While Hizbul commander Zakir Musa is seen as a 22-year-old religious extremist sporting long beard and Afghan-style headgear, the fact is that till a few years ago he was a simple suave guy in Kashmir. From pursuing an engineering degree to riding swanky bikes and wearing fashionable clothes to taking selfies at malls, Zakir was just another cool guy in the town living his life to the fullest till one ominous morning he picked up the weapons.

This story of the transformation of youth in restive Kashmir is not any hearsay but the outcome of the first-of-its-kind research by SM Sahai, a top IPS official from 1987 batch of J&K cadre. Sahai has served in Kashmir on many crucial assignments and enjoys a considerable following among the youth with over 11,000 of them being his active followers on Facebook alone.

He is presently working as a Joint Secretary in the National Security Council Secretariat, which lies under the direct commandment of the Prime Minister. The 20-minute video clipping filmed at the 19th Asian Security Council meeting held in New Delhi has taken the social media by storm in Kashmir, mainly due to the startling revelations made by Sahai.

In his presentation titled Understanding Sufism to influence extremism in Kashmir, Sahai starts with a specific reference to Zakir and his predecessor Burhan Muzaffar Wani, sharing some rare visuals of their journey from the boys next door to radical militants.

What is attracting people the most towards the video is Sahai’s research on Islam. Reciting Quran and Hadith, Sahai expresses that indoctrination can be diffused if Islam is propagated with a Sufi perspective.

As per Sahai’s doctrine, there’s a need to reestablish the Sufi seminaries than Madrassas where parents would prefer to send their children. “The government has basically shied away from a relation between culture and religion. If we treat revival of Sufism as cultural preservation the answer lies in my perspective,” he was quoted as saying.

Stating that the Kashmiri youth has the same aspirations as other youngsters in the nation, he said, “the youth and children need to kept occupied beyond conventional education and sports activities alone”. “One strange thing about Kashmir is that every Kashmiri youth thinks that he is the kind of the guy who should be on the big screen or the small screen. They are on social media, heavily into advertising, and we have many success stories,” he added.

In 2012, Sahai, as the IGP of Kashmir, was among the first to discover the radicalisation of Kashmir youth, a trend that subsequently transpired into a deadly revival of militancy, mainly at the hands of an educated youth.

Seen as a smart cop who doesn’t follow political dictations, Sahai had attributed radicalisation to the civilian killings during the unrests of 2008 and 2010. A few weeks after his bold statement he was transferred from the state. Though he subsequently headed the intelligence wing of the state police, his other similar interaction with media too proved costly for him. During the unrest of 2016, in a response to media queries, Sahai said that Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was aware of the operation that killed Burhan. A few weeks later, he was transferred out of the state.

But Sahai continues to be connected to Kashmir. Interestingly, when one of his Muslim bodyguards died a decade ago, Sahai adopted his son, who lives with him much like his own son.