By Saima Bhat
SRINAGAR: A Kashmiri scholar-turned militant and his colleague were killed Thursday in a pre dawn gunbattle by a joint contingent of State Police’s Special Operations Group (SOG) and army’s 30 RR in the Shatgund, Qalamabad area of Handwara district.
It was around 2.30 am when the locals in Shatgund area woke up to the sound of a few gunshots which were followed by the cordon in the area. “There was a lull in the firing and then it resumed again,” said a local resident, accessed by phone.
The encounter broke in the village during the wee hours after counter-insurgent forces launched a joint operation in the area following the inputs about the presence of militants there.
“After cordon, warning shots were given around 3 am and then the forces started house to house search in the area,” a senior police officer said. “As the dawn broke the gunfight started between the forces and the militants. Consequently, the civilians in the nearby areas were evacuated.”
“The militants were first in a local house but later they tried to hide under a culvert where they were killed. One AK-47, three magazines with 90 rounds, One INSAS, five magazines with 80 rounds were recovered from the site,” the officer added.
In the ensuing encounter, two militants were killed, police said, adding that no collateral damage took place in the operation.
“Our school driver called me around 8 am informing that an encounter was going on in Shatgund so he cannot leave from his school in Qalamabad, which was 2 kms away from the site, to pick up students,” Abdul Rasheed (name changed), teacher by profession, living in a neighbouring village, informed Kashmir Life over phone. “He broke the news that Manan Wani was killed.”
Once the news spread about the killing, the people from all neighbouring villages in Shatgund started assembling in the area and started pelting stones on the joint posse that was deployed on cordon. “By around 8.30 am the stone pelting had started and the forces had used pellet guns, bullets as well as the teargas shells over the protesters,” said another local resident. Reports claimed some persons were injured but not many details were available.
But the operation was so clean that residents claimed they could not get the feel of a gun-fight after the operation was over.
Umar, a resident, said he reached the encounter site around 1.30 pm when the encounter was over. “When I reached on the spot I saw the forces had packed the two bodies in two bags and they took the bodies along without giving us a glimpse of the slain two,” Umar said. “They showered pellets on us and my friend received many on his back.”
Umar said the gunfight was launched near the Masjid. “I saw very minimal blood on the floor outside the room of Imam Sahib of a local Masjid, which was five to ten meters away from the Masjid,” he said. “We found just one bullet on the window pane of the Masjid and a few on the tin that was on its side. And then we found an Aadhar card reading the name of Ashiq Hussain Zargar, supposedly he was another militant killed. We picked up two pherans from the site that too did not bore any bullet mark or blood stains.”
But one neighbour of the Imam told Kashmir Life over the phone that he was confused if bullets were showered from both sides or from only one side.
Soon after the news spread, authorities shut down internet service on mobile phones and ordered the closure of schools in several places in the region fearing student protests.
The gunfight ended later with the recovery of bodies of the two militants, but authorities withheld their identities for several hours.
A complete shutdown was observed in Kupwara and Handwara areas and later stone pelting incidents were reported from Peerna Shathgund where four civilians got injured. One received firearm injury in his leg and three had pellet injuries, two of them were later referred to Srinagar. Clashes also broke out in Langate, Charkote, Patshahi, Badibera Sogam, Wawoora where army reportedly did the aerial firing, later a sub-inspector SI Mudasir was injured in the same area who was injured by a stone that struck him on his chin.
Before joining militant ranks in January 2018, Manan Wani was pursuing a doctorate in allied geology at Aligarh Muslim University but he left his research and joined the Hizbul Mujahideen. He soon attained the status of a “thinking rebel”. He wrote two articles about his beliefs and why he preferred guns over the pen.
Manan is survived by his parents and two siblings. His father Bashir Ahmad Wani is a retired headmaster while as his siblings are working as junior engineers.
Manan had done his schooling from JNV Putushahi Lolab. He joined Sainik school Manasbal after passing his 10th. He did his graduation from Amar Singh College and later did his PG and MPhil from Aligarh Muslim University, where he started his academics in 2011.
The other militant was who killed in the same incident was identified as Ashiq Hussain Zargar, son of Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Zargar, a resident of Mawer Laach. Zargar’s father was killed by unknown gunmen when he was a kid. Later his mother remarried and they both shifted to their new house in Tulwari village near Langate. He was a new recruit and had joined three months back. Before joining militancy he was a driver by profession. He is survived by two student brothers and four sisters, one of them is married.
Thousands of people including women reached Takipora village in Lolab and participated in the funeral prayers of Manan. A mass of people participated in his two funeral prayers, one led by his father and another by local Imam. He was buried around 6.30pm in the premises of the shrine of Saint Syed Islamil. Funeral prayers in absentia were reported from various campuses of the University of Kashmir.
As per police sources, there is no FIR registered against the Manan before he joined militancy. “He had never participated in any stone pelting or other protests in 2008 or 2010 or 2016,” police sources said.
Meanwhile, several media persons alleged that the army and police did not allow them to visit the village of the slain commander.
“A joint team of army and Police in the wee hours today launched a cordon and search operation at Shartgund Bala area of Qalamabad in Handwara.
During the searches, the hiding militants fired on the search party which was retaliated leading to an encounter. Consequently, the civilians in the nearby areas were evacuated. Further following the SOP attempts to make the militants’ surrender failed.
In the ensuing encounter, two terrorists were eliminated. In the operation, no collateral damage has taken place. Identities of both are being ascertained.
Incriminating materials including arms and ammunition were recovered from the site of the encounter.
Police has registered a case in this regard and the investigation has been initiated in an instant manner.”
Meanwhile, the Separatist leaders have called for a general strike on Friday.
“Deeply pained that we lost a budding intellectual and writer like him” who fought “for the cause of self-determination,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a top Kashmiri leader, said in a tweet.
Mehbooba Mufti, former Chief Minister also condoled the demise of rebel scholar saying that ‘Manan Wani’s death is entirely our loss.’
Mehbooba in her tweet said that all the political parties should realize the gravity of such a situation and should try to facilitate a solution through dialogue with all the stake holders including Pakistan to end this bloodshed.
“Today a PhD scholar chose death over life and was killed in an encounter. His death is entirely our loss as we are losing young educated boys every day. It is high time that all the political parties in the country realise the gravity of this situation and try to facilitate a solution through dialogue with all the stake holders including Pakistan to end this bloodshed,” Mehbooba tweeted.
Meanwhile, Hizb also paid tribute to Manan Wani saying ‘he was a precious intellectual asset.’ “Dr Abdul Manan Wani was a precious intellectual asset and his martyrdom will give birth to thousands of Manan Wani,” Hizb spokesman Burhan-ud-din quoted Syed Salah-ud-din Singh saying, according to local news gathering agency CNS. “Dr Manan was neither the first nor the last freedom fighter but his every drop of blood will produce thousands of Manan Wanis’,” Hizb said. Militant outfits Jaish-e-Muhammad and LeT also issued statements praising Manan.
In South Kashmir, unknown gunmen shot dead a militant turned separatist activist in Shopian area. He was associated with the Muslim League group as its district president.
Official sources said that two to three gunmen barged into the house of Tariq Ahmad Ganai, 45, a Muslim league district president for Shopian and an ex-militant, and pumped at least four bullets into his body.
The family sources said that Ganai’s residence was earlier raided by the government forces many times. He was recently released after completing his tenure under PSA.
“He has two kids studying in Srinagar and they reached just 30 minutes before the funeral of their father,” said a local.
Reportedly Tariq was offered gun salute twice by the militants who have addressed the locals saying that they have not killed him.
Separatists condemned the killing and urged an independent probe, while police blamed militants for it.
Police on Thursday issued following statement about the killing of Hurriyat activist in south Kashmir’s Shopian saying that militant this afternoon shot at and critically injured an individual at Meemandar area of Shopian.
A police spokesperson in a statement said that the individual was evacuated to nearby hospital for medical attention, however, he succumbed to his injuries. The slain individual has been identified as Tariq Ahmad Ganie son of Mohammad Yaqoob Ganie resident of Meemandar Shopian.
Police has registered a case in this regard and the investigation has been initiated in an instant manner, said spokesman in a statement.