The family of Zakir Bashir, the 17-year-old killed in the Kulgam gunfight, has claimed that he was an innocent civilian rather than a militant, as claimed by the police.
On Wednesday, at 1.06 pm, the government forces said a gunfight had erupted in Chimmer village of Kulgam district of south Kashmir and after 44 minutes announced the killing of “two unidentified militants”. Six hours later, at 7:11 pm, the police tweeted that “one more unidentified terrorist” was killed.
Bashir’s family told The Kashmir Walla that he was dragged out of his home with his brother, Ashiq, by the government forces personnel during the cordon. “[Then] Bashir was beaten up badly a few meters away from his home. Once they recognized that he was going to die, they shot him twice and slit his throat,” Farooq Ahmad Bhat, Bashir’s brother-in-law, told The Kashmir Walla.
“This happened around 12:30 pm. He had no militant affiliation nor anyone from his family had any links with militancy.” Currently, Ashiq is in police custody, as per Bhat.
The Jammu and Kashmir police, in a statement on Wednesday, claimed that three militants were shot dead after “acting on specific information… about the presence of terrorists… a joint cordon and search operation was launched by Kulgam police, 18Bn CRPF and 09RR in the area.”
The police further added that “Zakir Bashir had recently joined the proscribed outfit”.
“In cold blood”
Bashir, a class tenth dropout, as per the family, does not have a police complaint registered against him. The family members told The Kashmir Walla that Bashir had left on early Wednesday morning with his younger brother-in-law for an orchard in the Bon Naad area of the village. Back at his home, during lunchtime, the government forces had cordoned the locality looking for suspected militants.
Bhat, Bashir’s brother-in-law, had visited his home. Bhat further said that they had gone to their apple orchards to spray pesticides in the morning.
“We returned to his [Bashir’s] home at around 10:30 am to take my two-year-old daughter. I thought I would take her home along,” said Bhat. “We had tea together. I invited him for lunch but he refused saying that he had to take a bath and said he would come after lunch. Then I left along with my daughter from his house at around 12 pm; his sister also left with us because she had to drop household waste on nearby land.”
After Bhat and Bashir’s other sister left, Bashir was alone at home. Bhat further added: “His father had also gone to orchards along with a lunch box. Bashir’s mother along with one of her sons [Zakir’s younger brother] and a granddaughter had gone to the house of one of the relatives. His other brother, Ashiq Bashir, was out to take a bath in the stream.” Ashiq had returned home later during the cordon.
The police said in the statement that during the search operation “as the presence of militants got ascertained they were repeatedly appealed to surrender, however, they fired indiscriminately upon the joint search parties in which 2 Army soldiers got injured and airlifted to Srinagar-based Army hospital. SFs also retaliated which led to an encounter.”
The police added: “Three terrorists were killed and their bodies were retrieved from the site of encounter. They have been identified as Waseem Ahmad Bangroo resident of Redwani Kulgam, Shahnawaz Ahmad resident of Kilbal Shopian and Zakir Bashir resident of Chimmer Kulgam. All the killed terrorists were affiliated with proscribed LeT terror outfit ( self claimed TRF).”
However, the family denied the allegations and accused the government forces of killing Bashir “in cold blood”. Bhat, the brother-in-law, further added that after reaching his home, he received a call from his older brother-in-law, who informed him about the gunfight.
Later, Bhat rushed out to visit Bashir’s home but was stopped by the government forces personnel, who had cordoned off the area.
After Bashir and his brother, Ashiq, were taken from home, “two gunshots were heard by people and they also saw a knife in the hands of forces,” Bhat said. “The family saw Bashir’s body today and found out his throat was slit.”
Dead, buried, and unanswered questions
Tanvir Ahmad, the station house officer of D. H. Pora police station, told The Kashmir Walla that Bashir had been missing since 18 June 2021. “His family hadn’t filed a missing report,” said Sadiq. “We believe he had joined militants on 18 June and since then was missing. During the gunfight, he tried to throw a grenade at the army, which exploded in his hands. That is how he was killed.”
However, as per a local news portal, Bashir was playing a local cricket match in Nehama village on 28 June. The Kashmiriyat quoted the copy of the match’s scorebook and reported that Bashir had even scored eighteen runs.
Sadiq further added that the police recovered one AK-47 rifle and two Chinese pistols from the gunfight site. “All three were militants,” he said. After the gunfight, Bhat was taken in the evening along with the bodies of two other militants.
Speaking to The Kashmir Walla, Lieutenant Colonel Emron Musavi, PRO (Defence) Srinagar, said that the army has no such information but will confirm. “It is against army ethos and forces never indulge in such things,” he responded to allegations of throat-slitting as claimed by the family. “You should also talk to the police in this regard as it was a joint operation, they may have any information in this regard. If there is any such issue we will investigate the matter.”
On 18 July last year, the army had killed three laborers, including a minor, from Rajouri in a staged gunfight and had earlier passed them off as militants. Later, a police investigation found that the army captain Bhupinder Singh had tried to destroy evidence and killed three civilians in cold blood.
Later, on 30 December 2020, the police claimed that the government forces had killed three militants, all residents of south Kashmir districts, in a gunfight in Srinagar’s outskirts. However, later the families claimed their innocence. The police is yet to provide evidence that establishes the trio’s involvement in the militancy.
Additional reporting by Pirzada Shakir