By Dr. Ajai Sahni

The cold blooded execution of a 25 year old woman, Ishrat Muneer, in Pulwama on January 31, 2019, and the posting of a video of the act on social media, has evoked horror and revulsion everywhere. This is the third incident in which such gruesome executions have been recorded and circulated by the perpetrators in J&K. On November 15, 2018, Nadeem Mushtaq was shot multiple times at point blank range, again in Pulwama District; while 19 year old Huzaif Ashraf had his throat slit in Shopian District. Each of these incidents was the work of ‘local militants’ of the Hizb-ul-Mujahiddeen (HM); each was allegedly directed against ‘Police informers’; and each provoked a measure of disgust and public criticism within the State and beyond.  

The incidents posted on social media are not, however, any index of the actual brutalities increasingly being directed by the terrorists against civilians in J&K. The atrocities that largely escape public notice are no less ghastly, and often involve far greater cruelty than the three relatively quick deaths projected on social media.   61 civilians were killed in terrorism-linked violence in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in the three years between 2014 and 2016 (with the numbers declining each year, down to 14 in the last); in 2017 alone, 53 civilians lost their lives; in 2018, the number surged to 86. Two civilians have already been killed in 2019.   Crucially, increasing proportions of these killings fall into the category of target killings and executions, principally directed against alleged police informers, critics or political rivals. Of 53 civilian fatalities in 2017, at least 23 were in this category, nine killed by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and two by the HM, while the group responsible for the remaining assassinations remained unidentified in the open source. At least two of these 23 were accused by their murderers of being police informers.  

In 2018, of a total of 86 civilian fatalities, 38 were target and execution style killings, 11 by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and five by the HM, while the group responsible for the remaining 22 remained unidentified in the open source. The number of alleged Police informers among the victims had surged to 20.  

Of the two civilians killed in 2019, Ishrat Muneer was accused by her executioners of being a Police informer.  

Among these victims, many were abducted, subjected to extensive torture, and then killed. Sheeraz Ahmad Bhatt, for instance, was abducted on October 27, 2018. His body, bearing extensive marks of torture, was disinterred at Awahatoo village in Kulgam District on December 11, 2018. Again, on August 8, 2018, Mehraj Ahmad of Kulgam and Arif Ahmad of Khudwani were abducted and tortured. While both were released, Arif Ahmad died of his wounds in hospital the same night. On May 16, 2018, Hilal Ahmed Parrey was abducted from his home in the Hajin area of Bandipora District, tortured and then strangulated. The examples go on, but lapse into mere statistics, since a visual record is not projected through social media.

Many of the killings, moreover, expose the twisted relationships that emerge out of the darkness of terrorism. Ishrat Muneer was the cousin of Al-Badr’s Valley ‘chief’ Zeenat ul Islam Shah aka Dr. Usman (29), who had been killed in an encounter with security forces on January 12, 2019, at Yaripora, Kulgam. Tariq Ahmad Ganie, himself a former militant and an activist of the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference-Geelani (APHC-G) at the time of his death, fell to militant bullets on October 11, 2018. Tariq Ahmad Mohand, abducted from Heff village in Shopian District on July 8, and murdered, was a close relative of slain militant Bilal Ahmad Mohand. On February 12, 2018, Mohammad Yusuf Rather aka Yusuf Nadeem was shot dead by terrorists. Rather was a former HM militant, and a prominent separatist leader at the time of his death, affiliated with the Tahreek-e-Wahdat, a constituent of Ali Shah Geelani’s faction of the Hurriyat.  

The rising targeted civilian killings and executions are an index of growing resistance to the terrorist cause in J&K. They come at a time of disproportionate fatalities inflicted on terrorists by Security Forces, overwhelmingly in narrowly targeted operations, obviously fuelled by an increasing stream of information from people who are losing their patience with the intimidation, posturing and endless futility of terrorist violence.   This dynamic can only escalate in the foreseeable future. Security Forces’ successes will encourage more and more people to give information on terrorist movement; terrorist formations, under pressure, will grow more paranoid, killing on mere suspicion; such killings will fuel even more resentment and intensify information flows, in a situation of increasing security force dominance. The circle of assassinations will grow closer, more intimate, eroding faith within families, organisations, neighbourhoods.  

By arrangement with South Asia Terrorism Portal

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