Kashmir unrest: Security forces at a loss as Pakistan-run social networks draw youth towards militancy

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The surrender of a militant who showed up at the funeral of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Sabzar Ahmad Bhat recently, in Tral, has revealed that an increasing number of youths in the Valley are being drawn towards militancy by joining social networking sites run from Pakistan.

A number of WhatsApp groups with administrators in Pakistan and social networking sites run from across the border are being used to draw youths towards militancy. A recent police report noted that the use of social networking sites by militants and locals remains a major challenge in Kashmir and that it had employed to aggravate the unrest in the Valley last year, after the killing of Hizbul militant commander Burhan Muzafar Wani.

Director General of Police, SP Vaid, said that there were a number of such WhatsApp groups and social media account pages. “We have detained many youths who were trying to foment trouble,” he said.

Kashmir. Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

A top official said that at least 250 members can be added to such WhatsApp groups and that there were over 1,000 such groups with administrators in Pakistan.

Police are also investigating the role of local youth in hacking the website of National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar recently, on which a message saying Kashmir should be “freed” from Indian occupation was splashed.

A security official said that they had come across at least 15-20 complaints at the cyber cell in Srinagar about Facebook pages and personal accounts being used to aggravate the unrest in Kashmir. “Besides the cases registered at the cyber cell, there are people who have been booked under the IT act at different police stations. We are reporting the URLs to the officials at Facebook and other networking sites to get them blocked,” a senior police official said.

Due to the increasing use of social networking sites propagating anti-India activities, security agencies recently suspended certain social networking sites after getting a nod from Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti at a security review meeting held in Srinagar.

Mobile internet services were snapped in parts of South Kashmir on Wednesday as well. The volatile region has erupted over the killing of a student and injuries sustained by several other youths who had thronged to an encounter site in Shopian, to help militants escape the security forces. Though people have reacted sharply, terming the suspension of mobile services as a gag, top security officials said that this was also done to prevent the sharing of videos posted by militants as well as to stop rumours from spreading.

“The internet is being suspended but we can’t suspend WhatsApp groups that are run from Pakistan,” a senior police official said.

Recently, when United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, David Kaye, had sought feedback from Kashmiris over the impact of internet gag on them, his timeline was swamped with tweets on how the “gag was affecting students and businessmen”. Several people also shared videos “highlighting the brutalities by the government forces on the students.”

According to police, militant Danish Ahmad, son of Farooq Ahmad and a resident of Kulan Gam village in Handwara, had appeared at Bhat’s funeral in his hometown Tral. Police said that he was drawn into militancy because of social networking sites.

Police officials said that Danish was studying BSc (third year) at Doon PG College of Agriculture Science and Technology, Dehradun, and had been previously involved in stone-pelting incidents at Handwara last year, during the protests triggered after Wani was killed.

Superintendent of Police, Handwara, Ghulam Geelani, said that Danish had been in touch with Hizbul militants via social networking sites before he joined militancy. “There are some other youths as well who are involved in this case… we will make more arrests shortly,” he said.

“Once it was learnt that Danish has joined militancy, Handwara police and 21 RR Army got in touch with his parents and impressed upon them to counsel their son to surrender. His parents were convinced that if he surrenders, he would be dealt with fairly under the law. Efforts made by security forces yielded results and Danish surrendered,” a police official said.

During the investigation, it was revealed that Danish was in touch with militants of South Kashmir region via social media sites “and it was at their instigation that he had decided to become a militant.

“According to police officials, Danish was tasked by Hizbul commanders to “activate” some local youth in North Kashmir and pull them into militant ranks.

The revelation of Danish’s entry into militancy through the use of social networking sites comes days after Mufti was informed at a security review meeting that a number of WhatsApp groups, who have members in Kashmir, are being run from Pakistan.

Top security officials said that cases have also been registered against people using the networking sites to incite stone-pelting in Kashmir. A number of Facebook pages have also been blocked by the police after they posted messages that “were perceived to be fanning the unrest in Kashmir.” According to security officials, people were also eulogising militants on these networking sites.

Published Date: Jun 08, 2017 11:38 am | Updated Date: Jun 08, 2017 11:38 am