him alive. “Otherwise, if I start thinking that my 24-year-old son was murdered and the other will die any day, then I don’t know what will happen to me. I can’t take care of worldly affairs then.”
Khalid, Burhan’s elder brother was shot down by security personnel last year in August in the forests of Tral. The security establishment claimed that he was shot down in an “encounter” while trying to meet his brother Burhan. They also claimed that he was getting young men to join the HM.
Senior Wani reveals that many Army officers have approached him to ‘convince’ Burhan to surrender. However, Wani makes it clear that firstly, he is not in touch with Burhan and secondly, and more importantly, his son is not going to surrender. “Many times that has happened. One Army officer told me that he will be given a 6-month term if he surrendered. Another told me that he will be set free if he lays down his weapons. But as far as I know my son, he will not surrender.”
The only reason Wani gives for that is, “Islam mein do cheezein hoti hain, Gazi ya Shaheed (In Islam, there are only two things, victory or martyrdom). Surrender sirf Allah kay samnay hota hai. ( Surrender is only in front of Allah).”
He also maintains that Burhan is not out fighting a personal war. “He is not out there settling personal feuds. If it would have been personal, then a negotiation might have been possible. But it’s a matter of Islam. That is not negotiable.”
Reports say that Burhan and his deceased brother Khalid were beaten up by the forces in which Khalid was knocked unconscious, back in 2010. That was the day Burhan decided to take ‘revenge’.
However, senior Wani says that one random incident didn’t change his son. “Almost everyone here has been beaten up by the Army. You also must have had your share. But everyone didn’t become a militant. It depends on how much one can take. Yeh aap ki ghairat pe depend karta hai (It depends on your self-respect). Someone’s ‘Ghairat’ got challenged time and again, so he decided to answer back. Others decided to stay quiet. My son couldn’t bear to see the atrocities and the humiliation, so he was forced to choose the path which he is on right now,” Wani explains.
Wani, like others, believes that Burhan was forced to pick up the gun. He expresses his wish of seeing him return home one day, but with respect. Wani also ‘prays’ that the renewed peace talks between India and Pakistan should succeed.
“Maybe if there is some kind of reconciliation between India and Pakistan, in which our representatives, the Hurriyat, are on board, they might devise a policy under which rebels can come back to normal life,” he says. He adds, “We pray to Allah that something comes out of the talks. We want peace. I want my son to come back, but with respect. Not shackled or chained.”
However, he feels that when the Hurriyat is left out, it shows that India’s intentions are not honest. “When they don’t involve the Hurriyat, that shows that India doesn’t want to settle this issue. If they involve Hurriyat, NC (National Conference) and PDP(Peoples Democratic Party) will lose their chair. There are and will be three stakeholders- India, Pakistan and Kashmir. All three have to be included. Two cannot decide our fate. We have to be a part of it,” Wani asserts.
When President Barak Obama come to New Delhi in 2014, Wani and his now-deceased son Khalid, sitting miles away in Tral, were detained for a couple of days, he claims. The same thing happened during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit last year, he says.
“I have faced a lot of problems after 2010, especially in 2012. They (police) used to detain me whenever militants used to strike. One day, unknown men snatched rifles from the police; they detained me and Khalid for 5 days. When Obama had come to Delhi, they detained Khalid! He missed his exams due to that,” Wani adds.
Wani alleges that every time a bullet was fired by someone, he was detained along with Khalid unnecessarily. “A Sarpanch (village head) got shot and again Khalid and I were put behind bars. During the elections (Parliamentary as well as assembly) we used to be put under detention. Khalid on an average used to spend two months in a year in jail. Most of the time they used to take us to the Tral police station, sometimes to Avantipora station,” a dejected Wani rues.
He also mentions that with him, Imams (prayer leaders) were also detained, which he feels was a direct attack on Islam. “I was detained for two days during Modi’s visit. Why? Also, Imams of various mosques were detained. They thought we might incite people in the mosque. We discuss Islam in the mosque. So according to me they put a curb on Islam by detaining the Imams.”
Wani had to face problems on the professional front as well for being a militant’s father. “They (Govt.) transferred me to another, far off location. I came here (Tral) on public demand as principal of the Higher Secondary school. Just after three days, I was transferred to district Shopian, that too in a far-flung village, just because I am Burhan’s father. Now I am back after two years. It was very difficult for me,” he alleges.
He feels that regular raids don’t bother him now. However, the police troubling him and his family without any reason remains a matter of concern. “They (police) raid our house every now and then. That is a routine for us now. And we don’t have a problem with that. It’s their duty. But when they unnecessarily used to detain and trouble Khalid and even me, that used to mentally disturb every one of us. They have searched our home may be a thousand times. Not only rooms, they check the walls to see if anyone is hiding,” says Wani.
Wani also feels that the media and the people have put an unnecessary focus on Burhan. “I don’t really like it when people talk too much about Burhan as if he has started it. I always say that he is not the first one,” he says.
He adds, “I saw his first video on the television on a news channel. They were translating what Burhan wants to tell India. Since 1989, Kashmiris want freedom from India. It’s not just Burhan’s fight. It’s the whole of Kashmir which aspires for that. Burhan is one of them. If you go back in time, (you can) see how many were killed in Srinagar, Sopore, Anaantnag and other districts. More than a lakh people have died. What were they searching for? Azadi (Freedom). Even the separatists, (Syed Ali Shah) Geelani, Mirwaiz (Umar Farooq), (Yasin) Malik, (Shabir) Shah, what do they want? The same thing. Their way is different. Some of them picked up the gun first too. They are fighting it politically now. But at the end, the aim is the same. When all this started, Burhan was not even born,” notes a smiling Wani.
Khalid was the first civilian who was killed after Mufi Mohammad Sayeed took over as the state’s CM. (This interview was conducted before Sayeed passed away).
“At that time we thought a new government is in place and Mufti might do something,” Wani recounts.
However, Wani alleges that PDP has crossed the limits set by NC. “We had some hopes from PDP. Maybe, 10 percent more as compared to National Conference. But the role they have played in the current government, they have crossed the limits set by NC. They (NC) were cruel too, but not like them. Right now, Muslims have no value,” feels Wani.
When reminded that Mufti had said in the same video report by the Delhi-based paper that boys have no option but to resort to the gun, Wani says, “They have their own politics to take care of. If free and fair elections are held here, a new ‘Jamaat’ will emerge victorious. They won’t even be politicians, but unknown faces. It’s their duty to oppose each other (PDP and National Conference).”