TWO Pakistanis arrested by the Army on charges of facilitating the attack on the 12 Infantry Brigade’s headquarters in Uri are Class 10 students who strayed across the Line of Control (LoC), the family of one and the principal of his school have told The Indian Express. The Ministry of External Affairs said the two had confessed to facilitating the “infiltration of a group of four Jaish-e-Muhammad cadre who carried out the Uri army camp attack.” Faisal Husain Awan, a resident of Potha Jandgran near the village of Koomi Kote in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and his school-friend Ahsan Khursheed, from Khilayana Khurd in Muzaffarabad’s Hattian Bala tehsil, were arrested on September 21, three days after the attack which claimed the lives of 19 soldiers. Both these villages are an hour’s walk from the LoC near Uri.
Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum, Faisal Awan’s brother and a Lahore-based physician, says the two were at home on September 17, the date GPS data recovered from the terrorists by the National Investigation Agency and published by this newspaper last week, shows the Uri terrorists crossing the Line of Control.
“I don’t want any controversy or recrimination,” says Tabassum, “which is why I hadn’t contacted the media. I am his older brother, and I am supposed to protect him. I do not know what to do. I can only hope someone powerful in India reads our story and sends these boys home.”
Basharat Husain, the principal of the the Shaheen Model School in Muzaffarabad, said Awan was a science student who had just graduated from Class IX with a first division.
The official marks-sheet shows Awan secured 328 out of a possible 525. Husain described Awan as “a model student, respectful and friendly.”
“For the six hours he was in school each day,” Basharat Husain said, “his behaviour was exemplary.”
Both boys, according to school documents provided by Husain, were 16 years old which — if these documents are authentic — makes them juveniles under Indian law and entitled to special protections, irrespective of their nationality.
“I did not know the two were friends,” Husain said, “but it is not surprising, given that they were in the same school, and from similar backgrounds.”
The Army, which on September 24 said the two were “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir nationals who have been working for Jaish-e-Muhammad terror outfit” said, in an e-mail response to the The Indian Express, that this determination was based on what it described as “spot interrogation.” However, the e-mail did not answer whether the Army had obtained the ages of the two while arresting them. The Army referred this newspaper to the NIA.
An NIA spokesperson said the agency “is in the process of analysing the available evidence in the case before we submit the Final Report to the court.” He said “the age (of) the two arrested persons was recorded as per statements given by them after their arrest,” but did not specifically state if they were known to minors.
However, sources said that no evidence had been found to support the contention that the two were linked, in any way, to the Uri attack.
The attack, significantly, has since been attributed to the Lashkar-e-Taiba — not, as initially claimed, the Jaish-e-Muhammad — with the Muridke-based terrorist group holding funeral rites for one of the attackers. NIA sources also told this newspaper that cipher-matrixes recovered from the attackers tallied with those used in other Lashkar attacks.
The two, NIA sources said, offered several varying accounts to interrogators, one to a woman doctor working for the Central Reserve Police Force that they had participated in the attack itself, providing details of how incendiary substances were used to set the tents at the 12 Brigade on fire. In an October 3 statement, the NIA claimed Awan identified one of the four slain terrorists who attacked the 12 Brigade headquarters as Hafiz Ahmad, who he said was the son of Feroze, in the village of Dharbang, west of Murree.
“Further interrogation of the two men is being done,” the NIA said. New Delhi had accused the two teenagers of participating in the attack in a dossier handed over to Pakistan’s High Commissioner in New Delhi Abdul Basit.
Zeero Begum, Faisal Awan’s mother, has been in shock since news of his arrest broke, Tabassum said. “She wakes up suddenly, crying and asking us to find out how he is. She imagines what he must be going through; how he must be; what he is eating; if he is sleeping. It is very hard on her, because Faisal, being the youngest in the family, is loved the most.”
Gul Akbar, Awan’s father, was a carpenter, but is now too aged to work, Tabassum said. Ahsan Khurshid’s mother, Tabassum said, has not spoken at all since she learned of his arrest. His father, a cook, works in Saudi Arabia.
The Indian Express tracked down Awan’s family using records he provided to Indian investigators to locate his brother in Lahore. The interviews were conducted both in person, and through voice-over-internet services.
Distraught, Tabassum, a graduate of a medical school in Cuba where he studied on a Pakistan government scholarship, has spent most of the past two months attempting without success to piece together how his younger brother ended up in an Indian jail at the end of his visit home for the Eid-ul-Adha holidays.
Faisal Awan, Tabassum says, had elected not to go to school on September 20, waking up late. In the afternoon, he says, Awan decided to head to the nearby Pir Kanth shrine. The boys, he says, may have lost their way while attempting to take a shortcut, and ended up across the Line of Control.
“The family began to panic when he did not return by the time of the maghrib namaaz,” he says, “because he had never once spent a night out of the house before, except with relatives. That night, we looked all over the neighbourhood, but there was no sign of him.”
Potha Jandgran, Faisal Awan’s home village, is on an earth road leading out from the village of Chhatter, half an hour’s drive south of Muzaffarabad. The family thought the boy might have headed to Rawalpindi, where they have family, and then filed a police complaint in Muzaffarabad on September 22.
There was similar consternation in Ahsan Khurshid’s village, in the jurisdiction of Chinari police station, half an hour’s drive from the Kaman Post, which marks the Line of Control in Uri — and just as little success in locating the boy.
Assistant Sub-Inspector Riaz Husain, of the Sadar Police Station in Muzaffarabad, said the families reported the boys had gone for a picnic, after missing a scheduled school trip to Murree. Though relatively rare, accidental crossings of the LoC are not unknown: over a dozen cases have been reported in the last five years, Jammu and Kashmir Police records show. Local residents near Uri who apprehended the two students on September 20 told The Indian Express they initially denied any wrongdoing, claiming, while being roughed-up by villagers, that they had strayed across the LoC.