March 30, 2020
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Killing Fields Of The Nation

A spurt in civilian killings casts a long, dark shadow on the increased counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir

Killing Fields Of The Nation
Hit In The Head
A Class 2 student ­injured in stone-pelting
Photograph by PTI
Killing Fields Of The Nation

Just Numbers Now

  • 10 Militants killed in 10 days till May 6
  • 9 Civilians killed in 10 days till May 6
  • 15 Civilians killed in April
  • 65 Total number of people killed in militancy-related operations in the past four months, including militants and stone-pelting protesters


Outside the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital in Srinagar on Saturday, April 5, at about 10:15 am, personnel of the J&K Police’s Special Operations Group (SOG) pounced on the body of a teenager, who had been mowed down by an armoured police vehicle when the forces were retreating from the Chattabal area after an enc­ounter in which three militants were killed. Doctors at the SMHS hospital declared the victim, 18-year-old Adil Ahmed Yatoo, “brought dead”.

The police described the incident at Noor­bagh in which Adil was crushed to death as a road accident. When a video clip surfaced revealing how he was run over by the vehicle, it went viral on social media despite restrictions imposed on mobile internet. Fearing large-scale street protests, the police ent­ered the hospital premises and snatched Adil’s body from his wailing relatives. Now, the police say legal proceedings have been initiated against the driver of the vehicle that crushed the youth.

“I was watching from afar, but when I saw the teenager being crushed under the wheels, I couldn’t control myself and started pelting stones,” says a 14-year-old being treated for pellet injuries.

In four counter-insurgency operations in the past 10 days in Srinagar and south Kashmir, nine civilians and 10 militants, including top Hizbul Mujahideen com­manders Sameer Tiger and Saddam Padda, were killed and more than a 100 civilians wounded.

“On whose orders are these operations carried out? On whose orders are civilians killed?” asks Ali Mohammad Sagar, a senior leader of the National Conference. “It’s worse than the 1990s. Why do they kill civilians every time there is an enc­ounter? Why don’t they stop these ope­rations?” Of 15 civilian killings in April, 10 were near the encounter sites in south Kashmir, and of the nine killed in May, six had been shot dead away from the enc­ounter sites. In fact, civilians have been killed as far as 1 km away from the places where the gunbattles with militants were taking place. Sources say the police have taken up the issue with the army, calling for a “re-framing of operational procedures”. As growing civilian casualties during “anti-militancy operations” have been embarrassing the Mehbooba Mufti government, the sources add, it has asked the security forces to adopt a policy to avoid such causalities.

A sociologist from ­Kashmir University, who had gone missing after classes on May 4, turned out to be a militant killed just two days later.

As many as 65 people, including militants and stone-pelting protesters, have been killed in the past four months in militancy-related incidents—the highest number in the past 10 years—indicating a spurt in violence is likely in the months ahead. The challenge is how to avoid civilian killings and stone-pelting aimed at disrupting anti-militancy ope­rations. While the government forces claim every time that the civilians were caught in the crossfire and killed, video recordings and testimonies of people belie such claims.

On April 30, top Hizbul militant Sameer Tiger, a close associate of the outfit’s commander Riaz Naikoo, was killed along with his colleague Aqib Khan during a counter-insurgency operation by the army and the police in his native Drubgam village of Pulwama district. A video of the encounter, app­arently taken by the army, shows there was no stone-pelter near the encounter site. Fourteen-year-old Shahid Ahmad was killed and 20 others were wounded a kilometre away when the forces opened fire at locals hurling stones at them.

Similarly, on May 2, according to the eyewitnesses, an army patrol came under attack at Turkwangam village in Shopian. During the brief exchange of fire, the militants escaped. Later, a class-9 student of the government high school in Pinjoora was killed at Darazpora village. The police and the army claim 14-year-old Muhammad Umar Kumar was part of a group of locals trying to help the militants escape and was killed in the crossfire. However, Umar’s family members claim that his friends, who were with him when he was shot dead, say the boy was shot from point-blank range. They say he was killed half-a-kilometre away from the encounter site.

Umar’s elder brother Muhammad Ash­RAF says he had left home with his friends in the evening after news spread that some militants were killed in Turkwangam. In south Kashmir, especially in Shopian, it is usual for people to offer funeral prayers to the militants. Umar and his friends too wanted to join the others.

According to Ashraf, as the boys reached Darazpora village, army personnel hiding in the apple orchards opened fire on them. The bullets hit Umar in his chest and throat, killing him on the spot. “He was killed half-a-kilometre away from encounter site. Had he been hit near the encounter site, I would have told you. Why would we lie?” asks Showkat Ahmad, a local who took Umar to the hospital.

Enough Is Enough

Funeral procession of Adil Yatoo a Kashmiri teenager crushed under an armoured police vehicle

Photograph by Getty Images

On Sunday morning, the police and the army launched one of the biggest cordon-and-search operations this month, at Badigam village of south Kashmir’s Shopian district. The five militants who were trapped and killed during the operation included 32-year-old Hizb commander Paddar, active for four years and a close associate of Burhan Wani, whose killing in July 2016 had led to months of protests across the Valley. Paddar was the last of the 11 militants who comprised Burhan’s core group to be put out of action, while the lone survivor, Tariq Pandit, is in jail. The others in Burhan’s core group were Adil Khanday, Naseer Ahmad Pandit, Afaq Bhat, Sabzar Ahmad Bhat, Anees Ahmad, Ishfaq Ahmad Dar, Waseem Ahmad Mallah and Wasim Ahmad Shah.

An assistant professor in the University of Kashmir’s sociology department, Dr Mohammed Rafi Bhat, who completed his PhD last year, was also killed in the Badigam operation. Bhat had gone missing on Friday, May 4, after taking classes in the university and telling his students he is going to Hyderabad.

On Saturday, the police killed three militants in Srinagar and called it a “big success”. It was after four months that an operation took place in Srinagar in which militants were killed, showing that armed militancy is no more confined to south Kashmir or the Hajin belt of Bandipora. Just a few years ago, Srinagar was being seen as a militant-free zone. One of the slain militants was identified as Fayaz Ahmed Hamaal of Khankah-e-Moula in J&K’s summer capital, who had joined the militants in April 2017, while another was Showkat Ahmad Tak of Panzgam, Awantipora, in south Kashmir, who had been active for eight years under various Lashkar-e-Toiba commanders such as Abu Rehman, Abu Qasim and Abu Dujana.

Both the operations were marred by the civilian killings. Of the five civilians killed in Shopian, four were killed at places away from the encounter sites. The army, according to eyewitnesses, opened fire on civilian protesters at Chirtargam village, 12 km away from Badigam. Adil Ahmad Ganai, a civilian, fell to bullets at Nagbal village, 1 km away from Badigam, when stones were hurled at the army vehicle carrying the slain militants to the police station. He was brought dead to Shopian hospital. Another civilian, Asif Mir, was killed at Nulie Poshwari village, adjacent to Badigam, with bullet wounds in the head. “We reiterate that encounter sites are prohibited zones and highly susceptible to cross-firing, hence civilians must avoid them,” says a police spokesman.

The J&K Police initially tried to describe Adil Yatoo’s death as a road accident, but a video showed him being run over.

Shopian Senior Superintendent of Police Shailendra Kumar Mishra tells Outlook that the police are investigating how the civilians were killed in Shopian on Sunday. Admitting that the civilians were killed away from the encounter site, he says, “We exhibited extreme restraint. We ensure that protesters don’t enter the area within a radius of 1 km from the site of an operation. They can get hit by any bullet. A person was killed after a bullet fired by a militant fire hit him. A stray bullet travels more than a kilometre.”

In his speech in Mumbai at a function marking the 9th anniversary of the 26/11 attack, Mishra had called local Kashmiri militants “our own kids who had gone astray” and their killings a sign of “our collective failure”.

Senior police officials say the youngsters and other local residents in south Kashmir throw stones at army personnel during counter-insurgency operations. “Sometimes an announcement is made asking locals to rush towards the operation area,” says an official.

However, Khurram Parvez of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society claims the police version that civilians get killed near encounter sites has been proven wrong several times. “According to witnesses, the civilian killings usually take place away from  the enc­ounter sites. Moreover, all the slain protesters have bullet shots above their waist, showing the firing was done with an intention to kill,” says Khurram, adding that this policy is not helping anyone.

Claiming to be anguished by the killings, CM Mehbooba Mufti says, “It is depressing that young lives, which could have made positive contributions to J&K, are being lost to the unending cycle of violence. The deaths in Shopian have brought to the fore the stark fact that the guns of militants and security forces can’t resolve the issues. Political issues need political interventions.”

Meanwhile, there were also two incidents in which civilians were hit by stone-pelters. On May 2, stones were hurled at a schoolbus at Narpora village, wounding two children, one of them seriously. Then, on May 7, a tourist R. Thirumani died after getting caught in stone-throwing at Narbal village on the Srinagar-Gulmarg road. Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq was quick to condemn it, while Syed Ali Geelani said Kashmiris cannot be silent on “indiscipline and hooliganism” by “some unruly youth”, despite shouldering the coffins of “their loved ones on a daily basis”. Mehbooba Mufti visited Thirumani’s family in the hospital and later said the incident flew in the face of the Kashmiri ethos of hospitality. It can also impact tourism, which had started picking up again. “Stone-pelting is not a form of protest, but murderous assault,” says Baramulla SSP Imtiyaz Hussain.

Calling for a sustained dialogue among all stakeholders, CM Mufti says there is no solution except a reconciliation process driven by compassion and mutual respect. But is anybody in New Delhi willing to listen?

By Naseer Ganai in Srinagar

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