Blood In Hunger

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After many years, the Muslim month of fasting did not witness any cessation of hostilities between militants and the security grid. This made the just passed Ramzan quite a bloody affair, reports Shams Irfan

Funeral-of-a-militant. Blood In Hunger Story

Funeral of a militant.

On May 10, the fourth day of Ramazan, while people were just off to sleep after offering Fajr prayers, army and SOG cordoned remote Amshipora village in Ramnagri, Shopian. Within no time the morning silence was broken by the sound of gunshots. A gun-battle between a lone militant and the counter-insurgent grid ensued. Almost half-an-hour later, Ishfaq Ahmad Sofi alias Abdullah Bhai was killed.

Sofi, who joined Harkatul Mujahideen in 2015, had switched to ISJK after Burhan’s killing. A resident of Sopore, he was a long way from home. As his body was handed over to his family, nobody knew his killing will start a bloody cycle of bloodshed, making Ramazan 2019, one of the bloodiest in Kashmir’s recent history.

By the end of the month of Muslim fasting, 24 militants, seven civilians, and one army man were killed in 13 gun-battles and two target killings across Kashmir. “The killing of militants is because of improved ground intelligence network and coordination between different security wings,” said a middle-rank counter-insurgency cop on condition of anonymity. “We act as and when intelligence inputs come. It is not something that we escalate our operations during a particular month.”

But there was no let up in counterinsurgency operations throughout the month of Ramazan. Unlike the last two Ramzan’s, there was no cessation of hostilities. While for one year, the security grid announced a unilateral ceasefire, in another Ramzan, it was almost the same without a formal announcement. This year, however, the operations continued without any interruption.

The second gunfight took place two days later in Shopian’s Hehend-Satipora village; once again breaking the restive pre-dawn calm of the holy month. After a few hours of gunfight two militants, Basharat and Tariq were killed. Tariq was a Special Police Officer (SPO), who deserted to join militant ranks.

As most of the CASO’s now happen during the night; and gun-battles are almost over before the first light, entire south Kashmir remained on the edge when night approaches.

On May 16, while the south Kashmir was still mourning Basharat and Tariq’s killing, it turned out to be even bloodier. Thirteen people were killed across Kashmir in four separate incidents. In the first incident, a cattle trader named Nayeem Ahmad Shah was killed by cow vigilantes in Baderwah town. His killing sparked communal tensions in the area forcing authorities to impose curfew and bring out the army

Almost same time, two locals and one Pakistani militant were killed during a pre-dawn gunfight in remote Dalipora village of Pulwama. As the details of the encounter started coming out, a tragic incident came to light. In order to locate the suspected house, the army rounded up two brothers: Raees and Younis in Dalipora village. When the brothers were made to knock on the suspected house where militants were believed to be hiding, gunshots were fired, injuring Raees and Younis.

While Raees succumbed to his injuries, his brother Younis is nursing his injured leg. Younis later told reporters that army had taken them as “human shields”.

The same day another gun-battle raged in remote Hendew village of Shopian, in which two militants, one civilian and an army man were killed.  The civilian was first termed as militant by the police but their claim was refuted by the victim’s family. He was apparently killed by a bullet while he was in his orchard.

In the evening army claimed to have killed one militant in the Kandi Kupwara belt. But no militant body was retrieved.

For next five days, Kashmir remained on the edge hoping for a peaceful Ramazan. But on the sixth day, the restive calm was broken when two local Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militants were killed in Gopalpora village of Kulgam. Once again the internet facility was suspended in the area. As it rained throughout the night, everyone hoped that guns will fall silent.

But just before people prepared to break their day-long fast on May 23, the news of Zakir Rashid Bhat aka Musa, trapped in a cordon in Dadsara village of Tral, put everyone on the edge.

A few hours later, as the news of Zakir Musa’s killing got confirmed, entire Kashmir erupted in spontaneous protests. Hundreds of boys braving rains marched towards Zakir Musa’s native village Noorpora, to take part in his funeral.

With memories of Burhan Wani’s killing and its aftermath still fresh in people’s minds, everyone kept their fingers crossed hoping no other kid is killed. For the next four days, Kashmir remained shut to mourn Zakir Musa’s killing. Zakir quit Hizb after he made a controversial remark about some Hurriyat leaders and formed Ansarul Ghzwat-ul-Hind, an offshoot of Al Qaida in Kashmir. He was the second most wanted militant after Hizb operational commander Riyaz Naikoo.

On the fifth day of Zakir Musa’s killing life started to limp back to normal in Kashmir parts, while southern parts continued to remain on the edge. A recent report suggested the outfit has taken a Lelhar resident as Musa’s successor.

On May 28, as the month of Ramazan entered its third and last phase, one more gunfight was reported from remote Nilpham area of Kokernag in south Kashmir. After a few hours of exchange of gunfire, two Jaish-e-Mohammad militants were killed including a non-native Pakistani national.

But that was not the end of bloodshed. The very next day army and SOG laid a cordon in two different areas in south Kashmir: Tazipora village of Kulgam and Gugloora village of Pinjoora.

In both areas, as the news of cordon spread, hundreds of boys came out and clashed with CRPF and Police in an effort to help trapped militants escape. The clashes were so intense that hospitals in Shopian and Srinagar were flooded with injured.

An SOS was sent on the social media sites to manage the crisis in Srinagar as injured needed blood. Within no around two dozen boys rushed to the hospital.

As it was Ramazan, special arrangements were made to help injured and their attendants break their fasts.

During clashes in Pinjoora, one civilian named Sajad Ahmad Parray, a resident of Baderhama village was hit by a bullet. He succumbed to his injuries at a local hospital. At both places, because of intense clashes, militants managed to flee.

As south seethed with anger over civilian killing, the next day (May 30), an early morning gun-battle was reported from restive Dangerpora village of Sopore. Before daybreak two local militants Naseer and Asif were reported killed. With less than a week left to Eid, this was the tenth encounter in Ramazan. All hopes of a peaceful Ramazan were already dashed. Now people were hoping for an incident-free Eid. But that didn’t happen. The very next day two gunfights, one each in Midoora village of Tral and Sugan village of Shopian were reported. By afternoon two militants, including a Pakistani national were killed in Midoora, Tral. But all eyes were set on Sugan village of Shopian, where gunfight raged on till late afternoon. It ended with the killing of two militants and one civilian named Jasim Rashid Shah, who police claimed was missing for the last two days and was part of the militant group.

Jasim’s killing coupled with back-to-back encounters in the area turned Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama districts in constant mourning. Eid was just three days away but there was no festivity in the air. All one could see was blood-soaked streets and expanding graveyards. But it was not the end of miseries. On June 3, with just one day to Eid, a brief shootout between suspected militants and army’s mobile party took place in Moolu-Chitragam village of Shopian. The exchange of gunfire left two people dead. They were later identified as Firdous Ahmad Bhat, a local militant and Sajad Ahmad, who police said was an overground worker of Bhat.

The next day as markets across Kashmir beefed up for Eid, Shopain and other parts of south remained in perpetual mourning. “Do we have any reason to celebrate,” asked Yasir, a shopkeeper from Shopian. Like Yasir, most of the young boys in south Kashmir have someone close to them.

On June 5, as Ramazan concluded and people across Kashmir were busy with special Eid prayers, Nageena Jan from Kakpora, Pulwama was shot dead at her home. She became the 32nd victim of the turmoil that saw no stop in the month of fasting.

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