‘Does an 11-year-old’s kinship to a terrorist justify his murder?’

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Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU: The building at Lawaypora, in which the J&K Police and the security forces claimed to have killed three militants, at kilometre 10 of Srinagar-Baramulla-Uri highway, is known to have been a deserted house since the day it was vacated by its inmates last year. For some time it used to be the hostel for the girl students of Dr Tahira Khanum’s education and nursing colleges.
According to the neighbours, it was subsequently converted into the doctors’ hostel. For over a year, nobody lived in the building on the highway. Some of its windows had reportedly fallen.
Nobody in the government has answered on whose ‘specific input’ the operation was launched by RR 02 Bn which has its battalion as well as the divisional headquarters just 2 km short of Lawaypora. Nobody knows whether or not Srinagar District Police was informed and associated with the operation at the very beginning as per the standard operating procedure.

Families insist their sons, killed in the Lawaypora encounter’, were innocent; Police calls them ‘terrorist associates’

While some officials maintain it was the Army’s “own, exclusive operation”, others insist that the ‘specific input’ had come to the Police. The Army as well as the Police had been put under tremendous pressure to find out and eliminate the militants who had shot dead two Territorial Army jawans, attached to RR 02 Bn, at HMT Crossing, 3 Km short of Lawaypora, on 26 November 2020.
As many as 10 encounters and six militant attacks have happened within municipal limits of Srinagar in 2020. The last one on 26 November was carried out audaciously in close periphery of the battalion headquarters of RR 02 as the attackers managed to escape unhurt on their Maruti car.
After the operation at Lawaypora concluded on 30 December, General Officer Commanding (GoC) Kilo Force, HS Sahi, told the reporters: “There were regular inputs about the movement of militants on Srinagar-Baramulla highway. Yesterday, we developed leads and came to know that militants are hiding in a house right opposite to Noora Hospital at Lawaypora in HMT area”. He said that the “holed up militants” were asked to surrender but they didn’t pick up the offer.
“The militants instead fired indiscriminately at our troops and lobbed grenades as well. They did not want to surrender,” the GOC said. “This was a clean operation and there was no causality to security forces… The nature of ammunition used by the militants in today’s gunfight, suggests they were planning a big strike on the highway”.
Since the Army’s own internal inquiry as well as the Police investigation have proved the official versions about the Amshipora Shopian shootout wrong, it is difficult to conclude without concrete evidences the three South Kashmir youths were “hardcore terrorist associates”. The Police charge sheet submitted to Chief Judicial Magistrate of Shopian says that Captain Bhoopinder Singh had planned and executed the cold blooded murder of the three Rajouri youths on 17 July 2020 just for winning cash reward of Rs 20 lakh. The Army has denied this allegation today.
Since the security forces as well as the Police themselves are in the dock in the ‘Lawaypora encounter’, only an independent judicial inquiry could perhaps dig out the truth. The caveat of a section of the establishment that such an investigation and open action could ‘demoralise’ the forces does not hold water.
“Contrarily the inaction in such dubious matters demoralises the troops. When my boys, who conduct genuine operations at the risk of their life, watch the rewards and medals going to the fake encounters, they feel demotivated”, said an officer of the security force. “For over 10 years, there was no allegation of a fake encounter or custodial killing against the forces. In the last 18 years, there has been no allegation of rape or molestation. Unfortunately these two encounters have damaged our reputation, image and credibility”.
Mohammad Shafi Wani, a shopkeeper and uncle of Athar Mushtaq Wani of Bellow Dargund, Pulwama, ridiculed the Police statement that linked the 16-year-old class 11th student to the slain militant Rayees Kachru. “Rayees was my son. He had chosen the path of militancy of his own choice and conviction. Athar was just 11-year-old when Rayees was killed in 2017. I wonder why they didn’t kill Athar on the same day”, Wani told STATE TIMES.
Athar was the only son of Mushtaq Ahmad Wani. “He (Athar) used to take care of his grandfather (Abdul Gani Wani) who has lost eyesight. He used to keep his father’s i20 (car) neat and clean. He wouldn’t interact with the local boys of his age. He wouldn’t play cricket. He was fully engaged with his class 11th exam. His last paper was scheduled on 31st (December)”, Wani said.
According to Wani, Athar was around his shop till 1.30 pm on 29 December. “I wanted to have him at my shop for my prayer break. The muezzin was calling for prayers. Suddenly my own son appeared and I handed over the shop to him. Later, Athar’s sister Fiza said that she received a call from Athar at 3.30 pm. He had told her that he was in Srinagar. He had said that he would be staying for the night in Srinagar. He had told Fiza that the battery of his mobile was down and the family shouldn’t get worried if his phone didn’t respond”, Wani said.
Zubair Ahmad Lone (24) of Turkawangam (Shopian), who was among the three youths killed, used to rent out his shuttering for local constructions.
“His last work was at a shop just 20 yards from our residence. He took lunch at around 1.00 pm before leaving his home on 29 December. Later Zinapora Police Station told us that his phone’s last location at 2.30 pm was Lassipora. Thereafter his phone was permanently switched off. Next day, the village headman Jehangir Ahmad Mir informed us that Zubair had been killed in Lawaypora”, Zubair’s brother Mohammad Irfan Lone told STATE TIMES.
Irfan is a constable with District Police Budgam and his brother Mohammad Altaf Lone a constable with District Police Ganderbal. “We were five brothers. None of us had ever been linked to militancy, not even stone pelting or a demonstration”, Irfan asserted. “Local Army camps call a suspect on a minor complaint. None of us had ever been called as we were busy with our own Police jobs and small businesses”.
Similar story comes from the family of Aijaz Maqbool Ganai of Putrigam, Pulwama. Working as constable with District Police Ganderbal, Maqbool Ganai learned about his son’s death in the Lawaypora firing from Police Station Parimpora on 30 December. According to the family, Aijaz had stayed permanently at his home after a spinal surgery. He too left his home in the afternoon on 29 December and returned dead on 30 December.

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