Ek Tha Tiger

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In a fierce gun-battle between militants and the army, Hizb ul Muahideen lost a major face in south Kashmir. Umar Mukhtar visited the baker’s family to trace his rise and fall as a militant

Sameer Bhat, aka Tiger, who was killed in a gun fight in Drabgam village of Pulwama.

At 9:30 am, Sara, is in her late forties, had her eyes fixed on a single storey house, where a young man in battle-gear, was crawling under the hot sun. He was Sameer Ahmad Bhat, 20, aka Tiger, one of the most known Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militants from Drubgam (Pulwama).

With each gunshot missing Sameer, lying vulnerable on the concrete slab, Sara’s heart sinks with every shot. Then she saw the militant crawling with his AK47, towards the edge of the slab, and fired at army men hiding under the cantilever.

Around the same time, Tiger’s childhood friend and cricket partner Aqib Khan, 21, fired some shots, as if trying to give his senior the fire-cover. One of the bullets hit Major Shukla, the commandant of Shadimarg garrison. It was the same officer whom Tiger had threatened in a video, now viral on the internet.

The video shows Sameer holding an alleged “informer” and telling him: “Tell Shukla that if Tiger stops hunting, the dogs think they rule the woods.”

Sameer and Shukla operated in the same area. Everybody including Sara knew about their rivalry. Watching the gunbattle, Sara realized, curtains were going to fall on the rivalry. The question was who will survive.

With Shukla down, Tiger crawled back smiling, Sara said. “Fighting from an open slab was unconventional,” said one mourner.

But Sameer’s entry into militancy was in itself unconventional. A baker by profession, Sameer inherited his nickname Tiger from his uncle, a respected village resident.

Sameer dropped out his school in the eighth standard and started working for local bakery. Much like other youngsters in the neighbourhood, he lived an uneventful life till the day he was picked by army men from Shadimarg garrison.

There, at the camp, Sameer was interrogated; his hair pulled using pliers. He was beaten and humiliated, his father alleged.

Once out, he was now a completely transformed boy, filled with rage. He took part in almost every protest and started visiting militant funerals.

One day, Sameer was arrested by police on stone pelting charges and held for 20 days. “He was tortured badly. He had cuts all over his back,” one of his friends said.

On May 07, 2016, Sameer left home to attend a function but did not return.  His phone was switched off. He disappeared in the nearby Dalwan woods. “He had never been to any relative or friends home for a night,” said Bhat. Knowing what it means, Bhat lodged a missing complaint.

A few days later his photograph, wearing military fatigues started circulating on the social networking sites. He had joined Hizib ul Mujahideen (HM).

THE END

The single storey house, located between apple orchards and a school, caught fire when gasoline was sprinkled from a distance.

Exchange of bullets was on and Sameer was dodging the bullets. Over his head was a low flying army helicopter.

In his two years of militant life, he had managed to dodge bullets, almost half-a-dozen cordons, and survived. Police mostly recognise him as ‘cordon breaker.’

But on April 30, Monday, with hundreds of army men surrounding this house, Sameer knew there is almost no way to break the cordon.

Thousands of boys, who watched exchange of fire barely sixty meters away, outside the second security tyre, were desperate to get Sameer out. One of them was killed from this crowd.

Amid flying bullets, all of a sudden, Sameer stood up and shouting loud takbeer thrice before firing indiscriminately towards the army, aiming at nobody. Within seconds, a volley of bullets pierced him and thus collapsed Tiger only at a stone’s throw from his home. So did his engineer turned militant partner, Aqib.

With his fall, silence descended down on the belt.

MEETING WITH FATHER

Bhat, a desperate father now, was yearning to see his son who left without telling him. He had made every effort to know whereabouts of his son after his disappearance but failed. Finally after four months of wait, to Bhat’s surprise, a messenger visits Bhat’s home.

This led the father and son meet. After a tight hug with his father, the son asked him if he had done right.

“But why did not you ask me that time,” the father asked.

The conversation lasted 15 minutes; the father-son shared some emotional talks, hugs and bid a formal adieu. Bhat was not knowing if he could ever meet him again. The duo vanished into the orchards and Bhat came back with a heavy but a satisfied heart now.

With Sameer lying on the slab, chopper made some circles and faded away. Soldiers started sending civilians to the slab to re-confirm the killing. Finally they were ordered to thrown his body down. Once on ground, the soldiers surrounded and started taking selfies.

Sameer’s killing led the security grid celebrated the ‘big success’ and a ‘major loss for militancy.’

Sameer, police said, was involved in the firing incident on the residential house of former MLA Syed Bashir Ahmad in Sheikh Haar village and in a grenade attack on the Naka Party at Hawal, Pulwama.

A close confidant of HM commander Riyaz Naikoo, Sameer was an A++ category militant with 10 lakhs bounty on his head. A rebel of Burhan era, he was one of the longest surviving militants.

After the locals took over the body and the army moved out, thousands of people descended down the village from across Kashmir. There were 10 rounds of funerals. Some people unable to manage their emotions shouted: Tiger Zinda Hai (Tiger is alive in our hearts).

Sameer’s accomplice, Aqib, who was also killed in the same encounter, was from a Rajpora. He was a diploma holder in mechanical engineering.

Unlike Tiger, Aqib was a new recruit. He had joined Hizb on July 9, 2017.

Aqib’s entry into militancy had the same trajectory: harassment by the security grid. Aqib, according to his family, was picked up by special operation group (SOG) in 2017 and detained for six days. The only reason was his childhood friendship with Sameer.

Sameer used to play cricket in Rajpora where the two met.

Aqib was religious boy, according to his father Mushtaq Ahmad Khan. His family had no idea that Aqib would become a militant.

Once in 2017, Aqib had gone to Srinagar when a rumour started doing rounds about his joining the rebels. His father rushed to the city and got him home.

That the evening when the azaan for Isha prayers was called, a tired father was unwilling to go to the mosque. Aqib insisted. As the father left for mosque, Auqib followed. That was the last time, they were seen together.

After nine months, Aqib fell to the bullets next to Tiger, and returned home dead.

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