The army’s zeal to show results in border areas of Kashmir is filling graveyards with the bodies of unidentified men, reports Parvaiz Bukhari
IN KALAROOS, a remote village of frontier district Kupwara, memories of the security forces’ misadventures are kept alive in a graveyard that contains scores of bodies of unidentified men killed in numerous gunbattles with the army in Machil sector. Some of the graves have ‘epitaphs’ that could help identify those buried in them. Thus, a small tin plate erected on one of the graves says “Safaid dadhi wala (White bearded)”, another nearby has “Kala dress wala (Dressed in black)”. Most graves are just distinguishable by soil piled high. Two bodies bear the ‘distinguishing mark’ of smears of blue ink used by woodcutters to mark logs in the forest.
Three graves are empty: the authorities dug them up recently to exhume bodies of young men killed near the Line of Control (LoC). Villagers say they were innocent boys and the encounter was fake. At the root of this bloodshed is a new ‘system’ put in place where Special Police Officers (SPOs) share ‘actionable intelligence’ with the army in return for handsome amounts of money. It enables the security forces to claim victories and produce bodies, all in the name of containing militancy.
A recap of the events that led up to the excavation of these bodies might make the picture clearer.
It was raining heavily when at 2 am on April 30 when a few soldiers led by Major Opinder Singh of the 4 Rajputana Rifles arrived at the Kalaroos police post. They wanted to register an FIR about an infiltration bid from the Pakistani side of the LoC in which three “terrorists” were killed. The major claimed five weapons — four AK rifles and one pistol besides assorted ammunition–were recovered. But the soldiers had not brought with them the weapons and the bodies, insisting that it was impossible to transport them from the forest.
The SHO of Kupwara Police Station insisted on retrieving the bodies and doing a post-mortem. The latter revealed that all three were shot in the head. Among the locals who helped bury the bodies was Mohammad Maqbool, a former militant who had crossed over to the Pakistani side 18 years earlier. “Immediately on seeing the bodies and the clothes, I figured out they could not have infiltrated from the other side,” Maqbool said. “It is a tough 15-day route and your body cannot be in such condition if you have just come in [infiltrated].”
The people of Kalaroos protested but were, as usual, given short shrift. Then, three weeks later, policemen in civvies started quietly guarding the graves. For just 50 km away in Nadihal village, police were investigating the disappearance of three friends, Shahzad Ahmad Khan, Riyaz Ahmad Lone and Muhammad Shafi Lone — all in their twenties.
A police officer claims armymen paid Rs 1.5 lakh to Bashir for luring the three men
What seems to have happened is this: one Bashir who was dismissed as SPO after being found guilty in a case of extortion lured the three young men from Nadihal village on April 25 on the pretext of getting them daily wage employment with the army. Shahzad had told a friend that the three were taken in an army vehicle to a forward army post in Machil sector where they were shown to some heavily armed men dressed in civvies and brought back. Back in Kalaroos, they were paid Rs 500 and promised “some work” for which they would be paid Rs 2,000 each.
Instead, they seem to have been handed over to Major Opinder Singh of Rajputana Rifles. A top police official who wished not to be identified insinuated the army paid at least Rs 1.5 lakh to Bashir for bringing in the three men.
In their frantic efforts to trace their sons, families of the three slain villagers were taken to a police Special Operations Group (SOG) at the Sheeri camp near Uri border area in Baramulla district. They were told that the three missing villagers “were sent by the ISI to Pakistan” and that no further effort should be made to look for them.
“The Army needs kills and the SPOs reap benefits,” alleges a senior police official. “It is a business in Kupwara and other border areas. It is like demand and supply of human beings and there is a market for it.” The SPOs identify soft targets for the army, the police official said, and this process has been going on for a decade.
The last person Shahzad had met before his disappearance was his close friend Fayaz Wani, whom he told he was going to “do some work for the army”. Fayaz was called for questioning. While on his way to meet the SP of Sopore, he was kidnapped by three men near Baramulla bus stand and taken straight to the Joint Interrogation Centre (JIC) of security forces in the town. He recognised one of his kidnappers, Qayoom, an SPO and a former militant. The SPO accused Fayaz, a former LeT militant himself who surrendered in 1998, of killing Shahzad and selling weapons and explosives to militants. “Since I knew Bashir (Qayoom’s brother) was involved in Shazad’s disappearance, I understood the SPO brothers wanted to frame me,” Fayaz told TEHELKA. Fayaz was tortured till he fell unconscious for three hours and the Sopore police reached him.
During earlier investigation by Sopore police, Bashir was interrogated but revealed nothing. After the revelations by Fayaz on May 20, police investigators confronted Bashir who finally revealed how the three missing Nadihal villagers were handed over to Rajputana Rifles. “Under sustained interrogation Bashir revealed the whole story,” said Altaf Khan, SP Sopore, who cracked the whole case. The next day, photographs of three “infiltrators” killed in the intervening night of April 29-30 appeared in a local Urdu daily, raising questions about who they were.
KUPWARA’S ADDITIONAL SP Mohammad Yousuf cites the instance of an SPO Imran Joo who had lured two youth from the border town in similar circumstances. He was about to hand them over to some army officer in Keran sector — contiguous with Machil — near the LoC when the police informed higher army authorities. Both Zahoor Ahmed Malik of Halmatpora village and Shariq Ahmed of Dardhara in Kupwara, have since been handed back to their families.
Major Opinder’s unit has since moved out from Machil sector and relocated to Meerut. A court martial has been ordered while an internal army inquiry is also on.
Now, all such incidents have come under the scanner. This year so far, the army figure for those killed along the LoC is 29 persons, out of which just three were identified. At least 571 militants have been killed in the state since 2008, most of them along the LoC. Media is not allowed to access the encounter sites and have to solely depend on the army versions.
According to human rights groups based in Kashmir, up to 8,000 people have disappeared in the state since 1990. Many were identified when families painstakingly found out on their own how they were killed and buried as unidentified in numerous graveyards along the border.