Hakeem Irfan/ Economic Times
SIRNOO, PULWAMA: The armed forces used four locals of Kharpora village as human shields to scout for the exact hideout of the militants in the apple orchard adjacent to village in Pulwama, where three militants and seven civilians were killed on December 15.
The Army dragged, 35-year-old Firdous Ahmad Najar, a teacher in J&K government, out of his house along with his brother and two neighbors at around 6 am on Saturday. The Army then took them to the orchard,where the forces had already laid multilevel cordon.
“We were ordered to remove stacks of logs scattered indifferent parts of the orchard and forced to enter into a non-functional poultry farm, which they suspected to be the hideout of militants,” reminisces Najar, who also claims that army personnel thrashed him as well.
Later, Najar was pushed to remove another stack of logs near a canal in middle of the orchard. “I removed the logs and saw two tactical boots. The army man besides me immediately fired bullets, without bothering for our lives. They fired at the hideout from 15 to 20 feet distance and then took the positions around the spot,” says Najar adding, “All four of us were kept hostages, as we laid in the orchard on abdomen till the firing was over at around 11 am. Then they left us there.”
However, his story of being taken as a hostage, Najar says is trivia in context of the killings and mayhem armed forces unfolded in the area, after the encounter was over. Najar’s cousin Sahahzab Najar, 18, who was standing outside his house was shot by the army convoy, when they were retreating from the encounter spot.
Eye Witness Account: Locals claimed that encounter was over within 15 to 20 minutes, after the first shots were fired at around 8am. “But the forces intentionally opened fire at civilians, who were near the road adjacent to the orchard and a paddy field,” said another eyewitness, who was present at the spot. The first civilian– a minor—another local said, was shot near a chinar tree in the orchard at around 8:45am and rest of the civilians were killed till 10:00am
“There was no major stone pelting going on. Stones were not available in abundance in the orchard or paddy field. The forces just wanted to take revenge on us for not accepting the Indian occupation,” said a student,who reiterated that dearth of weapons is the limitation otherwise every youngster would have taken up arms.
Army and Hurriyat
The civilian killings have sent shock waves across the state and joint Hurriyat leadership of Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Yasin Malik called for three day strike and march towards Army’s 15 Corps headquarters at Badami Bagh cantonment in Srinagar on December 17. The Army has asked people not to gather around cantonment saying that vested interests are continuously at work to instigate and mobilise gullible youths to encounter sites.
“The call given by JRL (Joint Resistance Leadership) for march to Badami Bagh Cantonment is another such attempt…Indian Army is always with the people of Kashmir and would foil all such evil attempts of Terrorist-Separatist-Pakistan nexus to pit the civilian population against the Security Forces. The public is once again advised not to pay heed to this misleading call by JRL,” read the official release of Army. Jammu and Kashmir police also issued advisory saying that public transport will not ..
Kashmiri Pandit family mourns HM commanders killing
In Sirnoo of Pulwama, a Kashmiri Pandit family is mourning the killing of Zahoor Thokar, an army man turned militant, who was killed along with two HM members on Saturday. The army has raided this pandit family six to seven times since Thokar took up arms in June 2017, when he deserted the army from its headquarter in Baramullah of northern Kashmir. Three Pandit families live next to the residence of Thokar.
“He was a nice boy and has tended our kitchen garden manytimes. He would play cricket with our children. But we never saw him since hetook up arms,” said a female member of the Pandit family. Around seven pandit families still live in Sirnoo village. Many pandit families living in Jammu and outside the state still own the land in this village.
“I was pained to see the funeral from the window of my house. His death came as a shock and we will live with his memories of playing in our lawn,” says another family member. “Militants never came to our house.We never saw Zahoor after he took up arms. I have played with him and can never forget him,” said another family member, who is a student in college.
On whether they face any threat living as a minority in this volatile area of Pulwama in southern Kashmir, a family member responded, “This is not 1990’s. These boys (militants) are clear that their aim is not to harass anybody but to achieve something else.”