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Zia Mustafa killing all but pulls curtain down on Nadimarg Pandit massacre

The Nadimarg massacre shook J&K and the rest of India at a time when the security situation in the erstwhile state was thought to be improving. The incident and the nearly two-decade delay in the trial is cited by Kashmiri Pandit groups as evidence of the denial of justice.

Written by Nirupama Subramanian | Mumbai |
Updated: October 25, 2021 3:07:36 pm
The operation to flush out the militants entered its 14th day on Sunday. (Photo: PTI)

With the killing of Zia Mustafa, the Laskhar-e-Toiba “commander” who was taken by security forces to identify militant hideouts in a forest in Poonch, the long held-up trial in the 2003 Nadimarg massacre has lost the main accused in the case and the only one facing substantive charges. “The trial against him is over. The court will be told that he has been killed, and the case against him will be closed,” said Mustafa’s lawyer Mohammed Mubashir Gattoo.

All that remains of the case now is a charge of dereliction of duty against seven policemen. Gattoo said the court would have to take a call on the evidence against them.

The Nadimarg massacre shook J&K and the rest of India at a time when the security situation in the erstwhile state was thought to be improving. The incident and the nearly two-decade delay in the trial is cited by Kashmiri Pandit groups as evidence of the denial of justice.

Most Pandits in Nadimarg had left during the exodus of 1990; some 50 people had, however, chosen to stay on. On March 23, militants in army fatigues lined up 11 men, 11 women, and two children outside their homes and shot them dead. After this outrage, the remaining Pandits also left.

Mustafa was arrested on April 10, 2003 by J&K Police as the mastermind of the massacre.

A resident of Rawlakot in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, Mustafa, who was 26 years old at the time, was paraded at a press conference by then J&K DGP A K Suri in Srinagar as a big catch.

Suri said Mustafa was a “district commander” of the LeT who led the killings. He was allegedly carrying an AK rifle, ammunition, and a wireless set when he was arrested. He was said to have told police interrogators that he had been asked by the LeT leadership in Pakistan to carry out the massacre.

No other militants were arrested for the killings. Three other militants named in the FIR were said to have been killed in an encounter in Kulgam by the BSF in April 2003. The policemen who were responsible for guarding the village were charged with failing to do so under Section 30 of the Police Act.

A chargesheet was filed in the court on June 9, 2003, and three months later, on October 1, charges were framed against Zia and the seven policemen.

The prosecution had a list of 38 witnesses, but in February 2009, after only nine were examined, the trial court in Shopian closed the evidence for the prosecution citing the long delay and the prosecution’s inability to produce the other witnesses.

The state appealed in the High Court that same month, which dismissed the plea saying it could not condone the delay. In 2015, the Supreme Court asked the J&K High Court to take up the matter again.

But as the state failed to appear before the High Court for the hearing, and the petition was dismissed for non-prosecution.

Since then, the prosecution has been pleading before the trial court for time stating that it has filed a review petition in the High Court. At each hearing, the trial court in Shopian adjourns the matter to another date. There have been nine such hearings so far this year, the next is on October 16.

“The prosecution has given the impression that there is a review petition in the High Court against the August 2017 dismissal,” Gattoo said.

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