Three years after joining Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, 21-year-old Zakir Rashid Bhat for the very first time appeared on eight-minute-long video that was released through social media websites on Tuesday and subsequently shared widely. While some security officials, who monitor militant activities in Kashmir Valley maintain, that Burhan Wani’s successor is “no different from any other terrorist in the valley”, other observers in the establishment, aware of the new video, not only consider Zakir’s rise to militant ranks worrying but believe his “sermons could set-off a dangerous precedent”.
The reason attributed to this belief is the contrast in what was spoken by Zakir on Tuesday and what his predecessor Burhan Wani had been speaking until his killing on July 8. For starters, the political climate in which Burhan was active as a militant commander in Kashmir has changed quite drastically. In the two video addresses of Burhan, the slain Hizb militant is heard talking of multiple topics ranging from alleged police brutality to Amarnath Yatra. In absence of civilian protests, Burhan felt the need for more recruits for his outfit however the same cannot be said about Zakir’s first address. Instead Zakir asks people of Kashmir to continue the protest till “azaadi” is not achieved. Interestingly the new militant commander gives Pakistan a complete miss even though Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, itself stands for Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan.
Among other things mentioned by Zakir is the analogy he draws between the Jammu and Kashmir local police and the dreaded “Ikhwanis.” Ikhwan, also known locally as “naabedh”, were government backed militia mostly made up of surrendered Kashmiri militants. The comparison between the two, according to some in the security establishment, is intentional and could prove detrimental for the morale of the police force in Kashmir. While Burhan had threatened the police in his speeches, the police recruitment drive, which has in the past seen a lot of participation by Kashmiri locals, has never been targeted by militant groups in the valley.
The police force was not the only target of Zakir in his address. Panchayat elections as well as the media found a mention in Zakir’s sermon. While Burhan had previously accused media of “biased reporting”, the former militant commander didn’t mention the Panchayat elections of Kashmir which have often seen killings of sarpanchs(village heads) accused of being anti-Kashmir. In the past there has been reluctance when it came to owning up the killings of sarpanch’s by militants, however Zakir seemed to have no qualms in threatening them with death.
“I am neither a commander nor the chief of any outfit. I am soldier of Allah who wants to forewarn you of India’s nefarious designs India is conspiring by recruiting special police officers (SPOs). They are trying to revive Ikhwan in Kashmir. They want Kashmiris among themselves. Do not take part in it (recruitment drive) and those who participate will be responsible for their death,” Zakir is heard saying in the video. He further goes on to say the same about the panchayat elections.
“Statements similar to what Zakir Bhat or Burhan Wani have been made during the insurgency. The visuals that come with it are definitely a cause of concern but it’s nothing that security forces on ground have ever witnessed ,” a senior security official told dna while discussing the constant releases of videos and sermons of militant groups active in Kashmir. Other quarters in the intelligence network admit that authorities will have to give a serious thought to its future counter insurgency operations is a situation like the current crisis has to be avoided.
The National Investigation Agency is likely to crack down on individuals in Jammu and Kashmir, whom the agency suspects funding terrorist and unlawful activities in the valley.”Based on technical inputs, information has been collected that certain bank accounts in J&K have seen huge inflow and outflow of funds during the last few months. These accounts are in names of persons whose income doesn’t warrant such banking transactions.
Similarly, information also indicates flow of funds into and disbursement there from in bank accounts of some persons of interest in J&K. To verify the details and to ascertain the end users of the flow of funds, NIA has registered Preliminary Enquiry into the subject and would submit its findings to MHA in due course,” said NIA, IG, Sanjeev Singh.