Why the surrender of Lashkar's latest recruit has rattled Kashmir militancy
Just a week after 20-year-old Majid Irshad Khan joined the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba, the ace footballer surrendered to the Army in Kashmir.
A video appeal by his mother had gone viral on social media and thousands had urged the 20-year-old to quit militancy and return home. Across the Valley, his decision to join militancy had triggered a wave of hand-wringing, a sentiment heightened by the fact that Majid is the only son of his parents.
Many of his friends also took to social media to beg him to return.
The situation took a turn for the worse when on Wednesday, when the news spread through South Kashmir of Majid being allegedly trapped at an encounter site, his father suffered a minor heart attack and was admitted at a local hospital.
All these developments contributed to Majid’s alleged surrender. He gave himself up before 1 Rashtriya Rifles of the army at around 10.30 pm on Thursday. He was later handed over to Victor Force, based at Awantipora.
However, Lashkar has denied that Majid had surrendered. In a statement, the outfit said that Majid had been allowed to return as he was the lone son of his parents.
“Majid did not surrender but we send him back to serve his old parents,” a statement attributed to LeT said: “Footballer Majid Khan was released from the ranks of Lashkar on humanitarian grounds for being the lone son of old parents”.
A wave of arrests
Majid’s surrender is no small development. It comes immediately in the wake of the arrests of the three more militants, one of whom is Majid's friend and fellow sportsman Shamsul Waqar, a former student of Delhi Public School.
Waqar was among the very few youth from Anantnag town to join the militancy. The youth of the town have so far held back while those in the neighbouring countryside and the districts have joined in droves, plunging South Kashmir in turmoil over the past three years.
But when Waqar and Majid took up gun, it had appeared that this could motivate more youth from the town to follow in their footsteps.
To that effect, some signs had already begin to crop up. Two days before Majid left home to join militants, Waqar, armed with AK-47, had walked to the town’s stadium, just 300 metres from the nearby police station, seated himself in the pavilion and got his picture taken with a message in the background ‘Aaja Tahir Aaja (come Tahir come)’.
Tahir is a former counter-insurgent, now working as a major with the Army and Waqar was daring him to come and face him.
The picture went viral on social media with most of its viewers, most of them youth, hailing Waqar for his courage. But three days later, both Waqar and Majid are in police and Army custody respectively.
In addition to them, two more militants - Bilal Ahmad Sheikh and Ata Muhammad Malik - were arrested during the encounter at Kund-Waltengoo where a soldier and a militant were killed. Ata Muhammad was caught in an injured condition and is being treated at a hospital.
Finding a way back
The arrest of the three militants and the surrender of one in just three days has imparted a sudden momentum to the ongoing government campaign to get the local militants to join the mainstream. Though since the unrest last year, the state government is following a policy of discrimination in favour of local militants, no fewer than an estimated 20 militants have given up arms in a period spread over more than a year.
At a press conference on Thursday, Inspector General of Police Munir Khan said that they would accept the surrender of the militants even during a gunfight.
“Even if local militants put their hand up during an encounter, we will let them live and help them join the mainstream,” Khan said, adding that the police had launched a vigorous counselling campaign to discourage youth from picking up arms. “We hope to get positive results in near future”.
Khan also said that the government was very keen to have a proper surrender policy in place. “The state government has sought suggestions from the police and we are compiling them. I am sure we will have a compact and worthwhile surrender policy ready in near future,” Khan said.
Flanking Khan, the Inspector General of CRPF (Operations) Zulfikar Hassan and commander of Army’s sector 2 Sachin Malik expressed similar resolve.
Following Majid’s surrender, security forces have decided to play it up big with the police, CRPF and the Army holding a joint press conference at Awantipora. The event was ostensibly held to build upon the gains of the fresh arrests and the surrender and try and force abandonment of arms by more militants.
However, while the arrests and the surrenders are certain to have some impact in militant ranks, Majid’s return to his parents alive has generally been welcomed by the people in Kashmir. His father expressed a deep gratitude to the people for playing a role in getting his son back.
Many took to social media to express their satisfaction over the turn of events. Several people, some of them Majid’s friends and relatives, had issued direct appeals to Majid to return.
"Today, I saw your maa and abu. They are completely broken, please come back. Don't leave your parents like that,” wrote one Rahie Sadaf, an acquaintance of Majid. “You are the only hope of your parents. They can't take this separation. I swear by Allah I was not able to talk to them. When I saw them, tears were rolling down the eyes of your father and mother. Please, Majid, for sake of them,please come back. We love you."
This year alone, more than 170 militants, most of them local youth, have been killed in the encounters with the security forces. This has made a significant number of people sceptical of the militancy as a viable option as a means of struggle for Azadi or a resolution of Kashmir.