Not only young. Kashmir insurgency silently recruited old blood

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As a steady trickle of teenagers and young men disappeared from their houses during the last five years and fuelled a resurgence of Kashmir’s dying insurgency, a slower trickle of aging men also picked up arms even as they remained unnoticed.

Their age bracket was unusual; they were either nearing their forties or had crossed that mark and they had a generational gap with those who formed the bulk of the insurgency’s rank and file.

These aged men, according to several serving and retired police officials, provide a key element to the insurgency: the capability to recruit and motivate, and also survive. 

“I do not think that they have strong or different operational capability but they may have an idea of how to survive [for long]. They have the power to motivate youth [to join militancy],” a police officer with a lengthy experience in the counter-insurgency grid told The Kashmir Walla.

The survivability of many of these aged militants is definitely a distinguishing factor.  

According to the official data accessed by The Kashmir Walla, at least eleven militants out of nearly 100 locals operating in the region are nearing 40-years of age or more and some of them have survived for more than five years.

The militants who joined the insurgency in their greying years include Farooq Ahmad Bhat, 37, and Mohammad Abbas Sheikh, 41, – both of them from south Kashmir’s Kulgam district. Bhat and Sheikh had joined the militant movement in 2015. 

In 2016, at least two men – 43-year-old Jameel Ahmad Khan of north Kashmir’s Bandipora district and 41-year-old Mohammad Ashraf Khan of southern Anantnag district joined the insurgency. 

In 2017, 48-year-old Yusuf Dar of central Kashmir’s Budgam district and 41-year-old Mohammad Ishaq Shergojri of Anantnag district picked arms.

In 2018, Nisar Ahmad Khanday, 45, of Anantnag district, and Feroz Ahmad Dar, 38, of south Kashmir’s Shopian district joined militant ranks while Shameem Ahmad Sofi, 46, of southern Tral sub-district joined militant ranks in 2019. 

In 2020, 48-year-old Abdul Hameed Chopan of Tral – whose 17-year-old son Adil Ahmad was killed in a gunfight in 2017 – joined the militant ranks while Gulzar Ahmad Bhat, 40, was among the nearly 80 new recruits to have joined the insurgency this year.

Chopan is currently the eldest militant of the insurgency. Many of these aged militants now figure in the highly wanted list and are categorized as A-plus-plus – indicating their leadership roles in various militant groups.

Former Director-General of Police, Jammu and Kashmir, Shesh Paul Vaid told The Kashmir Walla said most of these militants were “recycled”, meaning they rejoined the insurgency following their release after several years of the arrest.

Vaid said that the aged people joining the militant ranks “is the outcome of religious radicalization”. 

The former police chief said that these militants were working “as motivators; motivating youth to join militancy”. “They are mostly motivators rather than field operators. They play a role in motivation and recruitment, which is dangerous,” he said.

Vaid said that the life expectancy of militants depends on the network of intelligence. “It can be guessed that if the information reaches [government forces about presence of militants], he will be killed and if it does not [reach] he can survive [for long],” he said.

Kashmir’s insurgency has had spells of waxing and waning as it is now in its fourth decade. In its first decade, there was a mix of age groups that filled the insurgency’s rank and file. 

The intense counter-insurgency operations, many of which were driven by specific intelligence but also included large-scale cordon and search operations – involving multiple villages and lasting days, left many of those militants dead.

In recent years, however, the militancy got its manpower from a young generation, most of whom were born during the insurgency years.

Ashkoor Wani, a former Deputy Inspector General of police with years of experience leading the counter-insurgency operations, said it is difficult to generalize the motivations. 

“It is not related to age because it is different, from case to case … and there are various factors,” he said.

“I will tell you a general trend, in the 90s the main reason for joining insurgency was that when a militant was killed thousands would join his funeral that gave an impression to the younger generation that being militant is an honor,” he said.  

The new-age militancy, Wani said, is not based on a religious ideology as it was in the 1990s. “But it is mostly out of hundred percent anti- India feeling,” he said. 

“And when we say anti-India, [it] means anti-government. There is a narrative among people that the government is wrong, they did this and that, they removed 370, etc. It is said it [government] is anti-Muslim and that is a big factor,” he said. 

“The narrative that the government is anti-Muslim is one of the most motivating factors,” he said.

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