Brother Of J&K Civilian Who Died While In Army Custody

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'Couldn't Believe': Brother Of J&K Civilian Who Died While In Army Custody

The Topi Pir village from where civilians were rounded up for questioning after the Poonch attack.

Srinagar:

An Army operation to track down the terrorists behind last week’s attack on two military vehicles in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch district – in which four soldiers were killed – is over, without success.

The focus, now, as Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s Wednesday visit indicated, is on damage control following three civilian deaths, and injuries to others, after they were allegedly tortured while in Army custody. Mr Singh warned the Army it could not “make mistakes” that hurts an Indian citizen.

NDTV visited the heavily forested Rajouri-Poonch areas of J&K, which have become a hotbed of terror attacks in the past few months; last month, for example, two Army officers were among five soldiers killed in action and, in the last seven months, 20 soldiers have died in attacks in the region.

READ | Four Soldiers Killed In Encounter With Terrorists In J&K

NDTV trekked down a narrow path running through the forests to the picturesque Topi Pir village, which bore the brunt of the Army’s recent counterterrorist op, one that that went badly wrong.

One of the three civilians who died while in Army custody was Safeer Ahmad, whose brother is Noor Ahmad, a Border Security Force constable. Safeer, survived by a wife and four children, was picked up by soldiers after the Poonch ambush, for which the People’s Anti-Fascist Front claimed responsibility.

Safeer Ahmad is survived by a wife and four children.

Safeer Ahmad is survived by a wife and four children.

PAFF is believed to be a front organisation for the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror group, and was first seen in 2019, after the government revoked special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

Noor Ahmad told NDTV he could not believe reports about his brother till he saw the body, which he said bore torture marks. “I didn’t believe it till I saw his body… couldn’t believe the Army will do something like this,” he said. On Wednesday, Noor and the family of the two other men who died met Rajnath Singh in Rajouri. Noor said Mr Singh had vowed the guilty soldiers will be punished.

“The Defence Minister told us those picked up and tortured were innocent people. He told us there can be no compensation for life… but that those responsible will be punished for their actions.”

READ | After “No Mistakes” Message To Army, Minister Meets Injured J&K Civilians

The Army has ordered a formal inquiry into the horrific incident and, in an unprecedented step, removed the commander of a brigade and three others officers against whom charges were made.

READ | Army Orders Probe Into Deaths Of 3 Civilians Detained For Questioning

Rajnath Singh, while addressing troops in the J&K region this week, urged the Army to not only defeat terrorism but also win the trust of the people, which has broken after violence against the civilians.

Mohammad Kabir worked as a porter in the same Army camp in which his brother, Shabir Ahmad, died. He told NDTV he would not now. “They called my brother on the phone and asked him come to the camp… now I will not go there and work as a porter for the Army… they killed my brother.”

Army porter Mohammad Kabeer: will not back to camp for work after death of brother

Army porter Mohammad Kabeer (R)

Apart from the three who died, several others are injured, many with serious injuries, and are receiving treatment in local hospitals. A woman told NDTV her two teen sons are among the injured.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders have been barred from visiting the region.

However, senior BJP leaders, including the party’s J&K state unit boss, Ravinder Raina, and MP Ghulam Ali, visited the village and met the families of those killed. “I have come to offer condolences. Those guilty will get serve punishment because this is a major crime,” Mr Raina said.

Ghulam Ali, who is the BJPs nominated Rajya Sabha MP from J&K, and is also a Gujjar leader, said the government had noted the incident, and that police have also filed a murder case.

Mr Ali too seemed not to hold back in criticising the Army, though he did not refer to the military. “No words are enough to condemn the incident and way these people were killed,” he said.

However, no individual, Army or otherwise, has been named in the FIR.

The J&K administration, and even the centre, is undoubtedly in panic mode, particularly since a general election is now less than four months away and the Supreme Court has ordered that long-pending Assembly elections in J&K be held by September-end.

READ | In Historic Jammu And Kashmir Ruling, Supreme Court Sets Election Deadline

Noor regretted the fact this incident is “defaming” the country, and held that the soldiers responsible for ‘torturing and killing villagers” were as guilty of doing so as anybody else.

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