Kulgam encounter: In Kashmir, asking civilians to stay away from encounter sites is futile

Srinagar: An advisory issued by Jammu and Kashmir police and Army, asking people to stay away from encounter sites to ensure smooth counter-insurgency operations, seems to have fallen on deaf ears as the trend has only picked up following the killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani in July last year.

Following the rise in the incidents of men and women jeering at troops and throwing stones at them, security establishment had issued advisories, asking people, who throng encounter sites to rescue the trapped militants by attacking forces, to avoid coming close.

But on Sunday morning when the forces were carrying out mopping operation at the encounter site in Nagbal village in Frisal area of Kulgam district, where four militants, two army soldiers and a civilian were killed, protesters cornered the forces from four sides by throwing stones at them.

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Encounter site in Nagbal village in Frisal area of Kulgam district. Image credit: Sameer Yasir

Within minutes, as the stone throwing become intense, Mushtaq Ibrahim Itoo, 22, a resident of Srigufwara Bijbehara, was hit by a bullet in the chest. A video of Itoo being rushed to hospital on a motorcycle has gone viral in Kashmir.

He was the second civilian to get killed following the encounter which started at around 11 pm on Saturday and continued till 10 am on Sunday. Itoo died in the district hospital of Anantnag.

“It is a challenge,” SP Pani, Deputy Inspector General of police, south Kashmir, said, “We have been often warning people not to go near the encounter site, but there is an increase in incidents like these”.

Sunday’s encounter also left more than two dozen people injured, including three Army personnel. Most of the civilians, according to hospital authorities, were injured when forces resorted to firing and shelling to break up protests near the encounter site.

“We have admitted 20 injured, two among them were shifted to Srinagar and 18 are admitted in our hospital,” Chief Medical officer Dr Fazal Ahmad of district hospital Anantnag, said. “More than a dozen had bullet injuries, around ten youth have received bullet above the waist,” he added, pointing at the violation of Standard Operating Procedure by forces while dealing with such protests.

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Sunday’s encounter also left more than two dozen people injured, including three Army personnel. Image credit Sameer Yasir

The trend of people thronging the encounter sites started in February last year when more than dozen army soldiers, including an officer, were injured when a mob of around thousand people threw stones at them in Ashmuqam village in Anantnag district, 69 kilometres south of Srinagar.

The advisory was issued following the frequent incidents of violence during encounters as people attack security forces in a bid to give safe passage to trapped militants. “Civilians residing within the radius of two kilometres of an encounter site should stay inside their homes and make sure their children are indoors too,” the advisory by Jammu and Kashmir police reads.

But the incidents of stone throwing at forces has only spiked in recent months. After Burhan Muzaffar Wani's killing, Kashmir witnessed four months unrest in which close to hundred people were killed and more than 12,000 injured.

Since then, as soon as people get a tip-off that militants are trapped in any place, some from even far as 20 kilometres, rush to these places to throw stones at forces, like Mushtaq Ibrahim Itoo, who was killed in Sunday encounter.

“We issue advisories from time to time and request people not to come too close to the encounter site,” Rajesh Kalia, the Army spokesman in Srinagar, told Firstpost. “It is only for people's safety. During every encounter, we announce it even on loudspeakers because we don’t want collateral damage”.

But in Kashmir’s politically charged atmosphere, such pleas fall on deaf ears as passion in young boys overrides issues of safety, defying reason as well as logic.

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Updated Date: Feb 13, 2017 08:17:04 IST

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