“My son has died but if all people stop sending their children to the Army, then who will fight for the nation?’’ Mohammad Haneef is waiting under the shadow of a tree near his single-storey home in Salani village on the Mendhar-Poonch road for the body of his 24-year-old son Aurangzeb, a soldier posted with 44 Rashtriya Rifles, who was abducted and killed Thursday by militants. “Jebi” was on his way home for Eid, and Haneef is devastated. And yet, the 55-year-old ex-serviceman insists, he is far from broken. “Death has to come one day. I had got him recruited in the Army to serve the nation. A soldier’s job is to kill the enemy or get killed,” he says.
Aurangzeb was the fourth among ten children, including four girls, of Haneef and Raj Begum. Haneef’s eldest son Mohammad Qasim is in the Army while two of his younger sons, Mohammad Tariq and Mohammad Shabir, are set to join the armed forces. Tariq has cleared the written and physical tests, and was in Pune for the medical test on June 22. Shabir has cleared the physical and medical tests, and is preparing for the written test on July 27. “We are a family of soldiers,” says Haneef, the father. But inside his house, Aurangzeb’s mother Raj is inconsolable. Haneef says they came to know about the abduction around 4.30 pm from an Army unit posted in the area. “My wife and I had gone to Kasbalari village nearby when she answered a call on my mobile phone from someone asking for me in Urdu. She disconnected the phone. Later, when I called back, I came to know that it was from Rashtriya Rifles… they told me that Aurangzeb has been abducted,’’ he says. Also Read: J&K: Army soldier killed after being abducted on way home for Eid, another in gunbattle
“It was then that I told my wife, ‘Jebi nu militant le gaye’ (militants have taken Aurangzeb). The Army informed me about his killing around midnight, but Raj came to know about it only this morning when relatives started arriving,” says Haneef.
Raj’s brother Mohammad Akram says Aurangzeb returned to his unit in May after spending two months on leave at home. “I recall him purchasing a new pair of shoes to attend the marriage of his cousin. After the function, he danced till late in the night,” says Akram. “While Aurangzeb was coming home from Kashmir, his elder brother was returning from Pune to celebrate Eid together,” he adds.
Haneef’s neighbours say Aurangzeb was part of the Army team that killed Hizbul Mujahideen militant Sameer Tiger in the Valley last month. “He had been on the hitlist of militants because he played an active role in the elimination of a large number of them,” says the father.
“When he came home on leave last year, he received a threat on Facebook from militants. So, when it was time for him to return to his unit in Shopian, I hired a taxi and accompanied him along with another son of mine,” says Haneef.
“At the time, I had requested his Company Commander to not allow him go to Shopian all alone and in civil dress,” he adds.
According to Haneef, Aurangzeb rang up his younger brother Mohammad Shabir around 9.30 am Thursday, asking him to come to Poonch and help, as he was bringing an inverter home from Shopian.
“Five minutes later, he rang up his mother to tell her he was coming home. Later, he called one of his brothers, Zafar Iqbal, to say he was reaching Shopian from where he would purchase some items for Eid. However, before he could say anything more, Zafar heard him shouting at the driver, ‘Stop the vehicle…stop the vehicle’. Then his mobile got switched off.”
According to police sources, Rashtriya Rifles personnel posted at Shadimarg in Pulwama stopped a civilian car on its way to Shopian and asked the driver to drop Aurangzeb. But when the car reached Kalampora village, it was intercepted by militants. Police later found Aurangzeb’s bullet-riddled body in Pulwama’s Gossu village.
In Salani, Mohammad Illyas, a school teacher who also works as the Block Level Officer in Kasbalari panchayat, remembers Aurangzeb as a “pehalwan who used to participate in wrestling and lift huge boulders during the annual congregation in the area”.
“Being soldiers and pro-Indian, this village wields a lot of influence among politicians and the administration. Despite having seven wards, Salani is an independent panchayat although the minimum criteria is 10 wards,” he says.
On Friday, the Army paid floral tributes to riflemen Aurangzeb and Manvendra Singh, who was killed during a security operation in Bandipora district, in a ceremony at the Badamibagh Cantonment in Srinagar.
It’s time the government takes action now, says Haneef. “It shows determination but makes a hasty retreat under pressure from politicians who exploit the situation. Pakistan will never dare to attack us, but this proxy war will continue till doomsday. India should not stop until the situation is fully under control,’’ he says.