By the time he was killed Friday in a shootout with police, Wani had attracted dozens of young followers, authorities said, many from similarly well-educated families. Wani’s father is a school principal.
Violent protests since his death have killed more than 25 people, including a police officer who drowned Sunday when a mob swarmed his mobile command vehicle, pushing it into a tributary of the Jhelum River. Shops in the Kashmir Valley have been closed, Hindu pilgrims have been discouraged from traveling to a popular Shiva temple, and curfews have been put in place.
Wani was just 15 when he left his comfortable home in the town of Tral to join Kashmir’s largest insurgent group, Hizbul Mujahideen, and he eventually rose to become its chief of operations. Insurgents have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence or merger with Pakistan for decades.
The Kashmir region has been a flash point between India and Pakistan since India’s independence and its bloody partition in 1947, and both sides claim the land now split by one of the most heavily militarized borders in the world. Pakistan-supported militants have long operated in the Himalayan region.
Wani’s funeral early Saturday morning was attended by thousands, with mourners weeping and chanting slogans — a “carnival of martyrdom,” as one attendee told the Indian Express newspaper. Officials said the ongoing violence is the worst seen in Kashmir since the summer of 2010, when stone-pelting youths clashed with security forces for days, leaving more than 100 civilians dead.
The incident has caused friction between Pakistan and India, which was not pleased when Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, called the killing of civilians by the Indian security forces "deplorable." On Monday, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of the militant group Lashkar-i-Taiba, said he will hold prayers in Wani’s honor Friday in Lahore, the Pakistani city where Saeed lives openly despite a $10 million bounty on his head from the U.S. government.
Critics charged that Wani was partly a product of media hype.
“The media inadvertently built the legend of Burhan Wani. Courtesy [of] his social media forays with regular videos and glamorous photographs, a nondescript village lad from Tral was made into the harbinger of ‘new militancy’ in Kashmir,” Rajni Shaleen Chopra wrote on the Indian news portal the DailyO.
But Wani may garner more followers in death than he did in life, the former chief minister of the state of Jammu and Kashmir pointed out in a tweet.