Manzgam, Kulgam: At around 8:30 am on Saturday, 17 November, Huzaif Ashraf, a young baker, was busy making bread in the traditional fire-powered oven at his small shop in south Kashmir. Half a dozen customers sitting inside the shop had made a ring around the oven, trying to beat the winter chill.
A car wheezed past the bakery shop located in Sadipora village of Shopian. It pulled over few meters ahead of the shop and then reversed, eyewitnesses said. Unknown men with black bandana tops covering their faces dashed out and called the baker out.
“Where is your cousin Shahid?” the men asked Huzaif with the customers sitting inside the shop watching the kidnapping unfold. “Call him,” the gunmen demanded.
Huzaif dialled the number of his cousin, Shahid Ahmad Ganie, in whose house he lived from last seven months since he opened the bakery shop. Then he dialled the number of Farooq Ahmad Thoker. Shahid arrived within a few minutes, so did Thoker.
The three, according to Shahid who was later let off, were bundled into the car and on the way, at some unknown place, their captors asked each of them what they did, apart from their daily jobs, Shahid said.
After a few hours the cell phone of Mohammad Ashraf Kutay, father of Huzaif, rang. It was a policeman on the other side from Shopian police station.
“Is Huzaif your son?” the policeman asked. The father mumbled in affirmative, unaware of what was unfolding. Kutay, 55, a tailor, was stitching a pheran, a traditional cloak worn by people in Kashmir during winters. The police officer continued, “Do you have any knowledge of your son’s involvement or links with anyone?” The father denied.
“He (Huzaif) would hardly come home. Last time he came was when it snowed and our orchard was damaged. He stayed for a night but on the next day he was back to his shop,” said Kutay on Sunday morning at his double-storey house in Manzgam village of Kulgam, 89 kilometres south of Srinagar.
According to Shahid, the car travelled through several villages for hours. “At one spot they stopped the car and started beating us,” said Shahid, who was let off by gunmen at around 4 pm on Saturday. “Two of us were let off, but not Huzaif,” he said, adding the gunmen said they would let Huzaif off soon.
“I have no idea who those people were,” a visibly shaken Shahid, 17, said outside his house as women kissed his forehead and hugged him. “They asked us questions like what we did for work, what we did when we had no work and then beat us black and blue.”
The police in Shopian district said the gunmen continued driving till they reached the village of Hermain. A video clip, which was circulated on internet, shows a masked man with a knife in the right hand and a bloodied, motionless body by his side on the ground. A small pit has been dug nearby, like when slaughtering a sheep, for the blood to be collected. “Here they butchered him with a knife, like a sheep,” a police official said.
“The game is changing,” Kashmir’s Inspector General of Police, Swayam Prakash Pani, says. For their survival, the militants, Pani says, used to bank upon three tactics for survival: protests, recruitment and intelligence.
“Now, all three things are going against them: the intelligence is there. They are getting killed. Protests have diminished. These two combined have added to the lack of recruitment. This is definite frustration,” said a top cop on Sunday.
In Kashmir, the acts of extreme brutality, including beheadings and mutilations, have occurred with some regularity along the Line of Control and carried out by both the sides. The beheadings and slaughtering of a human carries extraordinary emotional power and, experts say, they also carry a tremendous deterrent factor. Few such brutal incidents occurred in north of Kashmir, early this year, but they were not filmed.
But it is for the first time that a Kashmiri has been filmed while his throat is being slit and the video is circulated on the internet. And it has happened in the district which has witnessed maximum violence this year. In last few months, security forces have killed almost all the top commanders of Hizbul Mujahideen in Shopian, including Saddam Paddar, Bilal Ahmad Mohand and others.
The district recorded killings of 36 militants this year, almost all of them of locals. Kashmir Police says more then 200 militants have been killed this year, highest in a decade, breaking all the previous records, despite a month of ceasefire early this year during the month of Ramzan.
“A Pakistani militant slitted the throat of the civilian (Huzaif). He is with Reyaz Naikoo (Hizbul’s Kashmir chief) group. The Hizbul even took the responsibility of the killing of other person too,” Pani says.
In an unverified audio clip, Naikoo is allegedly heard claiming that Huzaif was an informer who worked for the security agencies. “He was involved in the recent killing of two militants,” Naikoo claims.
Back at Huzaif’s house, his distraught father is unable to come to terms with the fact that his son is no more, “He was my eldest son and I don’t believe that he was a mukhbir (informer),” Kutay said. “I waited for months to see him but when the time came, I could not even muster courage to see his dead body. No one in our family did.”
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Updated Date: Nov 19, 2018 11:13:01 IST