by Shams Irfan
SRINAGAR: On September 21, 2018, at around 7 am, suspected militants surrounded Batagund village in Shopian, some 60 kilometres south of Srinagar, and kidnapped four people including three policemen. Later, the civilian brother of a policeman was left off by the suspected militants. However, an hour later, a series of gunshots were heard in the area.
“We thought the area has been cordoned and a gunfight has erupted between militants and army,” said a Batagund resident who wished not to be named.
But that was not the case. A while later villagers discovered three bullet-ridden bodies of the kidnapped policemen in nearby orchards in Lamni-Wangam village. As the news of killings spread in the area, police and army cordoned off the area to trace the suspected militants. The slain trio were all locals, who were home on leave. Their bodies were shifted to District Police Lines, Shopian, where top police cops including IGP Kashmir SP Pani attended their wreath-laying event. After the event concluded was over, all three bodies were shifted to their respective villages for their last rites.
As the body of slain policeman Nisar Ahmad Dhobi son of Abdul Rashid Dhobi, reached his home in Kaprin village, the entire neighbourhood turned gloomy. Hundreds of people rushed to Dhobi’s house to stand with his family in the hour of grief. Serving as constable in Jammu & Kashmir Armed Police, for the last 24 years, Nisar is survived by aged parents and a daughter and son. Nisar has spent most of his life serving Srinagar, far away from his village.
“He was with officers and not in any way part of any counter-insurgency operation,” said a relative who wishes not to be named. For a brief time, Nisar was also posted at a picket in border areas of Jammu region. “They should have warned him. Killing a person like this is not justified in any way. I am sure he would have resigned,” the relative said. “Not ever a single villager ever had an issue with him. He was down-to-earth and helpful.”
A few kilometres away in Batagund village, as the ambulance carrying two coffins of Kulwant Singh and Firdous Ahmad Kuchay, reached their respective homes, there were cries everywhere. Surrounded by hundreds of wailing women, Kulwant’s mother and his two kids, looked on helplessly. Kulwant’s is the lone non-Muslim family in Batagund.
“My son told them that he had quit his job. He was running a readymade garments shop in Kulgam,” his wailing mother told reporters. “But they didn’t listen. They could have shot in his leg. What was the need to kill him? What has he done?”
Another relative of Kulwant, who has rushed to his home after hearing the news of his killing, said that Kulwant had offered to show proof of his innocence but he was not given a chance by the suspected militants. Kulwant’s last rites will be performed on Saturday as his wife is in Jammu, nursing an ailing relative. “He will be cremated once his wife is back. She is expected to reach late in the evening,” a relative told.
Kulwant is survived by his aged parents, eight-year-old son and his daughter. Kuldeep’s brother worked in the paramilitary force but retired voluntarily after serving for eighteen years. He now works as a peon in a local bank.
“Kulwant’s family stayed put even during peak militancy years as nobody ever harmed them,” said a Muslim neighbour who knew Singh since childhood. “We never thought he will be killed like this.”
Just fifty metres away from Kuldeep’s modest two-storey house lives Firdous Ahmad Kuchay, a Special Police Officer (SPO), recruited some nine years back. Firdous, who lived with his wife and two kids: a 4-year-old boy and a toddler, was sole bread earner for his family.
“He was living hand-to-mouth literally,” said one of his relatives. “They didn’t kill just him but his entire family. His wife is disabled since birth.”
As his body reached his home his relatives and friends assembled in the small courtyard with eyes full of tears.
“Entire area is in mourning. Usually, militants abduct and then leave them after warning, but they were not warned at all,” said a local who wishes not to be named.
Firdous’ mother, who wailed in a corner asked her slain son to get up and come back, was inconsolable.
Within a few hours of their killing both Nisar and Firdous were laid to rest in their ancestral graveyards. The funerals were modest and emotional.
Police have issued the following statement over the three killings:
“Terrorists today morning abducted three cops in District Shopian and later killed them brutally in an inhuman act of terror. They were identified as Nisar Ahmad Dobi, Firdous Ahmad Kuchay and Kulwant Singh. Bodies of all the three jawans were retrieved by police and wreath laying ceremony was held at DPL Shopian. Police have registered a case in this regard. In the preliminary investigation reveals the complicity of proscribed terror outfits HM and LeT in this barbaric act of terror.”
Immediately after the three killings, there were reports of some cops and the SPOs putting in their papers. However, the Home Ministry has denied the reports of any resignation. Later, state Police Chief Dilbagh Singh also denied the reports, terming them baseless. “No SPO, or policeman has resigned, these are just rumours,” Singh was quoted saying.
There were a series of condemnations over the three killings.
“Three more policemen have lost their lives to militant bullets. Outrage, shock, and condemnation will be expressed by all of us on expected lines. Unfortunately, it brings no solace to the families of the victims,” a PDP statement quoting Mehbooba Mufti saying. “Clearly, with the rise in kidnapping of police personnel and their families, Centre’s muscular policy is not working at all. Dialogue, the only way forward seems to be a distant dream for now.”
National Conference President Dr Farooq Abdullah and Vice President Omar Abdullah expressed profound grief over the three killings. They termed it a “cowardly attack” and expressed their solidarity with the bereaved families.
Communist leader Yousuf Tarigami termed killings as “unfortunate and tragic”. “The slain policemen were not on combat duty but were abducted unarmed from their homes,” he said. “Whose ‘cause’ is being served by such killings? Whether a person is killed by the bullet from one side or the other side, it is a Kashmiri who is losing a life. For how long such killings will continue?”
Within hours after the three killings, Delhi called off the meeting between external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi in New York. It cited the killing of three policemen in Kashmir as well as the release of postal stamps glorifying Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
“Since yesterday’s announcement of a meeting of foreign ministers of India and Pakistan, two deeply disturbing developments have taken place. The latest killings of our security personnel by Pakistan-based entities and the recent release of a series of 20 postal stamps by Pakistan glorifying militants,” Times of India quoted MEA spokesperson as saying.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi termed the development “unfortunate”. The Dawn quoted Qureshi saying: “We had already told India that if they take one step towards us, we will take two. However, it seems that they faltered after taking just one step.”
An encounter between militants and the army that was ragging in Shukbaba area in Sumlar village is reportedly concluded. Police said all the five militants trapped in the siege stand killed. The spokesman said they were affiliated with the Lashkar-e-Toiba.
“Apparently, they were part of the freshly infiltrated group,” the police spokesman said. “Huge quantity of arms, ammunition and incriminating material was recovered from the site of encounter.” Police have also registered a case as well.
Not many details were immediately available about the encounter that is reported to have taken place in a forest.