They are forced to suppress their personal grief and display pride, whereas realistically, their loss is like that of any parent across the globe whose child has gone astray

by Harsha Kakar

The elimination of the Hizbul Mujahideen leader, Riyaz Naikoo was in some media outlets termed as ‘revenge’ for the deaths of security force personnel in Handwara, while others sought to humanise him as a ‘maths teacher turned rebel commander.’ Both these comments are grossly out of place. Terming the killing of a terrorist as revenge for loss of lives of soldiers degrades the Indian army.

How can loss of soldiers be equated to the elimination of a brigand? Further, the two incidents involved different terrorist groups. In addition, the fact that Naikoo picked the gun and challenged the Indian state implies he is an enemy, his earlier profession is of no consequence. This is not the first time that media has sought to glorify terrorist leaders.

Every time a known terrorist is eliminated, the media goes on overdrive seeking to project him as a ‘Rambo’ whereas he basically remains a terrorist who coordinated killings of innocents to push forth an agenda of fear on behalf of his foreign masters. Most terrorist group heads remain poorly trained, propped up as leaders by their handlers in Pakistan, mainly because these individuals can effectively exploit social media as a tool for motivating others to join the so-called fight for unification of Kashmir with Pakistan.

Terrorists generally have a short life span. Only those who remain in hiding, plotting operations while avoiding direct contact with security forces survive a bit longer. These leaders spend time building a larger than life image employing social media thereby inciting others into joining their group. Subsequently, they push these new entrants to the forefront of encounters, with almost no training in handling weapons, leading to their easy elimination, and with the hope that this would result in more youth joining them.

Most who follow in their footsteps do so seeking to display a macho image and gain standing amongst the youth, almost none for a cause. Therefore, it is the local Kashmiri youth who are treated as pawns by these so-called terrorist leaders in a similar manner as their masters in Pakistan, who push illiterate terrorists across after brainwashing them. Glorifying such individuals overshadows their crime of being responsible for the death of Kashmiri youth whom they motivated and then sent out to be eliminated.

Police reports from the valley would say that Naikoo and his predecessor Burhan Wani were behind planning and execution of specific violent incidents in the valley but would never state their direct participation in an operation. In fact, during the encounter which killed him, Burhan Wani did not fire a single bullet against security forces. All firing was done by those alongside him. Naikoo is claimed to have even shouted ‘Pakistan Murdabad’ to save his life, but to no avail.

Militant leaders hide in known residential localities, protected by vulnerable family members either willingly or by force. They deserve no words of sympathy nor should their antecedents be mentioned. They are enemies of the state and should be considered as just statistics. Glorification of terrorists was a part of their funerals. In an article in ‘The Real Kashmir News’ written about a week ago, MS Niazki describes the mechanics of funeral processions of terrorists. He states there is a pro-Pakistan over ground workers group termed as the ‘funeral brigade’.

It arrives in the village of the slain terrorist a few hours before the arrival of the body, takes over responsibility and organises the funeral. Village residents have no choice but to attend, failing which they become targets of over ground workers. This is the crowd that the media projects as large and supportive to the slain militant. Most violence during such processions is initiated by the funeral brigade.

Parents are briefed on how to behave for maximum impact. They are forced to suppress their personal grief and display pride, whereas realistically, their loss is like that of any parent across the globe whose child has gone astray. Slogans are predetermined for maximum effect and those who do not respond in full are threatened. Few innocent Kashmiris get carried away by the display of sentiments and immediately join terrorist groups.

The current decision of not handing over bodies of terrorists has stopped this fake and organised form of glorification. Elimination of terrorists should worry Pakistan and not us. Syed Salahuddin, the head of the Hizbul Mujahideen in a memorial service for Naikoo announced that they are losing the battle in Kashmir. He claimed that the killing would lead to more joining their ranks, which is unlikely. In a few days Naikoo would be just another statistic and forgotten across the region.

Such unwarranted glorification also plays into the hands of Pakistan. In this instance, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, exploiting comments in the Indian media, stated that resistance within Kashmir was localised and not sponsored by them. He went on to claim that there were no launch pads across the LoC as resistance was within. The Indian Army refused to confirm the elimination of Naikoo, considering him just another terrorist, while only the J and K police discussed his elimination.

The army spokesperson stated, ‘Army won’t confirm the names of the terrorists killed. The security forces are the heroes who eliminated four terrorists in 24 hours. We shall not glorify the terrorists by releasing their names. They are just terrorists.’ No matter who replaces him, no matter who picks the gun in sympathy, he will be remain another terrorist, another one marked for elimination.

Some may survive a few days, some a few months and an odd terrorist a few years; ultimately, they will die. The cycle of one terrorist leader replacing the other would continue for some time. The media should take a cue from the army line and treat eliminated terrorists as just numbers. Their past is irrelevant.

The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army