Rise of teenage fidayeen

  • Khalid Gul / Aakash Hassan
  • Publish Date: Jan 8 2018 1:54AM
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  • Updated Date: Jan 8 2018 1:58AM
Rise of teenage fidayeen

A testament to failure of a security-centric approach to Kashmir


On the pleasant morning of September 14 last year, Fardeen Khanday, the oldest of a policeman’s four sons, left his home in Hayuna village, Tral, for a walk and didn’t return. Three days later, on September 17, his family received the news they feared: the 15-year-old had joined the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad.

“He woke up early as usual, offered Namaz, recited the Quran, and started studying. He had breakfast and went for a stroll,” recalls his father Ghulam Muhamad Khanday. The family searched for him, but eventually gave up after a few weeks.

A little over three months later, on New Year’s Eve, Fardeen turned up: at a CRPF camp at Lethpora village, Pulwama. He and two of his comrades – Manzoor Ahmad Baba and a Pakistani militant – had launched a pre-dawn Fidayeen attack on the camp, killing five CRPF personnel. In a few hours, the rebels lay dead as well. Fardeen had turned 16 two weeks earlier.

Fardeen was an unlikely militant, his father says. “He was an introvert, preferring solitude to hanging out with friends. He never even participated in protests. He was always engrossed in studies.”

Indeed, the night before he left home, Fardeen was up till past midnight, studying with his twin brother Faizan, preparing for the Class 10 annual exam. “He was the brightest of his siblings,” says his father. “He dreamed of becoming a doctor.” 

Yet, this is increasingly the profile of Kashmir’s new militants – bright young boys seemingly uninterested in any politics. And it has the security establishment worried. “Earlier, the militants were mostly in the 18-25 age group. But of late we are seeing boys as young as 15 being recruited,” said a senior police official who only agreed to speak anonymously.

The official claimed that while security agencies “always make the effort to arrest these young boys during gunfights”, they often refuse the offer of surrender and get killed.

That is likely because most of them are ideologically driven. “What we have observed is that these teenage boys who become militants are quite mature for their age,” says a political analyst who asked not to be named. As evidence, he pointed to a video recording of Fardeen that was released after the gunfight and went viral.

In it, Fardeen, speaking calmly in chaste Urdu, explains his decision to pick up the gun. “Our land is occupied by infidels,” he says. “So jihad becomes our duty.” It isn’t poverty and unemployment, he says, that drives young men like him to join the militancy: “That is propaganda peddled by the state.” 

Warning of Fidayeen attacks like those in Humhama, Pulwama, Pathankot and Nagrota, he says, “By the time this video reaches you I will be a guest in heaven.” This suggests the Lethpora attack had already been planned by when the nearly eight-minute video was recorded, although it is not known exactly when that was. 

“My friends and I have listened to the call for jihad and plunged into the battlefield. This battle will continue till the last occupying soldier leaves Kashmir,” Fardeen declares, and urges his peers to “join the fight against Indian aggression”.

Among the people who had come to offer condolences to Fardeen’s family was Muhamad Ismail Parray, 70, a retired government servant from nearby Ladibal village. “I know losing one’s son is not easy. But it is Allah’s wish and we should submit to it,” he tells the mourners. 

He should know. His 19-year old son Ishaq Ahmad Parray, popular among his friends as Newton for his exceptional academic record, had just passed Class 12 with over 90 per cent marks and was preparing for the IIT engineering entrance exam when he left to join the Hizbul Mujahideen in March 2015. He was killed in a gunfight with the Indian forces exactly a year after.

In March last year, 15-year-old Faizan Ahmad from Tral town who aspired to be a doctor left to join the Hizbul Mujahideen, and was killed only a few months later, on May 27.

“He was the best among us,” says his friend Murawat Hussain, adding that he loved cricket and dreamed of becoming a doctor. “He never so much as mentioned anything about the militancy.” 

The rebel visited his family once, his grandfather Abdul Gani Sheikh says, and they tried to persuade him to surrender. “No, I have chosen my path,” replied the boy who had only just begun to sprout a beard. “Pray for my martyrdom.” 

Barely a few days after Faizan joined the Hizb, Aadil Chopan, a Class 11 student from Luraw village in Tral, followed him. Unlike Faizan, though, he would talk to his friends about “the oppression faced by our people and freedom”. But he never showed an inclination towards taking up the gun, his friends and family say. “The day we came to know about his decision we were utterly surprised,” says his father Abdul Rashid Chopan.

Two months later, Adil would be caught in a gunfight in Saimoh village of Tral, in which Hizb commander Sabzar Bhat and Faizan Bhat were killed. He survived. “As people came to know that Sabzar and his associate were trapped in a house they tried their best to rescue them. The forces had a tough time dealing with the protesters but finally managed to kill Sabzar by blowing up the house,” says a villager who asked not to be named. “But they were soon forced to flee from the village by the protesters. Later, they would Adil in a cupboard of the damaged house and rescued him.” He eventually fell on November 20, in an encounter in Seer village of Tral.

In early August, two young militants were killed in a brief gunbattle in Kulgam district’s Gopalpora village. Aaqib Hamid Itoo, 16, was a local while Suhail Arif, also 16, was from Yaripora, a village not far away. Aaqib had joined the Hizb in September 2016, soon after the killing of the storied Hizb commander Burhan Wani, while Suhail joined in March 2017.

“Aqib never participated in protests, neither showed any inclination for militancy. So, everyone was surprised by his decision,” says a villager in Gopalpora.

Suhail’s neighbours say he was constantly harassed by government forces who accused him of being an “overground worker” for militants. “It finally forced him to become a militant.”