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Srinagar: With spring arriving in Valley, the situation has already started to deteriorate especially in South Kashmir’s Shopian district, where four civilians and two militants were killed last week. The killing of civilians sparked protests and Shopian remained shut for a week.

The Army and Police initially claimed that two persons were militants while four others were over ground workers of the militants and got killed when they didn’t stop at the checking point established by the Army on Phunoo – Pinjora road in Shopian. Later both police and army said that incident needed to be properly investigated that led the circumstances of the killing of civilians. Villagers and relatives of the civilians described these killings as cold blooded murder.

The killing of four civilians left things further complicated the situation in Kashmir especially in South Kashmir’s Shopian district where three civilians were earlier killed when army had opened fire on the protestors at Gunowpora village.

In the fresh case of civilian killings, Army still maintains that their troops were fired from the vehicles and the civilians were killed when army soldiers manning the mobile check post retaliated in self defense. However, chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti and senior PDP legislators described the youths killed as civilians.

“Deeply distressed by more deaths of civilians caught in the crossfire in Shopian. My heartfelt condolences to the deceased’s families,’’ J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti tweeted soon after the incident. Legislators from Wachi and Shopian both from the PDP also described them as civilians.

Assembly member, Shopian Mohammad Yousuf Bhat while expressing anguish over the loss of civilian lives in Pahnoo, Shopian said that these incidents have the tendency of vitiating the peaceful atmosphere.

“When your heart bleeds and you are emotionally amputated, no condemnation is enough. I have no words to condemn these civilian killings as mere condemnation, every time a civilian is killed is not enough and no circumstances can justify these civilian killings”.

The civilians killed in the incident were identified as Suhail Ahmad Wagay, Gowhar Ahmad Khan, Shahnawaz Ahmad and Sahid Khan – all young men who had dreams about bright future in front of their eyes according to their family members.

One of the youth Suhail who was killed in the incident belongs to an affluent family. His brother-in-law, Nisar Ahmad said that after they heard the firing “we called him again to tell him not to come but he didn’t take our call. We don’t know what happened there (at shootout site). It was dark and there is no eyewitness,” Nisar said. “What we know is that he left home to pick up his mother — he was accompanied by Shahnawaz.”

Ahmad said that it was a cold blooded murder. ‘’Even there was no blood in the car in which Suhail was killed.’’

Twenty-four-year old Gowhar Ahmad had recently started a business after completing his masters in physical education from outside the J&K. On the fateful day he left for his native place for business dealing.

Abdul Rashid Lone his father said that his son made his last call home at around 6:30 pm saying that he would be home soon. “He didn’t return. We called his mobile but it was switched off.’’

Lone said that his son was killed in cold blood and then the army tried to portray that his son got killed in cross firing.’’ Neighbours also described the youths as civilians who were killed without any provocation and reason.

‘’Here civilians are killed without any reason. And people have now lost hope on the government and probes,’’ said Ali Mohammad, a resident of Pinjoora. Even people on social media posted messages that people in Valley have lost hope on the probes and inquires and term them as a shield to those who kill civilians.

Though mainstream politicians and legislators have again demanded probe in these killing of the civilians, however, this time there was no demand raised by the family members of the youths. The reason majority of people has lost hope on the probes and term these probes and inquiries as mere eye wash aimed at defending the culprits. Even the recent incident at Shopian where three civilians were killed after army opened fire on the protestors, the J&K police on the instructions of J&K chief minister Mehbooba registered FIR against the army and the officer who was leading the group of army men. The police and army had blamed the army for using excessive force. However, the J&K government and police came under severe criticism from Centre and its coalition partner BJP. Even the father of army major went to Supreme Court seeking quashing of the FIR against his son. However, in Supreme Court, J&K government said that army major was never named in the FIR. These statements and counterstatements have left government in quandary and have also lost ground within the masses.

NC General Secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar lashing out at the State Government and the Chief Minister for an abject failure to take the Shopian killings FIR to any conclusion and said the Government had been ridiculed by the Central Government which had filed a plea in the Supreme Court seeking quashing of the FIR filed by the J&K Government.

“First Mehbooba Ji assured the people on the floor of the Assembly that she would take the Shopian FIR to its logical conclusion and then when the accused Army Officer’s father move to the Supreme Court – Mehbooba Ji’s Government said the Major’s name doesn’t even exist in the said FIR. Consequently the Central Government filed a fresh plea in the Supreme Court seeking quashing of the FIR filed by the J&K Government. Now the very right of the State Government to take legal action in these matters is being mocked and unfortunately the Chief Minister is completely silent and has surrendered. This doesn’t auger well for the State and these are answers that the CM must answer”, the NC General Secretary said.

The civilian killings have always left deep scars on the psyche of the people especially in Kashmir. In past many years, the forces have been taking cover under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Even police couldn’t initiate action against the guilty soldiers even after having clinching evidence. Recently, in Supreme Court, while the hearing of Major Aditya case was going the counsel defending the J&K government said that AFSPA has become a license to kill the innocent civilians. Infact, PDP won the last election on the plank that once party will come to power, it will do everything to remove this act, which party had been terming as draconian. However, once party formed the government with BJP, they failed to do anything in this case.

Army speaks about Shopian incident:

On 04 March 2018, at 7 pm, an Army Mobile Vehicle Check Post (MVCP) was deployed along road Trenz- Pinzoora near village Pohanu.  At around 8 pm in the evening, two speeding vehicles were seen approaching the MVCP location from the direction of village Trenz. The troops deployed, signaled the vehicles to stop, however both the vehicles continued to move.  At this point, when a search light was flashed towards the approaching vehicles, heavy firing came from both the vehicles.  Own troops, in self defence, responded the same with fire. In the ensuing gun fight, one militant firing from one of the vehicles was hit and he fell off the vehicle and the vehicle veered off the road towards the nala and the second vehicle sped off.

Later during the search, the body of militant was recovered, who was identified as Amir Ahmad Malik of village Harmen, Cat- C militant. He was part of Lashkar-e-Toiba and was active since July 2017. War like stores including one AK-74, 3 magazines and 88 rounds were also recovered from the possession of the militant.. Three more dead bodies were found in the vehicle during the search.  These individuals were accompanying the militant.

At around 9 am on 5 March 2018, body of another militant, identified as Ashiq Hussain Bhat of Rakh Kapar of Lashkar-e-Toiba, was found from apple orchards of village Saidpura, who is also linked with the same chain of events at village Pohanu.

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