Though killings are commonplace in Kashmir, the abduction and murder of Ishrat Muneer Bhat on January 31 is particularly repulse because of two reasons; first, the 25 year old victim was a girl and second, the killers posted a video on social media in which a terrified Ishrat can be seen begging for mercy with folded hands moments before she is shot dead. Unfortunately, just like all other such incidents, even this gruesome murder of a young Kashmiri girl hasn’t drawn any criticism from our leaders. And even though the official website of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) mentions that it campaigns against the phenomenon of human rights violations including extra judicial killings, it has not even issued a single word of condemnation on this cold blooded murder!
Even though no one has taken responsibility for this killing it would be reasonable to conclude that this could only be the handiwork of either government forces or that of militants. According to news reports, Ishrat was the maternal cousin of deceased Al-Badr chief, Zeenat-ul-Islam, who was killed during an encounter with security force in Katpora village of Kulgam on January 13. Therefore, could it that the security forces murdered her as some people are claiming? While such a possibility can’t be ruled out, this hypothesis has its shortcomings. For example, if the security forces intended to ‘punish’ relatives of the slain Al Badr chief by murdering his kin, then why did they choose a distant relative rather than the immediate family members of the deceased militant?
According to some news reports a note found near Ishrat’s dead body mentioned that she was working as a ‘mukhbir’ (informer) for security forces. Those who believe that security forces were behind this murder maintain that this is a ploy of security forces to divert public attention and malign militants. However, if this is really true then the logical question that arises is- why would the security forces leave a chit that would most certainly scare away its own informers? Moreover, when Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) commander Riyaz Naikoo has already accepted that informers were being killed by militants and even issued a stern warning that “We will expose more such videos in the future and traitors (informers) will face similar fate,” then where’s the need for government agencies to kill civilians and unnecessarily take the risk of being caught and exposed?
Ishrat’s killing has once again raised the much larger issue concerning the rising number of incidents where militants are taking over multiple roles by acting as investigators, prosecutors, judges, juries and even executioners. As long as this trend continues how can we ever hope that the international community will accept that militancy in Kashmir is a legitimate “freedom struggle” that cannot be equated with terrorism, when militants are indiscriminately killing their own people? And this isn’t just a mere apprehension or some pessimistic prognosis because the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has already taken an official notice of such killings in its recently released and first ever report on the situation of human rights in Kashmir.
Paragraph 5 of Executive Summary in the OHCHR report’s reads, “In the same context, since the late 1980s, a variety of armed groups has been actively operating in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, and there has been documented evidence of these groups committing a wide range of human rights abuses, including kidnappings and killings of civilians and sexual violence.” While these charges are certainly very unsettling as they flay militants for gross human rights violations, but what’s even more disturbing is that the opening phrase “In the same context” comes immediately after the mention of pellet guns used indiscriminately by the security forces (Para 4), implying some sort of equivalence between the excesses perpetuated by security forces and those being committed the militants!
In November 16 last year, an ‘execution video’ of 17 year old Nadeem Manzoor was posted on social media and this was followed by another video showing an unidentified person slitting the throat of 19-year-old Huzaif Ashraf Kuttay the very next day. A few days later Naikoo released an audio tape in which he said “Some people say that militants have no mercy. If the two companions who achieved martyrdom due to Nadeem’s (Manzoor) information belonged to your family, then perhaps you would not be talking like this. From today, we’ll only be exposing videos of death. And whosoever betrays our movement will face the same consequences,” While the HM commander may have his own perspective on such killings and many may also agree with him, but unfortunately the OHCHR doesn’t share his viewpoint. And this is more than evident from Paragraph 6 of this report which mentions that “Between January 2016 and April 2018, civil society organisations have accused members of armed groups of numerous attacks against civilians, off-duty police personnel and army personnel on leave, including the killing of 16 to 20 civilians.”
Murdering those whom militants believe are working as informers is totally unacceptable to the international community. Thus, armed groups need to seriously introspect on the negative fallouts of their actions as the practice of abducting and killing people is giving the ‘self determination’ movement a bad name. Simultaneously, our leaders and civil society members need to stop acting like mute spectators and start playing a more responsible role by impressing upon militant groups that nothing positive can ever emerge unless our ‘freedom fighters’ stop killing our own people.
Tailpiece: In an interview given to Human Rights Watch in 2004, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq made a very pertinent point that “militancy has to play a more supportive role than the dominant role.” Geelani sahib had also emphasised that “The armed struggle won’t serve its purpose unless and until it is well coordinated.” However today we find that just the opposite has happened as the ‘armed struggle’ which has assumed the dominant role in the Kashmir struggle doesn’t seem to have any coordination with the JRL which is leading the ‘self determination’ movement. And the end result is complete confusion, because while Geelani sahib goes about praising militants by saying that “those who pick up arms are better than others; they don’t need our certificate as Allah has given them certificate,” our ‘freedom fighters’ in turn go about abducting and killing unarmed boys and girls!
The writer is a New Delhi based columnist and can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org