Sopore: Most Dangerous Place In J&K

Sopore: Most Dangerous Place In J&K

8 June 2011
Times of India
Randeep Singh Nandal

Sopore: Afzal Khan's house in Sopore is accessible only from a footpath through the local graveyard, a path he took everyday for 30 years to run his store next to the local mosque. On Tuesday, he was buried in the same graveyard by his son and family. Afzal died in Srinagar last week in circumstances now familiar. He was walking down Srinagar's busy Lal Chowk when two young men walked up to him and fired a shot in his head. People ran in panic as the attackers zipped away on a motorcycle. Afzal died on his way to hospital. A policeman washed away the bloodstains with a pail of water and an hour later things were back to normal. Afzal's was just another name added to the list of people killed by 'unidentified gunmen' in Kashmir. In Sopore, few believe the police's version. Sopore is in the throes of a struggle between militants and security forces. In the past month or so, some 15 people have been killed here: 10 militants and five civilians. Each encounter is followed by the murder of a mukhbir (informer) - in Sopore, it's worse than an abuse. It's a war that is relentless and important. Sopore is the ideological heartland of militancy. 'The day support for militancy ends here, it's finished. Sopore is the key,' said an intelligence officer. But over lunch in a sprawling house in a village on the outskirts of the city, one realizes this support isn't waning. Jagir village shows why Sopore is called Chhota London in Kashmir. Lush apple orchards, big houses and general air of prosperity. A Rs 3,000 crore apple business flourishes thanks to the production here. But Jagir is also the village of Afzal Guru, the man sentenced to death in the Parliament attack case. The tradition lives. In January this year, an 18-year-old student from the village was one of three militants gunned down as they tried to enter Srinagar. A cop was killed, too. Jagir is on the border of river Jehlum on one side; across it is Seer village, where five days ago the Army killed three LeT militants. These three militants were a microcosm of why Sopore is still dangerous. Abdullah Barbar, a Pakistani, is one of the ' Mehman Mujahideen ' who inspires awe and fear. Faisal Ghazali spent three years in jail, and on his release six months ago, again picked up the gun. Ghulam Nabi Dar was the 18-year-old who made a transition from stone pelting to Lashkar. Following their killing, Sopore shut down for two days. It was spontaneous and different from the reaction when two sisters were drag-ged out of their house by militants in February and killed. The next day even the little shop next to their house was open. In Sopore, the ' shaheed ' and ' mukhbir ' are viewed and treated differently. Jagir voices the sentiment proudly. 'The government has done nothing for us. It's lack of jobs and development that makes people angry and pick up the gun,' said one resident. But this argument sits awkwardly in Jagir. There is a government juice factory, a special industrial park for small scale industry, an Army-run school, a primary health centre and an irrigation pipeline to water the orchards. The real reasons for Sopore's belligerence aren't economic; they are ideological. Sopore is a Jamait stronghold. It is Syed Ali Shah Geelani's turf and support for militancy is married to the dreams for Nizam-e-Mustafa. So, it's no surprise to find the SSP, Altaf Khan, sitting in his house making notes from Bukhari Sharif, the best known book on Hadiths (the sayings of Prophet Mohammad). He reads out one, 'A time will come when men who ostensibly follow Islam will be brainwashed into doing horrible things, and to stop them and kill them will be the duty of every good man. They shall be rewarded for this on Judgment Day.' 'I want to get posters made of these and put these up in villages. The militants are brainwashing youth and making them do these things. We shall get more inputs about them,' said the SSP. His words epitomize the three levels of this struggle: AK-47, the mobile phone and ideology.


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