BUDGAM: “Hello, Mai Mukhtar hu (I am Mukhtar). Be fasas crackdown manz jungle manz (I am trapped in a cordon in the forest). Subah aana aur dead body gar le jana (Come in the morning and take my dead body home).”
These were the last words and succinct message that 24-year-old Mukhtar Ahmad Khan said over phone, at 3am in the night, to his family living in Brass village of Budgam, on Tuesday last week.
Two years ago, in November 2016, Mukhtar had left home saying he was going to find work at Srinagar. He had lied; he wasn’t going to find work but to pick up arms and fight for the independence of Kashmir.
On Tuesday, Mukhtar was killed along with an associate by government forces in the forests at Zoogu, some 50 kilometers from Srinagar city. For about 15 years, no one in Brass village, which was a hotbed of militancy in the 1990s, had joined militant ranks. Nazir Ahmad, the last man to have done so, was killed in 2001 by government forces.
Brass village is located along the bank of the roaring Sukhnag stream. On one side of it is the famous tourist resort of Tosamaidan, on another side the beautiful meadow of Doodpathri. Behind the village are the dense green forests of Zoogu.
Mukhtar was a cab driver when popular militant commander Burhan Wani was killed in July 2016. He had left studies when he was a Class 10 student at the government high school in Zoogu-Kharian. After the massive uprising that broke out at Burhan Wani’s killing, Mukhtar became one of many youths to give up routine life and join militant groups.
“He was a very intelligent and hardworking guy,” said Mohammad Shafi Khan, a relative. Mukhtar’s mother, Ayesha, said he was “khanmoel”, her darling.
The youngest among three siblings, Mukhtar did not contact his family for two months after he left home to become a militant.
Fayaz Ahmad, his elder brother, said that after two months, the family went to the local police station and lodged a missing report there. Soon after, the family received a phone call from Mukhtar.
“I am doing a job in Saudi Arabia. I won’t return for some time. Don’t worry, I will be back home someday.” That’s what he said, Fayaz told Kashmir Reader. The family believed it, as Mukhtar had a valid passport.
“It was the army and police, who used to frequently raid our home in those days, that Mukhtar had joined militant ranks,” Fayaz said. “Within a couple of days, his picture with a weapon went viral on social media.”
Shahid Bhat, a friend of Mukhtar, described him as “pure, religious, and courageous.”
“Whenever we met, he would talk of the illegal occupation of Kashmir, killings of innocents, the freedom movement, and such subjects,” Shahid said.
Mukhtar’s story shows how places that stayed away from violence for years after being involved in militancy in the ’90s are now again seeing local youth picking up arms.