An Encounter in Islamabad Town after 13 years

July 26

Many of Islamabad (Anantnag) residents have perhaps pompously come to regard their little town as a peaceful, untroubled, but that facade was shattered in just a few seconds with the acrid sound of gunfire filling the air and the blood of two dead men — Bilal Ahmed and Adil Hussain, soaking into the soil.

The human cost of the shootout made it a repulsive event in the eyes of the Islamabad residents because Wednesday obviously has flipped the perception of nearly 13 years. The small town was supposedly a sophisticated place, but it was marred by horrible violence in the initial years of Militancy.

“It is tough for us to forget what we have lived, one of the toughest thing to forget for anyone in the town is, 27 October, 1990, when Forces burnt down an entire locality, more than 40 houses in malaknag, to mosques, the day was something we pray never to see again, we have seen tanks rolling on these streets after Jagmohan came back to power, this small town in early 90s has been marred by violence,” Asif Ahmed Khan, a town resident in his 40s said.

“Having walked no more than ten feet and thinking to myself this is like a set from a movie where everyone on the planet has disappeared, I then heard a person shouting at me from a metal-framed door which suddenly opened “where did you come out of ?” After perhaps twenty minutes in our house, cops came and interviewed us – we were then walked out in single file escorted by cops who all had their guns drawn,” says a family member of the house where a gunfight raged early morning on Wednesday in the Islamabad (Anantnag) township of South Kashmir.

Photo/ Tawseef Nazir

As dawn broke on July 25, Islamabad (Anantnag) township woke up to massive bullet sounds. “What is happening outside, Do not go anywhere, Oh Allah ! Have mercy upon us,” i heard a woman shouting at a man who was going for dawn (Fajr) prayers in the neighbourhood.

Much of the gunfight’s historical significance lies in the fact that it unfolded in full view of the public in the middle of the night, something that was a rarity in the town now, despite the countless days of showdown scenarios in early 90s.

As the light grew, the town grew more and more agitated, buzzing with trepidation that a gunfight was brewing. “Some of us who have seen firefights know that there’s nothing in the world more unsettling to the human memory than this kind of desperate mortal combat,” said Asif Ahmed Khan, 40 who has lived the period of early 90s when encounters, gunfights were a daily affair.

Instantly bullets screamed for at least six hours. It was about 9 o’clock yesterday when several shots were fired in quick succession and two minutes after, there must have been a hundred people trying to run towards the encounter site. There were cries and exclamations and explanations everywhere, but nobody seemed to know more than that there the fact that bullets were fired from all sides. When the melee subsided, two people were dead.

Funeral of Bilal Ahmed Dar in Khudwani (Photo/ Adnan Qadri)

The First gunfight in the town raged on 01 April 1990, when three local Militants Farhat Jan of Sarnal, Mohammed Ilyas Wani of Laibal and Mohammed Ayoub Bangroo of Srinagar were trapped in  a Kadipora house and later killed. Militancy saw a decline post the infighting between two Militant groups in early 90s and then by 2001 Counter Insurgents has wiped off most of the Militancy. The town saw a massive participation in 2008 and 2010 civilian uprisings, however after the failure of both the uprisings, things gradually changed.

Through these years since 2010, emotions have grown explosive. Now Bands of armed Militants mostly young men, roam freely across the rural areas. This great tragedy though draws little ire from the local population more interested in acquiring wealth. Throughout the history of Kashmir, We have possessed both a gun culture and a gun control culture, however one needs to invoke history and probably public debate in the polarisation and poor public policy, which places the political and wealthy elite on a building’s top floor.

Yawar Nisar on 4th August in 2017 was the first Militant to be killed in 13 years after popular slain Commander of JKLF, Manzoor ul Islam who was killed in August 2004. This South Kashmir area has been comparatively aloof from the sentimental touch that grips the rest of South, but Wednesday obviously has flipped this perception of nearly 13 years when the theatre of Militancy has shifted from up North to down South.

Upon receiving a specific input about Militant presence in the Kotwal Gali of the township, the Government Forces including 1 RR, Jammu Kashmir Police and 40 and 162 Battalions of CRPF laid a siege around a few houses in the locality. The houses were searched and as officials said, the Militants opened fire upon forces conducting searches, triggering an encounter.

As the bullet storms rumbled and lightning lit up the house, The entry and the exit points to the town were sealed, a curfew was imposed, Internet and railway services suspended, concertina wires spread to disallow any protests near to encounter site.

The ground zero of the gunfight was the house of Nazir Ahmed Khan, a former People’s League member and his son Waheed Ahmed Khan, a close aide of Mirwaiz South Kashmir, Qazi Ahmed Yasir. Nazir has spent more than 15 years in Jail while his son has been in and out of the jail. When Army laid a siege around his house, the father and son were taken into detention while Tariq, another brother has been missing since.

Photo/ Adnan Qadri

When the smoke cleared after an intense firing of nearly six hours, two dead bodies along with two weapons were recovered. Official figures reveal that 110 Militants which includes a large number of foreign Nationals have been killed this year so far, but more number of local youth have been joining Militants ranks post the killing of Burhan wani, a local Militant commander on July 08 2016 creating an endless cycle of violence.

This year Ph.D Scholars including Manan Wani of Kupwara, Waseem Rather of Kulgam, Mohammed Rafi M.Phil Scholar Zubair Ahmed from Islamabad, M.A Urdu Nawaz Ahmed Wagay from Shopian are among the youth who joined the Militant ranks.

The Government Forces recently met in South Kashmir to formulate a strategy to curb the Militant recruitment. The Police, Army and other agencies met to discuss all the possible ways they could shape to end the cycle of violence, however the policy ‘iron fist’ that the Indian Agencies had used earlier surely does not seem to be working on the ground, at least as per stats.

220 Active Militants in 2017 January, 213 were Killed in the year till December 31 2018, still in June 2018 the number of active Militants had surpassed 250 which includes a vast majority of locals.

Thousands of Kashmiris have taken to gun since an armed insurgency began in Kashmir in the winter of 1988. The Himalayan region is claimed by both India and Pakistan who have fought three wars over the region. (The Kashmiriyat)