By Harinder Baweja
Feb 21, 2019
Kashmir’s first suicide bomber, a young 17-year-old, Afaq Ahmed Shah, hit the headlines in the year 2000. The state had been in the grips of an insurgency since 1989 but never before had any from the Valley turned their bodies into guided missiles. That was left to foreign mercenaries who sneaked in from across the line of control.
After 22-year-old Adil Ahmad Dar rammed an explosive-laden car into a CRPF bus on Thursday, security officials, on the condition of anonymity, point out that “South Kashmir is full of Adils,” conceding that the trend is “extremely worrying.”
Neither Shah, nor Dar’s family had any inkling that either would blow himself up. I visited the Shah home, in 2000, and his father, Yusuf Shah, a school teacher said that his son was a shy and introverted child, who preferred the solace of his room to the chatter of his friends. The father recalled that his son usually spent his time studying so that he could become a doctor. Afaq had even got himself photographed wearing a doctor’s coat and a stethoscope and kept the framed picture in his room.
The youngest of three brothers, none in the Shah family thought his behaviour had changed when Afaq started spending nights in the local mosque next door. It was good, his parents thought, that he was taking an interest in religion. They were not overly worried either when on some evenings at home Afaq would read the Quran by candlelight even when there was power. The flickering flame and the Quran soon became a routine. Afaq would read out aloud and cry.
There’s always a back story. And, like with many young men and women who get radicalised all over the world, the family either didn’t see or didn’t want to see what was happening.
Then one day, Afaq just left home. Three weeks later, he called his father to say he was leaving. A few hours after the phone call, the Shahs heard security vehicles screech to a halt outside their door. Their son, they were told, had blown himself up at the Badami Bagh gate in Srinagar, the army’s 15 Corps headquarters.
He had driven a stolen red Maruti -- laden with explosives -- to the high-security barrier. What remained of him were several pieces, his body having been blown over a distance of 100 metres.
Dar’s family too got a phone call soon after the attack on the CRPF convoy, the worst attack in the state’s three-decade long insurgency. They knew when he left home in March last year, to resurface holding a weapon on social media sites, that he would die. Why did he choose the path of violence?
His father recounts an incident that left a mark on his son’s psyche. In several interviews since the attack, the father narrates how his son was deeply affected by how he was made to rub his nose on the ground by security officials while on his way back from school. After that, he dropped out of Class 12 and started engaging in what his family called “pro-freedom politics”.
Adil was one among the hundreds — if not thousands — who took to the streets after the killing of poster-boy militant commander Burhan Wani. Kashmir was angry, not only because Wani was eliminated in an encounter, but because the trust deficit between the Valley and Delhi had eroded over the years and reached break point. For too long, Kashmiris believed that the Centre would address their grievances politically.
There was a glimmer of hope in 2010 when Delhi tried to address the anger then by sending a team of interlocutors who painstakingly spoke to several stakeholders and turned in a report that referred to Kashmir as a dispute. No one, however, paid attention to the recommendations.
The eruption of anger after Wani’s killing in 2016 was a consequence of 2010. If 2010 was a long period of unrest, 2016 saw an uprising that gave birth to new-age militants, including Dar. If the number of locals joining militancy began to steeply rise, it was because they appeared fed-up with Delhi’s unwillingness to accept the very political nature of the Kashmir problem.
The protests in 2016 were deeply symptomatic. So too is Dar’s wilful act of blowing himself up. “Oppression fuels our jihad,’’ is what he said in a video recorded before last Thursday’s terror attack. The fear among the security establishment now is that many in South Kashmir believe that. As a security official said: “The weapon is now in the mind and the bodies.”
Harinder Baweja anchors special projects for Hindustan Times. She has been a journalist for three decades and has focussed on covering conflict zones, including Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.