Hundreds marched towards the house on the banks of Khushal Sar lake in the Zoonimar neighbourhood of Srinagar after the gunfight between the three militants and government forces ended around 1pm on Sunday.
Young men climbed onto the front balcony of the house, raising slogans against India and in favour of Islamic State of Jammu and Kashmir (ISJK) and the former Ansar Ghazwatul Hind (AGH) commander, Zakir Musa, who was killed in a gunfight on 23 May 2019.
The three-storey house was intact but in most of the rooms, gunshots had pierced into walls, doors, windows, and some had large holes caused by the blasts fired by the government forces to kill the trapped militants. The courtyard around the house was filled with glass shreds as people walked by to peep through the windows.
While the balcony of the house was packed with dozens of these slogan shouting men, the courtyard was filled with old and young men looking at the front of the house, whose window panes bore gunshots.
Two hours after the gunfire had stopped and the bodies of the three militants were recovered, people inside the house choked on the tear gas smoke that filled each room. And blood spilled, still wet, on the carpet. A young boy removed his t-shirt and soaked the blood from the floor. Later, he buried it nearby.
Another boy mopped blood from the floor into a bucket and poured the bloodied water into a pit in the courtyard. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the government has adopted a new policy to not handover the bodies of the militants. Instead, they are buried far-off in the north in the presence of their immediate family members.
Calls for surrender
The government forces had fired dozens of tear gas shells to force the militants to come out of the house. “Only one militant jumped out through the kitchen window but he couldn’t manage to find a way out,” said a local, who lives in the nearby house.
“In the morning, we heard the owner of the house making announcements on the loudspeaker, pleading the militants to surrender,” he added. “His daughter is also getting married in the coming weeks. The house didn’t blow up but they fired massively at the house, even with mortar shells.”
The police have also released a series of videos, in which a middle-aged man, standing near a police jeep, can be seen announcing on the loudspeaker: “Please come out, I plead. My daughter is getting married soon, they will burn down my house. Come out to surrender.” In another video, a senior officer is seen asking the family to request one of the militants to surrender.
A police officer, who was leading the gunfight, told The Kashmir Walla that the police gave the militants several hours to surrender but they refused to do so. “We tried our best to not engage in the exchange of gunfire,” he said. “We even asked the parents of one militant to tell their son to surrender. But no one came out. We fired tear gas shells eventually and they responded with a grenade, which triggered the gunfight.”
In almost every gunfight, the trapped militants rarely surrender even though they are surrounded by the government forces. The militants in Srinagar, one of whom had joined the militancy this year, engaged the government forces for over three hours until all three militants were killed inside the house.
Protests and funeral in absentia for a militant son
A police spokesperson, in a statement, said that the two killed militants were identified as Shakoor Farooq Langoo of Qamarwari, a resident of Srinagar, and Shahid Ahmad Bhat, a resident of Semthan, Bijbehara, “however the identification of the third killed militant is yet to be ascertained.” It added: “all the killed militants were affiliated with Hizb and Islamic State J-K.”
There has been no official confirmation from either the Hizbul Mujahideen or the ISJK.
Parents of Mr. Langoo were also at the gunfight site, who were asked by the police to convince him to surrender. They were, however, evacuated from the site after the gunfire started. Police personnel stationed outside the house of Mr. Langoo in the Qamarwari area of Srinagar, about six kilometers from the gunfight site, didn’t allow a photojournalist from The Kashmir Walla to enter his house to meet his parents, citing law and order concerns.
However, a family from the Anchar area of Soura, Srinagar, claimed the third militant as their son, Mohsin Aslam. As soon as the news of his death spread in the neighbourhood, hundreds came out on the streets, in the interior streets of the Soura neighbourhood that had become the epicenter of the protests after August 2019, and marched in protest.
The protestors shouted slogans against the government and also in favour of the militants as they carried banners of ISJK. Later, people assembled in the sprawling lawns of the Jenab Sahib Shrine in Soura to offer funeral prayers in absentia for Mohsin, who the family believes was killed in the gunfight today.
The ISJK was founded by Mugees Mir and Dawood Salafi of Srinagar in 2017 and gradually more young men, mainly from Srinagar, joined the group over the past three years.
“Lack of local militant leadership”
In 2020, more than a hundred local militants were killed in the last five months in several gunfights, mainly in South Kashmir. Militancy in Kashmir had gained homegrown character after the killing of the then commander of the Hizb, Mr. Wani, in July 2016, which had also triggered a months long civilian uprising.
After Mr. Wani, local youth joined several militant outfits strengthening the militancy in the Valley, to which the government forces responded with the much hyped “Operation All-Out” — a coordinated effort to wipe out the militancy.
Anti-militancy operations have further intensified this year, four months after the Central government abrogated the Articles 370 and 35A in August 2019, and downgraded the erstwhile state to the status of a Union Territory.
Inspector General of Police, Vijay Kumar, told reporters that one AK-47 rifle and two pistols were recovered from the three militants. “This is for the first time in history that militant leadership in Kashmir stands collapsed. In recent months, we have been able to kill all the leaders of four major outfits, Hizb, Lashkar, Jaish, and Ansar Ghazwatul Hind (AGH),” Mr. Kumar added.
This year most of the prominent militant commanders, including Hizb chief Riyaz Naikoo last month, were killed. Furthermore, the killing of several other militants has left a vacuum of senior militants in the Valley.
A counter-insurgency officer, requesting anonymity, told The Kashmir Walla that the militancy in Kashmir has been “crushed” because there is no local leadership left anymore. “We have managed to kill so many militants in frequent gunfights because they lack local leadership. Also the human intelligence has increased.”
Currently, as per official records, Kashmir has around a hundred militants active and a total of fifty young men have joined in 2020. Kashmir Valley remains tense since August 2019 and the political process continues to be at halt amid the detention of unionist politicians and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.