Shadow Boxing?

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Six killings in three incidents in Shopian suggest a clear shift that renewed militancy is affecting on ground, reports Tasavur Mushtaq

“All three militants have been successfully killed,” J&K Police chief Dr SP Vaid tweeted on October 9, 2017.  Acting on “specific inputs”, a police spokesman explained, a joint party of army, Special Operations Group (SOG) and CRPF cordoned off Shopian’s Gatipora village and after a brief gunfight killed three local militants: Zahid Mir, Asif Ahmad Pal and Irfan Abdullah Ganai, all residents of Shopian. The first two were affiliated with Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and third one was a Lashkar-e-Toiba recruit.

During the gun battle, it was reported that army “rescued” a man, Ajaz Ahmad, a civilian. Nine days later, on October 18, 2017, Ajaz was found butchered in an open field with his throat slit open.

A teacher by profession, Aijaz’s killing is seen as revenge. A handwritten note found near his body reads: “Ajaz was an informer working for government forces.” The letter, written in Urdu, claimed “Ajaz got the militants killed.”

There are visible cracks at the societal level between people fighting across the two ideological lines, says Dr Parvez, a dental surgeon.

October 16, 2017, Dr Vaid tweeted again: “3 terrorists fired & killed ex sarpanch Ramzan Sheikh in Shopian. In scuffle a terrorist Shaukat also killed.”

What exactly happened on that day, the family of Sarpanch did not divulge, but whatever happened, sources say was “unprecedented”.

Sheikh, 50, was former Sarpanch. Close aide of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in her earlier avatars as opposition leader, Ramzan, sources in the party said “struggled to establish PDP in his belt” and was considered “close to party leadership.”

Sarpanch was just a position he held, he was beyond that,” a South Kashmir based PDP leader believes.

This was not the first time that militants had come to his place, reports suggest. Earlier, reportedly twice, militants had visited him and dropped warnings. Taking his security serious, the government, at the peak of  2016 unrest, allotted him a hotel room in secured Srinagar. Situation improved and Sheikh went home.

On the fateful day, with the sundown, three militants had gone to his home but only Showkat Ahmad Kumar, alias Showkat Falahi, had entered in. His two colleagues stayed guard, outside, according to local information.

As Showkat entered, the family panicked. Nobody knows if they could talk but the locals insist the militant was attacked. He was hit by a sharp edged thing on his head.

Soon two of his colleagues got in. Sarpanch’s sons reportedly fled and they traced their colleagues. Sheikh and his wife were alone. They got him out and shot him dead.

This was not the first time that militants had come to his place, reports suggest. Earlier, reportedly twice, militants had visited him and dropped warnings. Taking his security serious, the government, at the peak of  2016 unrest, allotted him a hotel room in secured Srinagar. Situation improved and Sheikh went home.

Villagers took commotion as “braid chopping”. But when guns rattled, they came out. Showkat and Sheikh were drenched in blood. Efforts were made to take them to hospital and then they were dead.

The “grassroot worker’s” killing shocked ruling PDP. Local lawmaker Ajaz Mir mourned the loss of “brother-in-arms” as party’s youth face Waheed ur Rehman Parra termed him a “martyrs for democracy.” The party leaders, later, said the violence was “no solution to problems” as it brings “only miseries and agony”. A few days later, militants lobbed a grenade at lawmaker Mir’s Zainpora residence.

The militant’s funeral was huge. Seen as “a scholar gentleman rebel,” there were multiple rounds of funeral prayers. Known as Falahi, Showkat had joined militancy after the Burhan Wani’s killing.

Prayers over, emotions ran high. Surcharged, hoards of young men surrounded the house of Ramzan in Chack Humhuna. After fierce stone pelting, it went up in smoke.

Contrary to the popular theory, a senior police official was quoted saying that Showkat wanted to shoot Ramzan in his leg but his accomplices refused. “This led to a scuffle and Showkat was shot dead by his associates,” the officer has said.

But Showkat’s father has insisted that his son’s “body had no bullet wound.” He said he saw only two marks on the body of his son: “one on his forehead and another on his skull.”

Regardless of the theories on circulation, the two deaths reveal the fast changing Kashmir, says a university professor, wishing to remain anonymous. “This is first time a militant was killed in this way in Kashmir,” he said,  adding “Kashmiris are being pitted against another.”

Is Kashmir heading towards a new civil war? On ground, especially in South Kashmir, a divide is visible. The ground smacks of a new ideological dichotomy.

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