Recruitment of child guerrillas continuing in Kashmir

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Over-ground terror networks, social media play key role in indoctrination of teens

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU: The killing of a 14/15-year-old standard-10 student of National Innovations Public School Zainapora, Faisal Gulzar Ganai, along with two more teenage terrorists in an encounter at Hadipora in southern Kashmir’s Shopian district on 10 April, has made it clear that the recruitment of children, particularly the young high school students, is still continuing on behalf of different terror organisations in the Valley.
Security forces and the Jammu and Kashmir Police claimed to have recovered one AK rifle and two pistols along with the three young terrorists’ bodies from the site of the encounter.
According to Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar, the Police and the security forces suspended the fire for about 10 hours as Faisal’s parents were facilitated to reach the spot and appeal the terrorists to release their only male child. The family’s repeated appeals over the public address system yielded nothing. Faisal had earlier called his father Gulzar Ahmad Ganai and told him on phone that he was among the three terrorists trapped in the operation.
Faisal’s 85-year-old grandfather Ghulam Hassan Ganai is all praise for the Police and security forces that they left no stone unturned to rescue the child terrorist and facilitate his surrender. “Unfortunately they couldn’t get him out alive”, Ganai said.
After conversion of the erstwhile State into the Union Territory and withdrawal of its special status in August 2019, the Jammu and Kashmir Police have not been handing over bodies of the terrorists killed in different encounters to their families.
Two days after Faisal went underground his family issued passionate appeals to the terrorists to send him back. In the videos that went viral in social media his middle-aged father and mother were seen beseeching for mercy-telling the terrorists that he was the only brother of his four unmarried sisters.
“Two of my daughters have undergone surgeries. Their only support is Faisal. His Jihad is nothing but to support his family at home and have his sisters married off”, Faisal’s mother says. “If you guys don’t send him home, you will have to answer on Doomsday”, says his father, crestfallen for fear of losing his son. Their apprehensions came true in two days.
Youths, including teenage students and school dropouts, were engaged with the Kashmir insurgency from its day one in 1989-90. Still the average age of the fresh recruits in the first 20 years was 20-22 years.
Notwithstanding Afzal Guru’s execution and the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s apprehensions of a massive revival of terrorism, the number of terrorists dipped to the lowest level in 2013. Kashmir witnessed the most peaceful years from 2011 to 2014.
Detained separatist icon Massarat Aalm’s release by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, in a week of his taking over as Chief Minister in the PDP-BJP coalition in March 2015, brought a sense of security and confidence to the groups lying dormant since long. A grand reception for hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, permitted by Mufti’s government and organised by Aalam in front of the J&K Police Headquarters, made a generation of the teens euphoric about the dream of ‘Azaadi’.
Terror inspirations Burhan Wani and Zakir Musa, enjoying access to the internet, uploaded text, audio and video messages on social media. It was under their influence that hundreds of the young and brilliant students like Ishaq Parray ‘Newton’ abandoned their studies and picked up the arms. Many others became stone pelters.
Wani’s death in an encounter came as a trigger for a turbulent summer in 2016. Over 70 persons got killed and thousands injured in the clashes that lasted for about four months. The valley witnessed its worst times of the decade from July 2016 to June 2018 which resulted in dismissal of the Mehbooba government.
On 31 December 2017, Fardeen Khanday, 16-year-old son of a Police official, launched a suicide attack with his associates on a Central Reserve Police Force encampment at Letapora. It was for the first time that a suicide bomber got a video message recorded for the valley’s youths before striking on his target. Three terrorists, including Fardeen killed and five CRPF personnel martyred. Fardeen’s 15-year-old terrorists colleague Faizan had already died in another encounter in May 2017. On 9 December 2018, 16-year-old Saqib Bilal Sheikh and 14-year-old Mudasir Rashid Parray of Hajan Bandipora got killed in an encounter at Mujgund on Srinagar outskirts. Both had joined the terrorist ranks. Conflict analysts invariably believe that the over-ground networks of different terrorist organisations have taken maximum benefit of an unbridled social media in indoctrination and motivation of the valley’s youths in the age group of 14-24 years to join as their cadres. Children in the tender age of 14-18 years care little about the consequences of his bravado. Officials claim that money as well channels of indoctrinations and recruitment have been operating from Pakistan and some other countries.
A US State Department report on human trafficking in India in 2020 stated that non-state armed groups continue to recruit and use children as young as 14 years in direct hostilities against the government in Jammu and Kashmir.