An Encounter Two Days Ahead of Polling

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by Shams Irfan

SRINAGAR: Adding a new twist to the last phase of elections in the south Kashmir, an early morning gunfight raged in Adkhara area of Imam Sahib triggering a new phase of tensions. The area is scheduled to go for polls on Monday and it will be the last phase of Lok Sabha polls in Jammu and Kashmir.

Within minutes after the encounter was reported, scores of youngsters came out of their houses and started pelting stones on the counter-insurgent forces, trying to help the trapped militants flee. The gunfight had started when a joint team of Army’s 34 RR and local SOG unit launched a cordon and search operation (CASO) in the area after receiving credible inputs about the presence of militants.

 

A funeral procession of slain militant Lateef Ahmed in Pulwama district of south Kashmir on May 3, 2019.

Initial reports suggested that three local militants were trapped inside a residential house. One of them was later identified as Lateef Ahmad Dar, locally known as Lateef Tiger. He was the last surviving militant from Burhan Wani’s group picture that first surfaced in 2015. The picture had 11 militants in it, with Burhan sitting in the centre. Instantly, it became one of the defining images of “new age” militancy, as young boys carrying guns openly posed for cameras without masks for the first time in Kashmir militancy’s history. Since then, all eleven militants in the picture were killed in different encounters, mostly in south Kashmir. May 2, the encounter was the latest encounter in which the last of those militants were killed.

As the gunfight raged on there were intense clashes in different parts of south Kashmir, especially near the encounter site. These clashes left 19 people injured with three of them shifted to a hospital in Srinagar. One of them identified as Mudasir Ahmad was shifted to Srinagar with a bullet injury. Two others were hit by pellets. Minor clashes were also reported from Anantnag town as well.

In the initial exchange of gun-fire, one army person was injured as well. At around 7 AM, the news of the first militant’s killing was confirmed by the police. An hour later another militant was killed in the ongoing gun-battle. As the news spread stone-pelting near the encounter site intensified. By 11:30 AM, all three trapped militants were killed. They were all affiliated with the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen outfit. Among the three Lateef was the longest surviving militant with six years of militant life.

Lateef Ahmad Dar aka Lateef Tiger was active since 2014 and was the last surviving militant from Burhan Wani’s group photo. After Burhan Wani’s killing in July 2016, Lateef kept a low profile and was rarely seen in any picture or video. A resident of Dogripora in Pulwama, Lateef was considered an expert in IEDs. Lateef had earlier been arrested and when he joined militancy under Burhan Wani’s command, he was out on bail.

A funeral procession of slain militant Lateef Ahmed in Dogripora village of Pulwama on May 3, 2019

The second militant killed was identified as Shariq Ahmad Negroo of Chotigam, Shopian. He had joined militant ranks in March 2019. He left his studies after completing Class 11 exams and joined Hizb.

The third of the slain trio was identified as Tariq Ahmad Sheikh, 23, aka Moulvi, was a resident of Chitragam village in Shopian. His father Shamim Ahmad Sheikh was a Hizb militant as well.  In January 1994, Shamim was killed in Shopian’s Molu village two months before Tariq was born. He is survived by his elder brother. Tariq did Hifz-e-Quran from Darul-Uloom Rahimiya Bandipora. After that, he went to a Darul-Uloom in Srinagar to do a course in Moviyat (a person who leads prayers). He would lead prayers at a mosque in Tangmarg. He was said to be active in protests that erupted after the killing of Burhan Wani. On March 30, 2018, he went missing, and on April 2, his picture with an AK47 went viral on social media.

Tariq came under the spotlight after he appeared at Hizb Commander Saddam Padder’s funeral in May 2018, where he delivered a speech. According to police Tariq was good at motivating youngsters into militant ranks.

Elections

Lateef Tiger (extreme right) with a raised finger, along with Burhan Wani and others in this 2015 group photo. (Source: Internet)

The three militants belonged to the central stretch of villages that make the core of erstwhile Pulwama district from which Shopian was carved later. Though the encounter took place in Shopian, at least one of them belonged to Pulwama.

At around 3 PM, all three militant bodies were handed over to their respective families for funerals.

Lateef’s body reached his home in Dogripora where thousands of people were waiting to participate in his funeral. They had managed to reach Dogripora using different routes including via River Jhelum. His funeral was held in a large school ground in his village. “There were over ten thousand people who participated in three rounds of funerals,” said a local photojournalist from the south who covered his funeral. “Then he was taken home for the night.”

Lateef, a carpenter before joining militancy, is survived by a younger brother, parents and a sister. A family source said that Lateef will be buried tomorrow (Saturday), as a large number of people couldn’t participate in his funeral today.

Till last reports reached four rounds of funerals were held for Tariq Molvi, in a vacant piece of land near his home. Later a video surfaced on the internet showing two masked militants offering him gun-salute. Tariq’s body was later taken to his home and he will be buried tomorrow.

Likewise, according to a local journalist around eight thousand people participated in Shariq’s funeral prayers held in his native village.

Since the burials are expected to take place on Saturday, the area will continue to report tension on the weekend, the last day of the campaigning. Most of the political parties that are in the contest may have to avoid their travel on the last day of campaigning because of the brewing tensions. “This encounter will only expose the power of democracy as militant funerals saw over ten thousand people participating. I am not sure how many will now turn out to vote,” said Waheed Ur Rehman Parra, PDP’s youth leader who is camping in Pulwama for campaigning. “It seems the priority of the state is not to conduct the elections. They are enforcing an election without participation,” said Parra. “Today’s encounter had made voters more vulnerable as mourning will continue for four days.”

Though the area was expected to respond mildly to the polling on Monday, the encounter is likely to impact the belt further.

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