In 2009, Hakeem-ur-Rehman, a small-time cloth trader, spearheaded a mass agitation against the army in north Kashmir’s Bomai. A junior commissioned officer and two soldiers of 22 Rashtriya Rifles were indicted by a J&K government inquiry in the killing of two civilians – Muhammed Amin Tantray and Javid Ahmed Dar, on 21 February that year.
The damning indictment was followed by the army’s own admission of guilt in another inquiry report. And, in a very rare case, a peaceful agitation led by Rehman culminated in the removal of the army camp from the area.
According to a Hurriyat statement, Rehman was recently released from jail after having served “20 months” on various charges, including organising protests and participating in “unlawful activities”. Dr Syed Muntazir, a cousin of Rehman told The Quint he was slapped with Public Safety Act, described by the Amnesty International as a “lawless law”.
In broad daylight on Saturday, 8 September, unknown gunmen shot Rehman, 45, multiple times near his residence. By the time he was ferried to the hospital, his body had given up and doctors pronounced him dead on arrival. He is survived by his widow and five daughters.
Terming the incident a “gruesome murder”, the powerful Hurriyat trio of Syed Ali Geelani, Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said in a statement that a “high level committee” of the ‘Joint Resistance Leadership’ will visit the area to collect details about the “gruesome killing of the Hurriyat leader”.
An Eerie Silence
In north Kashmir’s Hajin earlier this year, when the Lashkar-e-Taiba group carried out a series of civilian killings, a beheaded youth among them, the J&K Police wasted no time in identifying the perpetrators.
However, no militant group was identified by the police as perpetrators of Rehman’s murder, deepening the whodunnit mystery.
A prominent face of Geelani-led Hurriyat in Sopore, Rehman’s family also comprises of his deceased father, Mufti Nizamuddin Sultani, who is understood to have been affiliated with Jamaat-i-Islami. He has faced jail on “many occasions”, a family friend told The Quint.
“He (Rehman) may have been influenced by Jamaat (ideology) but he was open to ideas,” a doctoral scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, who met Rehman for his fieldwork, said, describing him as “extremely gentle and politically intelligent”.
According to one assessment by the J&K Police, more than half the local militants killed this year are either directly or indirectly connected with the Jamaat-i-Islami, a socio-political organisation which backs Geelani’s Hurriyat and favours merger of J&K with Pakistan. It is quite possible that the killing of Rehman may be a warning shot for others.
The family friend quoted above said Rehman had become an “eyesore for many people” due to his activism. The “deteriorating security situation” in Kashmir, and the sudden change of guard both in Raj Bhawan and the police administration, may have made him an “easy target” for those whom he rubbed the wrong way.
While the facts will take time to filter out, the broad daylight killing of Rehman has once again underlined the rapidly worsening situation in Kashmir.
Insurgency-related violence in the past ten years has broken all records. Last year, the state saw 167 percent jump in civilian killings from the previous year. This year, it is set to cross the 200 percent mark.
A Town of Many Mysteries
But Sopore, the apple town of the Valley, is known to spring surprises. In 2015, when the Hizbul Mujahideen’s disgruntled commander Abdul Qayoom Najar started targeting people working with telecom companies, the killing of a Hurriyat activist, Altaf Rehman, sent the town, the base of Najar, into shock and disbelief.
“Initially the residents and even the Hurriyat denied the role of militants in the killing. Geelani even issued a statement blaming the so-called ‘Indian agencies’. It was only later when it turned out that Rehman was using his connections (across the border) and exerting pressure on Najar to mend his ways that he (Najar) bumped him off,” a top police officer said.
Coupled with political uncertainty, the volatile security situation in Kashmir over the past two years has normalised the sights of mutilated, bullet-riddled and sometimes beheaded bodies showing up on roads or down the street, deep in paddy fields or inside a neighbour’s apple orchard. The perpetrators are ‘known unknowns’. No questions are asked because people know the answers already!
Barely hours after Rehman was declared brought dead to a hospital in Sopore, unknown gunmen struck again, this time in the capital, Srinagar where a militant, Asif Nazir, who was affiliated with the so-called Jammu and Kashmir chapter of Islamic State (ISJK), was killed. His father, Nazir Ahmad Dar, is a rukun (member with voting rights) in Jamaat.
According to police sources, Asif got active in 2017 with the Hizbul Mujahideen but he soon started talking about the establishment of Sharia system and khilafat in Kashmir, and joined the ISJK later. The police recovered a pistol, some ammunition and a fake identity card from Asif that identified him as student of a prominent university of the valley.
The mystery surrounding Asif’s death feeds into the clash of ideologies among the Valley’s different militant groups. While gunning down a militant fetches good cash and other incentives for armed forces in Kashmir, the fact that Asif’s broad daylight killing, like that of Rehman’s in Sopore, remains unclaimed, raises many questions.