Srinagar: The mysterious killing of Zia Mustafa, a Lashkar-e-Taiba commander who was in jail for the last 18 years, in the ongoing operation in Poonch sector has ended the longest trial of the Nadimarg massacre without any closure or conviction.
On Sunday, Mustafa, the primary accused in the Nadimarg massacre in which 24 Kashmiri pandits were killed in 2003, was taken to Bhata Durian near Mendhar forest area for identification of militant hideout during the ongoing operation.
“During the search militants again opened fire on the joint team of police and army personnel in which two policemen and an army jawan sustained injuries. Mustafa also sustained injuries and could not be extracted from the site due to heavy fire,” the police statement reads.
However, the police later claimed that they were successful in retrieving Mustafa’s body from the gunfight site.
According to his lawyer Mohammed Mubashir Gattoo, Mustafa’s trial was in the final stages and there was all likelihood that he could have been acquitted from the charges of Nadimarg massacre against him.
Talking with The Kashmir Walla, Gattoo said that the trial in the case commences in 2003 when prosecution starts to produce the witnesses in the court.
“The process of producing witnesses went on till 2011, and in all these years of 38 witnesses, the state could only bring nine witnesses before the court,” Gattoo said.
Gattoo said that all of the nine witnesses that were produced before the court didn’t give any concrete evidence against Mustafa’s involvement in the massacre.
“In 2011, out of frustration the court closed their evidence, because the prosecution was not able to bring all the eyewitnesses to record their statements,” he said.
Gattoo added that against the closing of the evidence, the state went to High Court to reopen the case, but in 2014, the court dismissed their petition.
“Then the state went to the Supreme Court (SC) and in 2015 following the SC order to reconsider their petition, the High Court again started the trial of the case,” he said
“In 2017, the High Court again dismissed the case for non-prosecution,” Gattoo said. “Soon after the dismissal of the case, we filed a review petition, and pressed the Court to hear the case.”
“Since 2017 we have been waiting for the Court orders to hear the case, but in the last year because of the Covid, the case was almost in a suspension mode,” Gattoo said.
“The last hearing on the case was on 16 October. There were strong chances of Mustafa’s acquittal in the case, as the account of all the nine witnesses didn’t prove his involvement in the Nadimarg massacre,” Gattoo said.
According to the police, Mustafa, a resident of Pakistan’s Rawalkot, had infiltrated through the same Poonch route to reach South Kashmir’s Shopian district to execute the Nadimarg massacre.
The police also claim that Mustafa was using a mobile phone from the prison to stay in contact with the militants, who are currently giving tough time to the army personnel in the Poonch forest.
Just a few days before Mustafa’s killing, police produced him in the court to change his lodgment from Kot Bhalwal jail to Mendhar in Poonch district.
Gattoo said that though police had secured his transitory remand from the court but he was not being informed about his transit.
“After his killing the trial against him is closed. All that remains of the case now is a charge of dereliction of duty against seven policemen,” Gattoo said.
Arrested in March 2003 by J-K police as the mastermind of the Nadimarg massacre of Kashmiri Pandits, Mustafa was facing a trial in the Shopian district court regarding the case.
On 23 March 2003, unknown gunmen in camouflage fatigues killed 24 Kashmiri pandits in Nadimarg village in Shopian who had stayed back during the migration of the minority community in 1990 following the uprising in the valley.
Soon after the incident, police named four militants including Mustafa in the FIR responsible for the massacre.
Almost eighteen days later, on 10 April 2003, police claimed to have arrested the mastermind Mustafa. The three other militants, according to the police, were killed in a gunfight in Kulgam by the Border Security Force (BSF) in the same month.
Sanjay Tickoo, a non-migrant Kashmiri Pandit leader who heads the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, raised questions about Mustafa’s killing in Poonch gunfight.
“First of all you [authorities] delayed justice for 18 years, and now we are being told that under mysterious circumstances the primary accused in the case was killed in a gunfight,” said Tickoo.
Tickoo said that the entire police investigation raises many questions about the involvement of the militants booked in the case.
“In 2003, then J-K DGP A K Suri in a presser named four people, of which three were already killed in a gunfight, and the evidence against the one captured alive never materialized,” he said. “Now, when he [Mustafa] was on trial, why he was brought to the gunfight site is questionable.”
“If there were eyewitnesses of Mustafa’s involvement in the massacre, then they should have told the Court about the same. If they have not named Mustafa then the state should investigate who actually were involved in the massacre,” said Tickoo.
Meanwhile, the Poonch gunfight entered the sixteenth day on Tuesday. The operation was launched on 11 October in the DKG area of Poonch district after the government forces found suspicious movement along the Line of Control (LoC).
In the past two weeks, nine army troopers including two Junior Commissioned Officers (JCO) have been killed in the gunfight.