by Saima Bhat
SRINAGAR: The longest-encounter in the recent past that continued for around 72 hours has left behind a trail of destruction and despair for the residents in Babagund area of Langate, Handwara along with the killing of eight people including one civilian, four CRPF personnel, two policemen and two militants. The encounter ended on late Sunday afternoon and the identity of militants was confirmed only on Monday.
It all started with a cordon on late Thursday afternoon and around 11 pm locals informed Kashmir Life they heard a few aerial shots. According to a police officer, the contact was established with the militants at around 2.30 am that led to an encounter. The cordon was laid by joint contingents of army’s 22 RR, 92 battalion CRPF and SOG. The forces had installed lights so as to prevent the escape of militant owing to darkness, he said.
Next day, on Friday, the police claimed to have killed two militants at the encounter site after one of the houses, in which the militants were hiding, was razed to the ground. It was only after this that the counter-insurgent forces went to the encounter site to retrieve militant bodies and sanitise the area.
“The forces sanitized the location twice but the officer asked them to do it again. When they went for the third time, both the militants were hiding behind a shed and they fired indiscriminately leading to the chaos at the site.” An officer, while wishing anonymity, said, “This was a mohalla of around 10 to 15 houses and when the situation turned bad, the forces took their positions in the local houses. Meanwhile, both the militants also took their position in another house and that led a renewed gunfight.”
In that chaos, a CRPF Inspector Pintoo of 92 Bn CRPF and the policeman of SOG Handwara namely Naseer Ahmad Kholi died. Many others including CRPF constables Vinod, Sham Narain Singh Yadav and the policeman SgCt Ghulam Mustafa Barah were injured who were quickly evacuated to the hospital, where CRPF commandant Deepak Kumar of 92 Bn CRPF, one paramilitary personnel and a policeman succumbed to their injuries.
A New Trend
The officer sees a change in the trend of the militancy. “The militants belonging to JeI and LeT militant groups, who have come from across the border, are fully trained and that is why the encounters take time these days because the militants have at least one or two foreigners along.”
As the gunfight was going on, clashes also erupted in the area that led to the killing of a tenth class student Waseem Ahmad Mir son of Mohammad Akber a resident of Sagipora village of Sopore. An official in the primary health centre said that Mir was brought dead to the district hospital. “We received five injured youth. Amongst them, three had received pellet injuries who were later shifted to District Hospital Handwara for treatment,” he said.
Wasim is survived by his father, mother and three brothers.
The residents alleged that they were locked up in one house, which was close to the encounter house. “For three days we were left hungry without any food and water. Even our kids were left to die of hunger,” one resident said. “They told us categorically that if we use our phones they will shot us so we did not dare to use them.” These people are presently living with their neighbours whose house survived the encounter and in turn, they go house to house for having meals.
In this village of around 40 middle-class households, almost 10 houses were damaged in the fierce gun-battle. Of them, seven were fully damaged and three partially. Besides, three cowsheds were burnt down along with two cows and two goats.
The houses that were fully damaged in the encounter belonged to Imtiyaz Ahmad Bhat S/o Ghulam Ahmad Bhat, Javid Ahmad Bhat S/o Ghulam Ahmad Bhat, Mohammad Ashraf Bhat S/o Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, Fayaz Ahmad Shah S/o Ghulam Hassan Shah, Manzoor Ahmad Shah S/o Ghulam Hassan Shah, Abdul Majeed Shah S/o Ghulam Hassan Shah and Wali Mohammad Shah S/o Habibullah Shah. The three houses that were partially damaged included the houses of Mubashir Ahmad Shah S/o Abdul Rashid Shah, Farooq Ahmad Shah S/o Ghulam Rasool Shah and Mushtaq Ahmad Shah S/o Gh Rasool Shah.
Soon after the encounter was over Eng Rasheed said they have a local Trust of the area and he has shared its details on his social networking sites to generate donations for these families. “We started the campaign on Monday at around 2 pm and by 7 pm, we have received around Rs 50,000,” he said.
For a very long time, there was any major militancy related incident. Before the recent encounter that took place in Babagund, this area has witnessed a ruthless counter-insurgency.
“I was one of the hundreds of people who were tortured in the Babagund camp by Ali Captain but then the camp was removed from the area in 2000,” said Engineer Rasheed, the two-time lawmaker from the area, who has most of his vote bank in the area.
The wreath laying event for the slain policemen was held at DPL Handwara on Saturday in presence of IGP Kashmir SP Pani, where tributes were paid to the slain Sg Ct (selection grade constable) Naseer Ahmad Kholi a resident of Gund Gujran Karnah and Sg Ct Ghulam Mustafa Barah resident of Zachaldara Handwara.
The police spokesman has said that the slain Naseer Ahmad’s family is survived by parents, wife, 2-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter and Ghulam Mustafa’s family is survived by aged mother, wife, two daughters and two sons.
Mustafa’s one brother is across the border and is a militant while as Mustafa died while fighting militancy for his state. “This is the outcome of this conflict,” Engineer Rasheed said insisting that Mustafa was his voter. “Centre should come out with a policy to solve this issue.”
Meanwhile, the body of Naseer is yet to reach his home in Karnah, alleges Rasheed. “This poor fellow went inside the encounter site and still his body has not been flown to his home in Karnah.”
As the encounter was going on, the locals alleged that forces did not follow the Standard Operations Procedure (SOP). Reportedly on Sunday, the counter-insurgent forces did not allow a health team and a team of PHE, carrying first aid kit besides essentials including baby food and biscuits to visit the five families, who were stuck inside their houses near the encounter site.
When contacted the district SP, Ashish Mishra, said: “Whatever we had to say DIG has said that and that is final. Other than that neither we have any detail nor any fact.”
The police have confirmed that both the militants were affiliated with Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, with one militant identified as a foreigner and another a local resident, Ishfaq Majeed Mir of Brat Kalan, Sopore.
Mir, son of Abdul Majeed Mir, a fruit grower by profession, had joined militancy in July 2018. Before joining militancy he dropped out of his college in his final year of his graduation and joined his father in his work. He is survived by his father, mother Raja Begum, two brothers who study in class 12th and 8th and a married sister.
His body was handed over to his family Monday where a large number of people had assembled to take part in his funeral prayers.
(with inputs from Aatif Qayoom in Handwara.)