After Kabul Carnage, a Journalist Recalls Another Night of Horror

The moment I heard of blasts in Kabul killing 9 journalists, my mind turned to an incident in Srinagar, 18 years ago

Published
India
4 min read
The attack on Hotel Ahdoos on Srinagar’s Residency, 18 years ago, was one of the bloodiest days in Kashmir’s history.
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The moment I heard of twin blasts in Kabul killing 9 journalists, immediately my mind turned to a similar incident that happened in Srinagar on 10 August, 18 years ago.

Hotel Ahdoos on Srinagar’s Residency road was full of high profile, so-called “Delhi Media” air-dropped from the national capital. Just two days ago, Hizbul Mujahideen had announced withdrawal of unilateral ceasefire in Kashmir.

I was looking after the edit here in Delhi at NDTV, calling up my police contacts in Srinagar to get more info, looking at the footage coming from Srinagar.

The ceasefire was a first in the 11-year-long volatile history of the state and its withdrawal was an even bigger story for the media in Delhi.

Hotel Ahdoos was the preferred destination for all Delhi hacks. There was an underground network operating there which had information about all that was going on in the Kashmir Valley.

All varieties of “nimboo paani” and other amenities that were available at army camps but not elsewhere, were available at Ahdoos. It was well known, both in the official and the unofficial, underground and overground, circles that all outside journalists and photographers stay in Ahdoos.

18 Years on, Memories Fresh Over One of Kashmir’s Bloodiest Massacres

After Kabul Carnage, a Journalist Recalls Another Night of Horror
(Photo: Sanjay Ahirwal)

It was a Thursday. A lean day before Jumme ki Namaaz on Friday. Everyone was expecting reactions from separatists and clerics on Hizbul’s withdrawal of ceasefire on Friday.

Suddenly there was a loud sound. A blast. It was around 12:15 pm. Many photographers were sipping tea in the lobby of Ahdoos. They picked up their cameras and ran. The sound did not come from too far. In fact, it seemed so close that they did not bother to wait for their vehicles but started running to the spot. It was close, only a kilometre from Ahdoos.

It was a grenade blast. Grenade came from an unknown direction, forcing people on posh Residency Road to run for their lives. As people deserted the street, police and journalists, mostly camera persons, rushed to the spot.

Suddenly there was another blast. Fiery, bigger and louder than the one before. Then there was a deafening silence. All one could see was smoke and scores of people lying on every side of the road gasping for oxygen. It was as if air had been sucked out of the blast site.

An IED had been planted in a white ambassador car parked on the side of the road.

It exploded at 12:30 pm when policemen and photographers were on the spot. The big bang killed seven police personnel instantly.

When Journalists Become Sitting Ducks During Conflict

After Kabul Carnage, a Journalist Recalls Another Night of Horror
(Photo: Sanjay Ahirwal)

Barkha Dutt of NDTV, who was also staying in Ahdoos, heard the second blast. She knew all photographers must have reached the site of the first blast. Fearing the worst she started running towards the State Bank of India on Residency Road.

She spotted the Hindustan Times photographer, Pradeep Kumar Bhatia, lying lifeless on the road. She had been talking to Pradeep just a while ago. It was shockingly unbelievable to find Pradeep in that state.

She took his head in her lap, shrieking for help, crying out loud to take Pradeep to the hospital.

Splattered all around her, in SBI lane, was blood, body parts, tattered clothes and chappals.

Among the journalists who were injured in the blast were Irfan Ahmed of Zee TV, HU Naqash of The Asian Age, Amin War of The Tribune, I Tariq of Srinagar News, Fayaz Kabli of Reuters and Aijaz Hussain of Excelsior.

But Pradeep and twelve others were not that lucky. Both Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen took responsibility for the blast. Thursday, 10 August, 2000 was one of the bloodiest days in Kashmir’s history.

Journalists, like emergency services and investigating agencies, are the first to reach a spot of an incident. And in most cases where there is a second blast they become accidental or even intentional victims.

This is what happened on Monday, 30 April, in Kabul and that is what had happened 18 years ago in Srinagar.

RIP Pradeep Bhatia. You will always be remembered.

(Sanjay Ahirwal is a former managing editor at NDTV Worldwide and is currently heads the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Apeejay Stya University, Gurugram. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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