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Kashmir’s Blood Moon: Eid, Weddings, Funerals – Nothing Is Sacred

A chilling tale of continuing attacks on police & security in J&K, even on occasions like Eid, or someone’s wedding.

Updated
India
6 min read
Image used for representational purposes.
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On 17 September, five militants masquerading as mediapersons barged into the home of Territorial Army soldier Mukhtar Ahmad Malik in Churat, in southern Kashmir’s Kulgam district, and shot him dead.

This was a day prior to Chief Electoral Officer Shaleen Kabra’s issuance of the first notification for the four-phase urban local body elections across Jammu and Kashmir.

The local counter-insurgent Malik (43) had been living at the fortified Ikhwan Colony at the district headquarters, after being absorbed into the Army increased the potential of threat to his life.

Militant Attacks – Attempts to Sabotage Elections?

On 2 September, his 19-year-old son Shariq Ahmad Malik’s Maruti car got crushed in a head-on collision with another vehicle. Shariq, who was driving to a grocery in Kulgam town, was critically injured. He was rushed to the Army’s 92 Base Hospital in Srinagar where he succumbed to “severe maxillofacial trauma with irreversible hypovolemic shock and anoxic brain injury” on 15 September.

Since militants in the last 29 years had rarely attacked someone on such a melancholic occasion, Malik himself fearlessly carried his son’s body to his village and performed his last rites before returning to his safehouse.

For the Rasm-e-Qul, he went back to his village on 17 September. Within hours of Malik’s arrival, he was killed.

Malik was attacked and eliminated days after a pall of gloom spoiled a family’s twin marriage ceremonies at Harwan Sopore. Javed Ahmad Lone (32), father of three children, was one among the two militants killed in an encounter by security forces at Galoora, Handwara. His brother’s marriage had completed on 10 September, but his body reached home when his sister’s wedding was well underway on 11 September.

After his release from jail, Lone had disappeared in February and surfaced on Facebook in July with a gun on his shoulders. He had reportedly joined Lashkar-e-Tayyiba on 8 July, the death anniversary of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.

Coincidentally the bride of the 20-year-old Tahir Makhdoomi of Tujjar Sharief, who was lifted by the Army from his home on the first night after his wedding on 12 September 2003 and blown into pieces with an improvised explosive device, was also from Handwara-Sopore area.

While the operations by Police and security forces on such occasions are nothing new, Malik’s murder on the eve of the fourth-day ritual of his teenage son marks a shift in the militants’ decades-long policy of not killing anybody during mourning or marriage. One odd precedence in a decade was that of the 22-year-old Lieutenant Umar Fayaz, who was kidnapped from his cousin’s wedding at Batpora Matribug village in Shopian district, on the night of 9 May 2017 and was shot dead at the nearby Harmain village.

Within hours of Malik’s murder in broad daylight, suspected militants torched a panchayat ghar in Tral, and attempted to damage two more in Shopian.

“This is clearly to strike a wave of terror and sabotage the upcoming municipal and panchayat elections,” said a senior officer of the Jammu and Kashmir Police. “But we are fully prepared to deal with such militants. We have identified both groups of terrorists involved in the two incidents on Monday.”

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Are Militant Attacks Really on the Decline?

Yet another top-ranking police officer claimed that the militants were resorting to civilian and unarmed police killings to stay relevant, as demonstrations and stone pelting (on security forces) were “remarkably receding”.

“We are sure they wouldn’t be able to cause much fear or damage to the elections. As against 76 last year, we have eliminated 70 of them in South Kashmir in the last eight-and-a-half months of the current year. We have dismantled their leadership. As against 10 dreaded commanders in September 2017, they are now left with only Zeenatul Islam and Riyaz Naikoo of Hizbul Mujahideen besides the low-lying Zakir Musa. This has turned them desperate and they have started hitting at soft targets,” the officer told The Quint on condition of anonymity.

However, few believe the statements and claims of the police and security personnel. As many as 33 policemen, including seven Special Police Officers (SPO), mostly off-duty, have been shot dead by militants in Kashmir since the beginning of 2018.

After a chain of threats over the last one year, a formidable guerrilla group in southern Kashmir’s Tral, has purportedly issued a serious warning.

“We will be constrained to kill the family members of all those policemen who fail to respond to this appeal and do not resign in the next four days,” an unidentified person, perceived to be a militant commander, is heard as saying.

Police and security forces are groping in the dark in the absence of clarity in the counterinsurgency policies of the government. Shesh Pal Vaid being replaced by Dilbag Singh as Director General of Police on 6 September, owes much to this confusion.

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No Meetings at Unified Headquarters

“The erstwhile PDP-BJP government’s blurred CI policies are still in place. In her last Unified Headquarters meeting on 12 May, (then) Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti directed us to scale down our operations. After the imposition of Governor’s Rule on 18 June, there has been no Unified Headquarters meeting and consequently no change of policy,” said an Army officer.

He emphasised that after being appointed as Governor on 22 August, Satya Pal Malik had not conducted a single meeting with the Unified Headquarters.

On 5 July, visiting Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, along with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, had a meeting with senior Army, Police and civil officers. It had no agenda. On 10 August, former Governor N N Vohra chaired his last meeting with senior military, paramilitary, intelligence and police officers.

Again, there seemed to be no agenda or a policy on how to deal with the new militant strategies such as their unprecedented social media campaigns.

The militants in fact, changed some of their policies considerably in the last two years. In over two decades, there were only a few instances of attacks and assassinations around the festivals of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha. Retired police officers insist that DIG Crime & Railways Mohammad Amin Bhat’s assassination, after the conclusion of Eid-ul-Azha prayers at a mosque at Baghat Barzulla in Srinagar on 2 February 2002, was “not a targeted killing”.

National Conference leader and slain Law Minister Mushtaq Lone’s brother Ghulam Mohiuddin Lone was shot dead immediately after he reached his home in Sogam, Kupwara, in his Zen car, a day before Eid on 5 December 2002. Mohiuddin Lone was a pioneering militant who surrendered and joined talks along with a few others, with the Government of India, in 1996.

Dental surgeon Mushtaq Ahmad Shah was kidnapped from his residential area of Handwara and subsequently slaughtered at Nopora Kalan, on Sopore outskirts, two days before Eid-ul-Fitr on 9 October 2006. Days before, militants had beheaded a Territorial Army soldier.

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Blood-Stained Eids & Shujaat Bukhari’s Murder

Contrarily, 2017 and 2018 witnessed enormous bloodshed on both the festivals of Eid. Deputy SP Ayub Pandith was lynched to death by a frenzied mob that was shouting pro-Zakir Musa slogans at Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid. Two days before Eid-ul-Fitr, on 23 June 2017, one policeman was killed. On the eve of Eid-ul-Azha on 1 September 2017, several were injured in a militant attack at Panta Chowk in Srinagar

The worst occurred in 2018.

A day before Eid-ul-Fitr, gunmen shot dead prominent journalist Shujaat Bukhari along with his two personal security officers at the Press Enclave in Srinagar on 14 June.

On the same day, militants kidnapped a soldier, Aurangzeb, at Qalampora Pulwama and shot him dead after physically torturing him. On his way to celebrate Eid with his family in Poonch, Aurangzeb was reportedly charged with ‘desecration’ of the top ranking militant Sameer Tiger’s body.

Eid-ul-Azha followed with more bloodletting.

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Posted in Budgam, Inspector Mohammad Ashraf Dar celebrated Eid with his family at Larav in Pulwama district on 22 August. Militants barged into his home that day, shooting him dead. Constable Mohammad Yaqoob Shah was gunned down earlier the same day at his home in Pulwama’s Louswani village. Two more policemen survived attempts on their life on the same day in Pulwama district.

Constable Fayaz Ahmad Shah of Zazripora, Kulgam, was shot dead while he was returning home with his two daughters, aged five and two years, after attending the Eid congregational prayers at the adjoining village Awgam. Resistance by his relatives failed to stop the assassins.

“Another policeman murdered in Kashmir. Inspector Mohd Ashraf Dar was killed in south Kashmir a short while ago. ‘Outraged’ doesn’t even begin to describe how one feels, and that feeling is multiplied many times over by the fact that it’s happened on Eid, a day of prayer and reflection,” former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted.

The night before this, BJP worker Shabir Ahmad Bhat was kidnapped from his home in Kupwara district and shot dead near Rakh-e-Littar village.

(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached at @ahmedalifayyaz.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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