The circle of the hills
Srinagar: “Those who are developing an antithesis for the weapon wielder using the ink, let the genesis of my new role be known to them and all… Remember, I was born in the hills and I am back to them again.”
These words written in September this year came from the pen of geology scholar Mannan Bashir Wani, who picked up the gun nine months ago to join the Hizbul Mujahideen. More than the gun, what worried the government and its security establishment in Kashmir was the pen, which could galvanise more thoughtful, educated youth into militancy.
The 26-year-old Mannan had his home in tiny Takipora village in Kupwara district. In the days that followed Mannan’s declaration of war, more and more youths going missing and more and more encounters raging between militants and government forces in Kupwara proved that the government’s apprehensions were not misplaced. The hometown of Mannan, which had abandoned militancy long ago, was returning to the battlefield:a small band of youths disappeared this year from their homes, without telling their families. Unlike in south Kashmir, where fresh recruits announce joining militant ranks by posting photos on social media, the new militants here maintained anonymity.
This sudden outbreak of militancy rang alarm bells. Government forces monitoring the situation picked up Mannan’s designs when two persons from Takipora village surfaced on the police radar. Their arrest and subsequent interrogation made them spill the beans: they confessed to recruiting “youth to militancy”.
This information was proof that Mannan was involved in recruiting youngsters, a police official told Kashmir Reader.
The gaining of ground in the erstwhile militancy hotbed of Kupwara prompted Mannan to shift his base recently from south Kashmir to lead the new band here. “He (Mannan) was seen in Pulwama’s Drubgam and Karimabad villages in August,” said a police official who tracked him in south Kashmir.
A top police officer, pleading anonymity, said Mannan “reluctantly” shifted from south to north to establish Hizb’s foothold here, and there was a “leadership tussle” involved.
The strategic frontier district of Kupwara lies in close proximity with the heavily fortified Line of Control (LoC) along rugged mountainous terrains. Since his joining Hizb on January 5 this year, Mannan sandwiched himself between south Kashmir’s two neighbouring districts –Pulwama and Shopian – but was actively overlooking “recruitment” of youth in north Kashmir. Compared to the south, north Kashmir has relatively little presence of militants, especially of the Hizb.
“His profile made him a hero among youngsters and resulted in radicalising of more youth,” a senior police official told Kashmir Reader. Belonging to an educated, well-to-do family, Mannan left his family dumbfounded when he joined militancy as he had never shown such inclination. In his old photos he appears as a fashionable boy. His friends and fellow scholars in Aligarh were equally surprised at his picking up the gun.
In a blog post, Mannan once pointed that the majority of Kashmiris consider Syed Ali Geelani as “protagonist of Kashmir cause”.
“Whether u agree or not, but I believe that most of Kashmiri population considers SASG as the protagonist of Kashmir cause, and his words as pious as their religious scriptures,” he wrote in a post addressed to Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
At AMU, Mannan was a research scholar at the department of Geology. He won an award in 2016 for best paper presented at an international conference on “Water, environment, ecology and society.” He was also active in student politics at AMU.
After deciding to become a militant, Mannan wrote a public letter rejecting the statist narrative that Kashmiri youths join militancy because they see dignity in death. “The militants don’t fight to die but to win… they don’t feel dignity in death but do feel dignity in fighting Indian forces,” he wrote in the widely circulated letter. Hours later, the government pulled it down from websites and blacked it out from Facebook timelines. The police even booked a local news portal for publishing the letter.
An alumnus of the Government of India-run school, Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, Mannan wrote last month of the government’s blackout of his first letter published earlier this year: “Even our words make shiver ‘the world’s largest democracy’.”