Nagbal, Kulgam: The family members of Reshi, the civilian who was killed during the fierce encounter between militants and government forces on Sunday, have strongly contested the official claim that Ishfaq was killed when militants opened fire on him.
Instead, the family members claim that Ishfaq along with his brother Mohammad Shafi Reshi, both co-owners of the house where the militants had taken shelter during the encounter, were taken into custody by personnel of army and police special operations group (SOG) after the gun battle started between government troops and the militants.
“The forces laid a cordon in our village Nagbal at about 10pm on Saturday,” said a visibly-shocked Shafi, who was released by the forces later in pre-dawn hours of Sunday. “All of our family members left the house at about 11:45 pm and were later goaded by the forces to the house of our neighbour Bashir Sheikh. All along this while we heard firing (of guns). Sometimes the firing would be intense, sometimes intermittent. We were about 70 people huddled in a room,” he said.
Later, Shafi said, the men of SOG and army came back and picked him up along with his brother Ishfaq.
“I saw my brother Ishfaq when he was picked up by the forces. On the way to our house (where the militants were hiding), we were kicked and abused. Then we were separated,” he said. “I saw him the last time near Nagbal Masjid. The army and SOG men were with him. The next day, I saw his body.”
Shafi said he heard intense firing at about 1am in the night. “I believe Ishfaq was killed at that very time,” he said.
Shafi said after the heavy exchange of fire at 1am, the government forces treated him well and did not trouble him much.
“Then they blasted our house. They fixed two IEDs to our house, blasted it, and turned it into a heap of rubble,” he recalled.
“The next day, the forces brought a bulldozer to clean the rubble and took out four bodies. The body of my brother was kept at Wanpoh police station. They did not ask us to identify him. They knew he was my brother. His face was clean and there was not much dust on his body,” Shafi said.
In the aftermath of the encounter in the pre-dawn hours, Shafi said, army and SOG men released him but not before asking him to announce on loudspeaker that his brother was killed by the militants hiding in their house.
“How could I have announced that my brother was killed by militants when I knew the truth,” Shafi said to Kashmir Reader.
A 25-year-old local, who wished to remain anonymous, said that he was sent by the army inside the house eight times. “They wanted me to locate the militants. But I could not find anybody,” the boy said with fear writ large on his face. He said that he will not divulge further details on how he was used as a human shield by the troops.
The army and police on Sunday said that Ishfaq was killed by the militants and that he along with other civilians was trapped inside the house. The police said that when the forces started their operation, the civilians managed to leave and in the meantime Ishfaq was hit by militant fire and was killed.
Eight people, including four militants, two civilians, and two army men died in the encounter in Nagbal on Sunday. In the public protests that took place after the encounter, at least 20 people sustained injuries and one person was killed when police and CRPF opened fire on people.
“They took away both my sons,” Ishfaq’s father Abdul Majid Reshi said, “but they returned to me the dead body of my son at 2pm on Sunday.”
“I saw Ishfaq when the forces picked him up. He died under their custody,” Abdul Majid said.
Ishfaq’s maternal uncle, Ghulam Hassan Sheikh, said that Ishfaq was a good student and was working as a contractual employee with the government’s water department.
“He had done an ITI diploma. He was married and had an 18-month-old daughter. His wife is a widow now,” Sheikh said. “This loss is irreparable. The house will come back, the routine of life will come back, but who will bring Ishfaq back?”