The naked and still trees of autumn on the slopes of Sheikhpora hills reflected the mood in the bowl-shaped valley of Rafiabad.
Nothing moved in Sheikhpora village, 75 km north of Srinagar, except the black fume spiralling from the residences of Ghulam Nabi Mir and his brother Abdul Jabar Mir.
In a 12-hour encounter between security forces and militants, which ended late Tuesday night, the Mirs’ houses have turned into a mound of rubble.
The Rashtriya Rifles (RR) successfully zeroed in on two Lashkar-e-Tayyeba commanders on Monday night and laid a cordon around the houses.
Both the Pakistani militants were killed. The incident was recorded as a successful operation where two militants, active for four months, were eliminated in a “surgical” operation.
But the real story unravelled when this reporter met the Mirs after the guns fell silent.
“I begged the militants to leave our house. But they put fingers on their lips, pointing to the jawans waiting outside … I asked my family to leave,” said 65-year-old Ghulam Nabi Mir.
He said, “Outside my lawn, I told the army that the militants are there, but save my house. They didn’t.” Mir has a large family, with five daughters – three unmarried – and two sons.
The gunbattle that started around noon witnessed the first killing around 2.00 pm. The family claims the other militant was dead by late afternoon.
Mir said, “The army kept shelling the house. I told them since no fire is coming from my house, let me enter the house and check for you.”
The security forces denied using excessive force.
Jabar said, “We lost everything – our winter stocks, foodstuff and heating arrangement. Harsh winter will kill my family now.”