Far from the spotlight of the media, a far-flung village nestled in the idyllic hills of Handwara mourned the death of one its members, killed by a “special squad” of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen militant outfit.

He was one of the three policemen killed in two separate shootouts in Srinagar on Monday, May 23.

Near the house of Nazir Ahmad, mourners made their way up the dilapidated hilly road on foot and in taxis, some coming from as far as Srinagar.

The mourners – family, friends, and neighbours – asked why “Maulvi Nazir”, as some called Nazir Ahmad, was killed.

The Hizb-ul Mujahideen in a statement said: “Besides killing three policemen of Special Operation Group, the militants managed to decamp with a rifle of a slain policeman."

The mourners unanimously condemned the labelling of Nazir Ahmad as a member of the Special Operations Group, the infamous counterinsurgency wing of the Jammu and Kashmir Police.

Nazir Ahmad and Ghulam Mohammad Bhat were unarmed when they were killed, as per media reports.

“We challenge those involved in this [attack] to prove he [Nazir] was an SOG personnel,” the relatives said. “The killers should know what they have done is wrong.”

“Doesn’t a policeman have a right to live?” asked Abdul Hameed, the brother of Nazir Ahmad. “What was the purpose of killing an unarmed policeman?”

Said a young neighbour at the gathering at the slain man's home: "If this is jihad, we want nothing of it.”

The attacks

While such attacks have occurred before in other parts of the valley, it was after almost three years that the police had been attacked within Srinagar.

“The attacks in Srinagar are a chilling reminder of the killing of Justice Bhat and of the Maisuma Station House Officer in 1989, said author and journalist David Devadas. “It shows that militants are lurking in Downtown Srinagar, no doubt getting ready for more action.”

Javid Mujtaba Gillani, Inspector General of Police (Kashmir Zone) said the attacks were the result of security forces maintaining “pressure on militants”. The Director General of Police, K Rajendra Kumar, described the attacks a desperate act by militants to assert their presence.

Militant recruits face a shortage of weapons because the traditional arms-supply through the Line of Control has been thwarted by strict vigil of the Indian Army, according to news reports. The militants as a result have taken to snatching weapons from security forces to stock their arsenals.

Selective outrage

The relatives rued the lack of protests at the killings of the policemen. “This double standard should be shunned”, said a cousin of Nazir Ahmad, referring to political leaders.

Khurram Parvez, prominent human rights activist and Programme Coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society in Srinagar, said that police personnel know the consequences and dangers involved in duty. “Legally speaking this [Zadibal shootout] was combatants fighting combatants," he said.

But Parvez added that any killing, be it of members of the the police or armed forces, a civilian or a militant, is unjustified. Still, he emphasised, “The issue for us has always been civilians being killed extra-judicially.”

He noted that on the same day as the Zadibal shootout, two men were killed in another shootout in the Saraibala area of Srinagar.

“Even if they were militants, should they not have been arrested?” he asked, “which was very easy according to eyewitnesses.”