When Yaseen Yatoo was yet to become Mehmood Ghaznavi way back in 2015, he had expressed his ‘serious concern’ over the glamorization of militancy on social media by the new age militants. The trend, he argued as Tehreek Hurriyat (TeH) member, is costing the safe-houses of these militants once they step out of the woods.
“This Selfie Militancy worked for Burhan,” Yasin was quoted as saying by his TeH associate. “But it doesn’t mean that it will work for everyone. This will have a serious backlash.”
A chain-smoker by habit, Yatoo was known for giving patient hearing to his associates while taking long puffs of his favourite brand Four Square cigarette. Only after everyone had finished, would he make points and back them with very strong arguments.
“Yaseen wasn’t only a well-trained and an experienced Mujahid, but a very sound intellectual person, too,” said one of his TeH associates. “Even when the forces killed him, they called his parents to assure them that it was indeed him.”
On August 13, 2017, Yatoo along with his two associates Sheikh Irfan-ul-Haq and Umar Majid Sheikh were killed in Awneera encounter. The passage of the ‘old hand’ was hailed as a ‘very big success’ by Kashmir police chief, Munir Khan.
This time, unlike in 2016—when he was mourned by hundreds—police was sure about his fate. Then, his ‘absentia funeral’ was held at his native Nagam village in Chadoora, following the news of his accidental death on LoC.
But between his passage and the legend trailing his gun, is a lurking question: what made Yatoo so special?
“His thinking acumen and a broad vision,” says his former TeH associate.
Yatoo came into limelight after the charismatic commander Burhan Wani was killed in July 2016. Many were caught in awe when pictures and videos of a 40-something-old man—sporting pepper beard and hair—began circulating on social media.
It is believed that Yatoo had addressed a huge gathering on August 14, Independence Day of Pakistan, last year at Kulgam. The video went viral.
Yatoo was one of the longest surviving and most experienced militants who according to his family had left his home for the first time in 1996 when he was an undergraduate student at the Amar Singh College of Srinagar.
In 2002, Yatoo joined militant ranks for the second time. He was arrested one year later and sent to the Central Jail under lawless Public Safety Act. He left militancy after his release in early 2015 and actively took part in protests. He had also joined Tehreek-e-Hurriyat but only to leave and join back militancy and end up as Hizb’s Operational Commander.
“Yatoo was mostly active in Kulgam and was playing an active role in new recruitments,” a police official said.
In recent months, Yatoo’s videos had gone viral several times on social media, where he addressed the youth and mostly spoke about “confusions being created about the freedom struggle of Kashmir.” He kept insisting on unity at any cost.
Among most of the native militants in Kashmir who, according to police, have very rudimentary training, Yatoo had his training stint in “Azad Kashmir”. He also figured in the list of 11 most wanted militants released by the Army on May 30, 2017.
But perhaps in Kashmir’s insurgent history, none made as many comebacks to rebel ranks as Yatoo did. Every time he called it quits, he only embraced militancy all over again.