A 65-year-old civilian’s death during a militant attack in Sopore, Jammu & Kashmir, on Wednesday, 1 July, has triggered a battle of narratives, not only among the separatists and the police and security forces in the newly-formed union territory, but also among some top government functionaries in New Delhi and Islamabad.
Mayhem in TV news debates to social media chatter – on the perceived identities of the killers – have led to questions being asked to the UN Secretary General’s spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric.
Why UN Statement On Sopore Killing Has Put New Delhi In A Fix
The UN Spokesperson has asserted that the people responsible for the Kashmir civilian killing should be brought to book. “As anywhere, we encourage people to be, authorities to allow people to demonstrate freely, and that they can express their rights to demonstrate,” he is reported to have said in reply to a question on Wednesday.
Many in the Valley’s separatist camp are interpreting the UN spokesperson’s emphasis on ‘right to demonstrate’ as India’s diplomatic defeat, and a fresh endorsement of the right of Kashmiris to secede.
In the midst of a propaganda war between India and Pakistan, the UN spokesperson’s use of ‘right to demonstrate’ has put New Delhi at the receiving end of an intractable social media campaign.
Politicians, activists, journalists have asserted in unison that the civilian had been ‘shot dead’ after the militant strike by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). Not one of the mainstream politicians from Jammu and Kashmir, with the exception of the BJP leader and Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Officer, Dr Jitendra Singh, has blamed the militants or contested the separatists’ narrative.
- In the midst of a propaganda war between India and Pakistan, the UN spokesperson’s use of the phrase ‘right to demonstrate’ has put New Delhi at the receiving end of a social media ‘campaign’.
- Even before Bashir Ahmad Khan’s body reached Srinagar, his daughter’s (accusatory) video had gone viral.
- Interestingly, this is the third police family in J&K this year that has blamed the security forces for a family member’s killing.
- By Wednesday, 1 July, evening, there was anger against the forces but no demonstration.
- The IGP Kashmir said that the police had identified the attackers as two militants of the LeT — one from Sopore, another from Pakistan.
Sopore Civilian Victim Is From a ‘Police Family’ – Why No Mention Of That?
Even before Bashir Ahmad Khan’s body reached Srinagar, his daughter’s video had gone viral. She alleged that her father had been “dragged out of his car and killed in cold blood with a bullet”. It was a clean chit to the militants, and all blame (for the killing) was pinned on the CRPF.
Interestingly, this is the third police family in J&K this year that has blamed the security forces for a family member’s killing.
The son of an assistant sub inspector of police (ASI) was killed as a ‘terror associate’ in an encounter in Kulgam, and another ASI’s nephew was shot dead when he allegedly jumped a barrier near Narbal on Srinagar-Gulmarg Road. Bashir Ahmad Khan’s wife, Farooqa, retired as sub-inspector and in-charge, Station House Officer of the Women’s Police Station in Baramulla in 2016. However, there was virtually no reference to the family’s ‘police background’ in mainstream media and social media.
Both the sides in Kashmir’s political conflict lit fires by uploading pictures and videos of Mr Khan’s three-year-old grandson being ‘rescued’ and ‘showcased’ by the security forces. The pro-Indian handles blamed militants for the ‘murderous attack’, caring little for the toddler Mr Khan was protecting. The anti-Indian sections complained that the government was ‘shielding’ the killers.
They took exception to the child’s images and videos being publicly used in violation of the Juvenile Justice Act, which strictly prohibits such exhibition. The police and the CRPF, after the shootout, they said, had ‘made the child sit’ on his grandfather’s motionless body, ‘only to add pathos’ to the story of militants’ cruelty, and for ‘photo ops’.
By the evening on Wednesday, 1 July, there was anger against the forces but no demonstration. Inspector General of Police, Kashmir Zone, Vijay Kumar, and Special Director General of CRPF, Zulfikar Hassan, maintained that Bashir Ahmad Khan had been felled by bullets fired by two militants from the attic of a mosque. At around 7:30AM, the militants opened fire as soon as the CRPF reached the Model Town Crossing on their usual route. The officers maintained that a head constable had been killed and three of his associates had been injured. In the same volley of fire, they asserted that Mr Khan was hit, and succumbed to injuries.
From the Indian side, BJP’s national spokesperson, Sambit Patra, BJP IT Cell Head Amit Malviya, and MoS in the PMO Dr Jitendra Singh, took the lead in pinning all blame on the militants.
“Had there been no attack, had the mosque not been used for a terror strike, nobody would have died,” they argued – making frontal attacks not only on militants and Pakistan but also their so-called ‘supporters and cheerleaders in Indian media, politics and academia’.
In a series of tweets, and later in primetime TV programmes, Patra alleged that “terrorists alone” had killed Mr Khan and left his toddler traumatised.
Officers Say CCTV Footage, Post Mortem Will Clear The Air
Responding to questions from The Quint, IGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar claimed that he, along with the CRPF officers, had interacted with many civilians, the police and the paramilitary personnel on the spot, who narrated how the militants, from a vantage point at the mosque, had opened fire and targeted the security deployment – immediately after disembarking from a vehicle.
“It was exactly at that time that Mr Khan reached there in his car. He jumped out with the child. As he was trying to hide behind a vehicle, he got fatally hit and couldn’t be evacuated till he died,” the IGP said, claiming that the traumatised child was beckoned by the personnel themselves under attack. “Thank God, he had a narrow escape. But unfortunately, Mr Khan was killed along with one CRPF head constable. Three CRPF men were injured,” he continued.
The IGP also said that the police had identified the attackers as two militants of the LeT — one from Sopore, another from Pakistan.
He said that the investigation, with scientific evidence, would make it clear as to who had killed the civilian.
He revealed to The Quint that the police and CRPF had obtained CCTV footage that would throw light on the sequence of the terror strike. Asked why Mr Khan’s family members and the surviving child were pointing fingers at the CRPF and police, he said: “The family members said that Mr Khan had been dragged out and shot dead. None of them were an eyewitness to the incident that happened 50 km away. We have learned that the family levelled these baseless allegations under pressure from terrorists. We are asking them who was behind it, who advised them to blame the CRPF. We will make everybody accountable.”
Pak Foreign Ministry Jumps Into The Media War
On the other side, Aisha Farooqui, spokesperson of Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, posted the same child’s pictures on her Twitter handle, holding the Indian security forces responsible for Mr Khan’s ‘cold-blooded murder’. Soon it turned into a no-holds-barred ‘war’, not only among the anti-Indian and pro-Indian sections in Kashmir, but also between the massive propaganda grids of BJP’s IT Cell and Pakistan’s Directorate General of Inter-Services Public Relations (DGISPR).
The battle didn’t subside overnight. By the morning, on Thursday, 2 July, there were fresh videos of the child being exploited to further the anti-Indian narrative. Interviewers were seen asking the child “who killed your grandpa?” “Policemen”, was his answer every time.
Was The Child ‘Tutored’?
The IGP claimed that even the child had been ‘tutored’ by some people who made his videos and made them viral to promote the militant narrative.
SP Sopore, Javed Iqbal, said that Mr Khan’s post mortem had been done by a team of doctors at the Sub District Hospital of Sopore. It could make it clear whether he had been hit point blank or from the bullets fired from the mosque 50-60 meters away. He said that the police were investigating as to who shot the pictures and videos on the spot, while claiming that the police and CRPF rescued the child.
He said that there was no question of someone putting the child on the corpse for photo ops.
“It was all natural,” he asserted. According to him, the police later recovered 52 AK-47 empties and one loaded magazine from the mosque that had been left behind by the fleeing militants. The Imam of the mosque, a resident of Handwara, and another person, have been interrogated.
“Doctors noticed two gunshot wounds on Mr Khan’s body. One round had passed through and one got stuck in the body,” said the SP, Sopore.
CRPF Officer Dismisses ‘Baseless Propaganda’
An officer of CRPF 179 battalion, revealed to The Quint on condition of anonymity, that Mr Khan’s car was not driven by him and he had a driver. “His driver jumped out and took shelter around. We are looking for him. Mr Khan, along with the child, jumped out from the left side of the front. He was within a few yards from our men who were hit. It was firing from one direction, on one target. Mr Khan was hit in the same firing. As the firing subsided, we quickly put up a barrier of vehicles and rescued the child,” he said. He said that the CRPF fired 470 rounds, mostly in the air and not a single person was hit. “Some of our boys believe that one terrorist was hit in the foot,” he said.
The CRPF officer dismissed the allegation against his battalion as ‘baseless propaganda’.
“On 19 April, the same battalion was attacked by terrorists at a different naka in Sopore. Three of our boys were martyred, and three more were left injured. We suffered casualties but didn’t harm anybody. We are a professional force with no history of overreaction or human rights abuse,” he claimed.
However, the CRPF has faced criticism for excesses from time to time.
Emerging ‘Pattern’ Of Attacks On CRPF
In 24 hours of her statement, Mr Khan’s daughter Iram has reportedly changed her statement. On Thursday, Kashmir News Observer reported her as saying: “I can’t claim by whose bullet my father was killed. But I want to ask one question: when bullets are fired, will a person run away in his vehicle or will he come out and face the bullets... Maybe my father got killed by militants’ bullets but it should be probed. All we want is justice.”
But a Srinagar-based journalist and owner of two news agencies and two newspapers views a ‘pattern’ in a trail of attacks on the CRPF.
“A teenage boy was killed after an attack on them near Handwara. A 6-year-old child was killed after an attack in Bijbehara. Also, one youth at Narbal. Now this man in Sopore.”
(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)