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People march along with the body of Ansar Ghazwatul Hind commander Zakir Musa’s body in his native village Noorpora, Tral of South Kashmir’s Pulwama district on 24 May 2019. Photograph by Saide Zahoor for The Kashmir Walla

Dawn was on edge. Spearing the cloud of tear gas shell, on the scenic lush of Noorpora, Tral, hundreds of youth marched—foot with a foot, hands in hands—towards Dadsara, three-kilometers away, with a firm belief, “Zakir is still alive.”

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Zakir Rashid Bhat alias Zakir Musa, the founder, and commander of Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH) was believed to be trapped in his native Tral, Pulwama of south Kashmir. News of his killing was out soon after iftar yesterday, but, south Kashmir didn’t buy that.

Following the standard procedures, protesters and government forces held their respective fronts. “If he has been killed, why aren’t they (forces) withdrawing,” said another young boy, wearing a grey pheran, as he continues his firm march towards the encounter site, aimed to rescue Musa.

An IED blast, syncing in rhymes with frequent tear gas shelling, halted everything. Soon, the boys ran wild. After walking 1 kilometer in mud and woods, the procession reached a house—two-storey, wrecked, and burnt. “Oh my God!” wailed a woman, sneezing on a green handkerchief, when she saw the house.

In Kashmir, generally, militants take shelter in local houses, and nevertheless, owners cooperate with forces, when there is time, or not, the house is razed to the ground. When a house is reduced to flames, not only walls fall, but it brings down the years of financial planning, a ceiling over the head, and memories.

The first room, seemingly a guest room, was torn apart. Walls still heated, the ceiling fan was reduced to merely hanging motor, while the pieces of shattered glasses—window panes, once a beautiful interior, and glass vases—reflected nothing but the remnants of armed conflict: black shades. In the lap of a shattered window, the leftovers of the burnt wooden structure stand aside an almost-burnt textbook, the only readable page said: “Living Science”.

The civilians thronged the house. Analysis, and picturing what might have happened here over the night; the house was occupied with more than its literal square-feet could endure.

Zakir Rashid Bhat did his schooling from Noor Public School up to 10th grade and completed his high school in 2008 from Government School Noorbagh. After high school, Musa went to Chandigarh, Punjab, to pursue B. Tech.

He left his studies, and home on 17 July 2013, alongside two other friends, to join militancy and become Zakir Musa. Merely eight days before his joining, he had turned 19.

Initially, he went with the then commander of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), Burhan Wani’s core group of militants based in Tral. He came into limelight after his picture along with another militant Lateef Tiger went viral on social media. They could be seen in casual wears and was clicked somewhere in Srinagar, aimed to diss the government forces.

With time, he grew close to the former commander of HM, Burhan Wani. But, days after Wani’s killing in July 2016, Musa issued a maiden video statement, urging people to continue the agitation and described Kashmir’s movement as the movement for Islam. He also featured in multiple videos of giving arms training to the new recruits inside a residential house at an undisclosed location.

However, Musa shot to prominence in May 2017 after he termed the Kashmir movement as a struggle for the establishment of Islam and not for nationalism or secularism. He threatened to behead Hurriyat leaders and hang their heads in Lal Chowk “if they come out in his way of establishing Shariah”.

As per reports, it did not go well with HM leadership based in Pakistan, who said Musa’s call for Islamic struggle is his personal views. Though, Musa reacted swiftly and announced his exit from the HM.

Later on 27 July 2017, he founded his own militant outfit, AGH, claimed to be an affiliate of Al-Qaida. Abu Dujana, a prominent Lashkar-e-Taiba commander, and Arif Lelhari, also from LeT, joined Musa’s group.  

After 2018’s Operation All Out by government forces in the month of Ramazan, the spree of killing militants ran wild. Though, reports suggest that the number of new joiners only rose since 2016 uprising.

His deputy, Mohammad Sauleh, was killed in an encounter with government forces on 22 December 2018.

Outside his two-storey house in Noorpora, the black flags of AGH reiterate the armed struggle, thousands of people had gathered for his funeral. Now, for the first time since the news of his killing, the aura felt real.

Musa tere khoon se inqilaab aayega,” (with your blood, revolution shall come) said a teenager kid, at the height of his throat, and led pro-freedom and pro-Islamic slogans, standing inside premises of Musa’s home. Soon, his voice dried.

Hum kya chahte?” (What do we want?) shouted a woman, standing opposite to the large group of men. “Aazadi!” women followed.

As it happened, the inter-gender slogans swiftly slid in rhymes: “Musa! Musa!” “Azadi!”

Being from an economically well-off family, whose father, Abdul Rashid Bhat, is a senior engineer working with the administration of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Musa is said to be fond of bikes.

As per reports, the encounter started at 7:20 pm on 23 May; 10 minutes before iftaar. Today, in the burnt house, inside the kitchen on the first floor, there lies an untouched chapati.

The encounter had continued for eleven hours. At around 6 am on Friday, he had jumped off from the first-floor window only to be shot multiple times in the backyard.

Zakir Rashid Bhat left home at the age of 19, and on 24 May 2019, at around 8 am, he came back home. Thousands of people took him to a nearby school ground to offer funeral prayers for him. Today, no one among thousands once called him Zakir Rashid Bhat; now he was Zakir Musa.

Yashraj Sharma is a Features Writer at The Kashmir Walla. He can be followed on Twitter at @yashjournals