Kashmir continues to burn. Kashmiris continue to beat their chests in an unprecedented outpouring of grief over the death of Burhan Wani and the rest of India continues to ask – why this grief over the death of a terrorist? Was he a hero to Kashmiris?
Well, the truth is that Burhan Muzaffar Wani died on 8 July. And till 7 July, no one outside Kashmir had heard of him. He was known inside Kashmir, but had a niche audience. On 9 July 2016, Burhan Muzaffar Wani became a poster boy for Kashmiri separatists and certain media houses in India. Why and how did this happen?
Burhan Wani was popular amongst the young and radicalized of Kashmir. He was also popular with the security forces. Both wanted to meet him, but for different reasons.
It is important to deconstruct the manufactured myth surrounding him before it solidifies into something tangible. India must know the truth.
On 26 May 2014 Narendra Damodardas Modi took over as the 14th Prime Minister of India. Pakistan had already branded him a Hindutva-RSS man, who they thought would focus specifically on a domestic right-wing agenda like the Ram Mandir and the alienation of Indian Muslims from the mainstream. Pakistan planned its India policy based on these assumptions, and as usual wrapped Kashmir around it.
None of what Pakistan assumed, happened. Instead, Modi surprised everyone and went on a global charm offensive. He did three things very effectively.
- He reached out to the Indian diaspora in all the countries that he traveled to and was received like a global statesman.
- He pitched for massive foreign investment in India, and got it.
- He adopted a constant and consistent policy of isolating Pakistan on the global stage.
As an extension of point 3, Modi started strengthening diplomatic ties with important members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a close-knit body of 57 Muslim majority countries.
It is because of point # 3 that Burhan Muzaffar Wani became a manufactured celebrity overnight.
India considerably improved and cemented its relationship with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel, all at the same time. Those who understand foreign affairs will agree that not only is this truly remarkable, but till it happened, was thought to be entirely impossible.
For the past seven decades, Pakistan has based its foreign policy on 5 parameters only.
- Its friendship with China. Its role in the 60’s of playing mediator between USA and China cemented this relationship.
- Its geostrategic location, with land access to Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia (through Afghanistan) and India. It also has two warm water ports; Port Qasim & Karachi Port Trust in Karachi, and Gwadar, a semi-operational port in Balochistan, built and operated by the Chinese.
- Kashmir and the related UN Resolutions.
- Being US’s front line ally in the war against terror, and using this handle to get massive foreign aid.
- Being the only Muslim nuclear weapons state.
As Modi collected frequent flier miles and the position of Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif took a beating at home, three things happened in the 2nd week of July 2016.
To the untrained eye, they may seem totally unrelated. But related they are, like conjoined triplets.
On July 9, Burhan Wani was elevated to dead rock-star terrorist status.
On 14 July, huge billboards started appearing in major Pakistani cities urging Gen. Raheel Sharif to take over Pakistan and establish military rule. No one could initially figure out who was responsible for this and what was the motive.
On 16 July, Imran Khan, the Chairman of Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf said that the people of Pakistan would distribute sweets if the Pakistan Army took over the country.
Pakistan has traditionally been an insecure state. Conspiracy theories are a national pastime. For seventy years, it has been teetering on the edge. In the last 14 months, Modi pushed it over that edge. An isolated Pakistan was desperate for a foreign policy win. It had suffered a hiding of hideous proportions very recently in the US Senate. Pakistan has been called a rouge state, compulsive nuclear proliferator, and the Haqqani network a veritable arm of the ISI, all this on the floor of the US Senate, by its number one partner in the war on terror, the United States of America.
When Burhan Wani was killed, the Generals at GHQ Rawalpindi, the purveyors of all foreign policy disasters of the Fortress of Islam, had a brainwave. Why not project Burhan Wani as an image, a representation of how brutal Indian occupation in Kashmir was? Why not shake up the world’s conscience?
So on the evening of 8 July, images of a “young and handsome Burhan Wani” donning a stylish camouflage combat dress surrounded by his followers started going viral. A person, whom very few knew of, suddenly became a celebrity, thanks to the Inter Services Intelligence of the Pakistan Army, and its paid stooges in the Kashmir Valley.
A few days later when the hype had reached critical mass, Pakistan did what it does best. It shot itself in the foot. It declared 19 July a “black day” in honor of Burhan Wani, the leader of a designated terrorist outfit. It then shifted the date to 20 July.
The elevation of a hitherto unknown terrorist to a hero is nothing more than the Pakistani Army trying to reassert itself domestically, using Kashmir. Why Kashmir? Because that is all that aid-dependent Pakistan has ever used in 70 years. It has nothing else to use.
It has denied its own citizens for 70 years, exhorting them to sacrifice at the alter of Kashmir. But it is not Nawaz Sharif, who lives on a 400-acre farmhouse near Lahore, who sacrifices. It is not the Pakistani Army Generals who zealously guard their corner plots in Islamabad and Lahore, who sacrifice. It is the common man on the street that sacrifices, who gives donations to Hafiz Saeed’s Lashkar-e-Toiba and sends his sons to die in Kashmir.
During the Afghan jihad, Gen. Zia ul Haq, President of Pakistan called Lt. Gen. Akhtar Abdur Rehman, the then Director General of the ISI and told him, “The water in Afghanistan must boil at the right temperature”. Zia wanted to create enough problems for the Russians in Kabul, but without pushing them over the edge. He feared Soviet retaliation. The ISI has now taken a leaf out of Zia’s book. It is trying to boil the water at the right temperature in Kashmir. But it is faced with two problems.
One, India is not the Soviet Union and we are in Kashmir, which is an integral part of India. Two, Pakistan is an aid-dependent country with ZERO international credibility. The global community does not remember the last time Pakistan spoke the truth.
And these are precisely the reasons why the myth of Burhan Wani, so synthetically created, will crumble.