« Back to articlePrint this article

'Burhan Wani or Lt Ummer Fayaz? Kashmiris have to decide'

May 19, 2017 09:07 IST

'100 Fayazs will bring a change in Kashmir, that's why they don't want a Fayaz,' soldiers who have served in Kashmir tell's Archana Masih.

An army officer pays tribute to Lieutenant Ummer Fayaz, who was murdered by terrorists, at his funeral. Photograph: Umar Ganie

Like every other soldier who has requested for leave to attend a family wedding, Lieutenant Ummer Fayaz, just 22, had taken leave to attend a cousin's wedding.

He must have put away his uniform in his cupboard for those few days and put on a pair of jeans and t-shirts maybe to make the journey home. He may have bought some gifts; or a box of popular local sweets for his folks.

He must have carried with him that unmatched euphoric feeling that only a soldier -- or boarding school student -- can understand.

The joy of going home.

Lieutenant Ummer Fayaz was abducted and killed in his native Kulgam in the Kashmir valley. His body was brutally punctured with bullets by terrorists.

Just five months after being commissioned in the Indian Army, the officer from Kashmir was killed amongst his own.

"He came from a village in Kulgam which is in a remote area. It is over 100 km from Srinagar. If a boy from Delhi or Chandigarh goes to the NDA (National Defence Academy), it is a normal thing, but if a boy from a remote area in the Kashmir valley joins the academy it means he had something in him," says a young Kashmiri professional in his late twenties, who does not want to be named for this report.

"His father was not working outside the state -- that would have provided him exposure. He was a small apple merchant," the young Kashmiri, who works outside the valley, points out.

"His killing was shameful. But this will not discourage people from joining the fauj. Nobody can stop them," says the young Kashmiri who says 8 to 10 young men from his village in Kashmir serve in the armed forces.

The Indian Army's regiments like the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAKLI) headquartered on the outskirts of Srinagar, the Ladakh Scouts (the regimental centre in Leh) and the J&K Rifles has a large number of Kashmiris serving in its various battalions.

"There are many officers and men from J&K serving in the army. Many have risen to be generals. Even officers from the valley and Ladakh have attained high ranks and positions. In the paramilitary and civil administration, they have become DGPs, chief secretaries and made useful contributions to the nation," says retired Lieutenant General D B Shekatkar, who served in J&K and recently submitted a report to the Union government on wide ranging defence reforms.

"Here is a case where an officer who was not even serving in counter insurgency or any operations against insurgents was targeted only because he joined the Indian Army," adds retired Brigadier R S Rawat, a second generation soldier who served in J&K in the late 1990s.

Asked if soldiers from the valley need to be cautious while going on leave, Brigadier Rawat says, "You can't have 2-3 people protecting a soldier when he is on chutti. An advisory will perhaps be given to soldiers that they should not go to places that are vulnerable or travel alone when on leave."

Images of young Kashmiris -- girls and boys -- throwing stones at the security forces and a video of CRPF personnel being heckled notwithstanding, there has been an overwhelming response at army and paramilitary recruitment centres in the Kashmir valley.

"The Hurriyat Conference does not want the youth to join the security forces because they fear that if they do, they will not get cannon fodder," says General Shekatkar who believes that governmental failure in the last 12 years has resulted in terrorism migrating from the northern part of Kashmir to the south.

"Lieutenant Fayaz and Burhan Wani grew up in the same environment, under the shadow of the terrorist gun. One became an officer of the Indian Army, the other a terrorist. The people of Kashmir have to decide what they want their children to be -- Wani or Fayaz," the general adds.

Perturbed about the low numbers of mourners at Lieutenant Fayyaz's funeral compared to the massive crowds that attended Wani's funeral defying a curfew last July, Brigadier Rawat believes a large number of people in the valley are not sympathisers of these extremists, but are being intimidated.

"It is also fodder for extremists and people on the other side of the border that things are going out of shape in J&K," the brigadier adds. "I am sure the government is taking necessary measures to ensure that there is no further ammunition to blow the situation out of shape."

"But this is not going to deter Kashmiris from joining the army. Far from it."

"Those from the valley who join the army understand what India is and where they stand," adds retired Major General Lalji D Singh, a veteran of three wars, whose son and grand-daughter are serving army officers.

"Lieutenant Fayaz's killing is only to scare the weak hearted, but they will not succeed," General Singh feels.

Prolonged conflict becomes a way of life and a cottage industry, points out General Shekatkar, who has studied the mindset of 1,127 terrorists across the world to understand how they lead and control terrorist organisations.

"100 Fayazs will bring a change in Kashmir, that's why they don't want a Fayaz, but want 20 Burhan Wanis instead -- who would need at least 1 lakh troops to control," says General Shekatkar.

Deeply troubled as he is with the killing of the young officer, a fellow native of the state, the young Kashmiri professional, who did not want to be named, feels the Union government should ponder why hundreds of Kashmiris defied a curfew for Wani's funeral but did not come to mourn a soldier serving in the army.

Something is not right and the government needs to find out the 'whys' behind these telling signs and talk to the youth, he feels.

The youth cannot be won by force, he explains, and the government needs to think of something that is "alag" (different).

"The Union and state governments will have to convert this negative mindset to positive," says General Shekatkar.

"You can't fire a nuclear bomb against a mindset."

"The government will spend thousands of crores, send more troops, have conclaves in Delhi -- but unless you speak to the people of Kashmir, stay with them -- nothing will happen," the general says.

He proposes that brilliant Kashmiri students should be given educational opportunities in other states and should be provided skill development apart from degrees so that they can return to the valley as professionals.

It is this vacuum that is being exploited by hardline Wahabbi thought process and madarsas, he adds.

Other parts of Kashmir like Kargil-Dras-Leh should be developed as tourist attractions, the general says.

A new highway connecting Kupwara-Barmulla-Uri-Rajouri-Jammu should be developed, so that the blocking of the lone Jammu-Srinagar highway by protestors can be prevented.

He also suggests the need to open special economic zone between Jammu-Pathankot to encourage industry.

The spread of hardline Wahabbi Islam with support from across the border should not be allowed to spread, asserts General Shekatkar, and members of the separatist Hurriyat Conference should be sent away from the valley.

Kashmir, he adds, needs to think beyond political families that have governed Kashmir for decades.

"No power on earth can take away Kashmir by the power of gun. The reason there were hardly any people at Lieutenant Fayaz's funeral was because of the threat of terrorists. It was the fear of survival," the general says.

"Pakistan wants to keep India occupied in Kashmir to keep it busy from taking on other challenges. The One Road One Belt initiative is going to play havoc," says General Shekatkar.

"Pakistan will be worse than Syria. It will become economic bonded labour of China. We have to be very careful."

IMAGE: An army officer pays tribute to Lieutenant Ummer Fayaz, who was murdered by terrorists, at his funeral. Photograph: Umar Ganie for

Archana Masih In Mumbai