Four years ago when the bodies of three young men arrived home in Nadihal, a northern Kashmir village surrounded by apple orchards, willows and poplar trees, it led to the unfolding of a complex narrative of counterinsurgency and greed for medals and petty rewards among a group of Army officers and their local collaborators.
Shahzad Ahmad Khan, 27, Mohd Shafi Lone, 19, and Riyaz Ahmad Lone, 20, had been lured by the Army to Kalaroos in Kupwara on April 29, 2010, according to the findings of the subsequent police probe. They were killed later that night at Sona Pindi on the Machil sector. Army officers then called them foreign militants who were killed in an encounter while trying to infiltrate the Line of Control.
Their bodies were buried in a graveyard near the LoC. To prove that they were foreign militants, a black beard had been painted on the face of Shafi Lone, the youngest, and a picture taken.
A visit to Nadihal that year unravelled a story more complex than most others of staged encounters in Kashmir. Police investigations would later find that one Bashir Ahmad Lone had laid the death trap, literally selling them for Rs 50,000 each to Army men. Bashir was a counter-insurgent while his brother, Qayoom, was a policeman. Villagers burnt his house down after the three bodies were exhumed and brought back to Nadihal.
These three men had no connection with the armed movement and one of them was even close to the Army. How did they end up in an Army camp in far-off Kalaroos?
This was because all of them were living in poverty. When an offer for work at Rs 2,000 a day came, they couldn’t refuse. The day he left, Shahzad’s wife gave him Rs 50 because he had nothing else.
Find and execute
The interrogation of four persons, especially Territorial Army jawan Abbas Hussain Shah and Army source Hameed, found that troops of the 4 Rajputana Rifles were in a hurry to stage an encounter on the Line of Control to secure a unit citation and cash award before they would shift out of the valley. The killings took place on the night of April 29-30, 2010; the unit shifted out within a week.
Abbas Hussain Shah, who has been exonerated, claimed to have been in constant touch with “Major Upendra” ever since he joined 19 Division Headquarters in Baramulla. Shah said his job was to scout around for information. “In April, Major sahib asked to arrange a few young men and told me we have to send them across to Pakistan to bring weapons and track (a group of militants) whom we could trap.
Major sahib promised to pay them and I asked Hameed for help,” he had told The Indian Express in an interview at Sopore police station.
Hameed had earlier introduced Bashir Ahmad Lone, the counter-insurgent from Nadihal, to Abbas. “Bashir’s nephew was in the Army school and he wanted his fee waived and I took him to the officers. He became my friend too,’’ Abbas said.
Hameed asked Bashir to arrange a few men for the army, and, according to police records, he claimed to have told Abbas and Hameed later that he had arranged three men from his village and offered them Rs 2,000 a day for work at the LoC. The trip to Kalaroos was scheduled for April 27. According to Hameed’s version, Bashir arranged a Tata Sumo and along with Hameed and the three travelled to the 4 Rajput camp in Kalaroos.
“The major asked us to go back home and come on April 29, 2010, as the weather was not good. On April 29, Abbas accompanied us,’’ Hameed told police. “They were happy that they would be paid well for the work. They were chatting and joking. Abbas bought some coke and chips. At Kupwara, he took us to a hotel where we all had kanti (fried boneless mutton) with naan. We even smoked charas.”
Hameed told interrogators “Major sahib” was waiting with two Army vehicles at Kalaroos. “He asked the three to get into one truck and asked us to board the other. He asked Bashir to leave in the Sumo,” he said.
The next morning, Abbas and Hameed were reportedly given Rs 1.5 lakh by the major along with two bottles of whisky and two beer bottles as their reward. This was after they had been separated during the night; their statements say the major had taken Abbas along with him.
After the three men were killed, the Army claimed to have recovered five AK rifles, ammunition and Pakistani currency from them. The police say the unit received Rs 6 lakh as cash award for this operation.
Cracking the case
The man who helped take the lid off the fake encounter was Shahzad’s close friend Fayaz Ahmad Wani. The day the three went missing, Shahzad had spoken to Wani on phone and told him he was with Bashir Lone, who had hired him for Rs 2,000 a day to work with the Army and that he was on his way to Kalaroos.
On May 10, the families of the three men in Nadihal registered a missing persons report with Panzla police station in Sopore. Shahzad’s family told police that Wani had informed them about Shahzad’s call. The police analysed call details of the victims and of Bashir and found that they had all gone to Kalaroos. Bashir was picked up on May 21, and subsequently police arrested Hameed too. Abbas was arrested on May 27.
2,943 Number of unidentified bodies listed by International Peoples Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in a report published in 2009. These had been found in 55 villages in Bandipora, Baramulla, and Kupwara districts of Kashmir, all killed by the armed forces and buried without ever ascertaining their identity, according to the report, Buried Evidence: Unknown, Unmarked, and Mass Graves in Kashmir .