With Zakir in command, new ultras stick to pan-Islamic trajectory

SRINAGAR: With the elevation of former engineering student Zakir Rashid Bhat as Hizbul Mujahideen commander, the new-age militants in Kashmir continue to embark on a pan-Islamic trajectory which had initially become evident through the video of former commander Burhan Wani.

editorial@tribune.com

Azhar Qadri

Tribune News Service

Srinagar, August 23

With the elevation of former engineering student Zakir Rashid Bhat as Hizbul Mujahideen commander, the new-age militants in Kashmir continue to embark on a pan-Islamic trajectory which had initially become evident through the video of former commander Burhan Wani.

Bhat, a resident of Tral sub-district who opted out of an engineering college in Chandigarh in July 2013 and joined the militant outfit with Wani, has emerged as the commander of new-age militants in the south Kashmir region. He replaced Wani, alias Arif Khan, who’s killing in a gunfight on July 8 sparked a widespread unrest.

In his maiden video statement, Bhat described himself as the “soldier of Allah”. “I am not a commander or chief of any organisation,” he said in the video released last week.

A senior police officer in south Kashmir, who has experience in counter-insurgency operations, said Bhat had been made the commander because of his seniority within the militant ranks and educational background. “There are few militants senior to him, but they either keep a low profile or they are from the other side of the (Jhelum) river and militants would have wanted to keep the command in the Tral area,” the officer said.

The officer said it was significant that the militant leadership came from Tral after Wani’s killing because the militants in this sub-district in south Kashmir had operated “almost independently” at least till the end of 2014. “They were operating on their own and had very little contact with the Hizb leadership. It is only recently after Tral became a centre of militancy that the Hizb took them into its fold,” the police officer said.

Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin had within days of Wani’s killing appointed Mehmood Gaznavi as the new commander. However, police officials believe it was a “faceless name”. Bhat, whose area of operation in police records is listed as Dadsara village and Awantipora, operates under the code name Musa.

Bhat’s statement as the commander is consistent with his predecessor’s on August 2015 video message in which Wani, who had become the face of new generation of militants, had said that their fight “will not stop till caliphate is established over the entire world”.

Another senior police officer in south Kashmir said the militant leadership based in Pakistan had initially welcomed the release of video by militants as it galvanised recruitment. “But they received feedback from here that the new militants were speaking in a pan-Islamic tone and then an embargo was put on the release of videos,” the officer said.

The police officer said the only video that was released following the embargo was based on the necessity for militants to ease the pressure that was building in the aftermath of several incidents of cop killings. “They wanted to justify, or at least give reason, why the policemen were killed,” the officer said about the last video statement released by Wani earlier this year.

In Bhat’s latest statement, there were signs of a revolting young man as he asked the people to continue demonstrations, no matter who calls for it to end. “Whoever calls for an end to shutdowns, or does any conspiracy, defeat them,” he said. “Because we only follow Allah and no one else,” he said.

Bhat’s belligerent statement was in contrast to what the two masked gunmen, reading from a note at a public rally in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district earlier this month, had said when they asked people to follow the leadership of Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik.

The police officer said this “duality” was consistent with the street sentiment. “The younger lot is not following the established political leadership, as in the case of Zakir (Bhat), while the older generation wants to follow the leadership as in the case of the two militants in the Kulgam rally,” the officer said.

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