Militant who turned soldier posthumously awarded Ashok Chakra
Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani, a surrendered militant who became a soldier, will be posthumously awarded India’s highest peacetime gallantry award, the Ashok Chakra, on Republic Day for his courage during a fierce encounter in which six terrorists were killed in Kashmir last November.
Wani belonged to an army unit raised 15 years ago with surrendered militants as an experiment to rewrite the rules of counter-terror operations in Kashmir.
President Ram Nath Kovind will present the award to Wani’s wife, Mahajabeen Wani, at the 70th Republic Day parade, the army said on Thursday. Wani, who was 38 when he died, will be the first soldier from Kashmir to be awarded the Ashok Chakra. Thus far, 88 individuals have been awarded the Ashok Chakra; of these 68 have been awarded posthumously.
Exactly two months ago, on November 25, 2018, the army received intelligence on the presence of six heavily-armed terrorists at Hirapur village in south Kashmir’s Shopian district.
Wani and his squad were asked to block the terrorists’ most likely escape route, a standard drill during such operations. The soldiers closed in on the target house and positioned themselves to engage the terrorists at close range.
“Sensing danger, the terrorists attempted breaching the inner cordon, firing indiscriminately and lobbing grenades. Undeterred by the situation, L/Nk Nazir held ground and eliminated one hard core terrorist [a district commander of LeT] in a fierce exchange at close range,” said a notification issued by the President’s secretariat on Wednesday.
Nazir’s second kill followed a few minutes later when he fearlessly stormed into the house, amid bullets and grenades flying around him.
“Seeing the foreign terrorist escaping from the window, he [Wani] encountered him in a hand to hand combat situation. Despite being severely wounded, L/Nk Nazir eliminated the terrorist,” the notification added.
In the ensuing gun battle, Wani was hit multiple times, and took a shot to the head, army officials said. Bleeding heavily, the soldier continued to engage the remaining terrorists and injured a third one at close range. His action helped his squad kill the remaining terrorists. Wani even helped evacuate his wounded colleagues before succumbing to his injuries.
This was not the first time Wani demonstrated courage in combat, according to army officials. He was twice decorated with the Sena Medal for gallantry in counter-terrorism operations in 2007 and 2018.
He was a hero right from the beginning, the army said in a statement, adding that he operated with Rashtriya Rifles units in Kashmir to fight the onslaught of Pakistan-supported terror outfits. Wani joined the Indian Army’s 162 Infantry Battalion (Territorial Army), Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry, in 2004.
This is no ordinary fighting unit. It was raised in 2004 with scores of ex-militants, or Ikhwanis, drawn together as part of a plan to make them a potent weapon in the fight against militancy in Kashmir. The Ikhwanis have been a powerful intelligence tool for the army and the battalion has eliminated hundreds of terrorists since it was raised 15 years ago. The army has acknowledged the valour and contribution of these former militants with a series of gallantry awards.
The army has to protect the Ikhwanis from retribution by terror groups which see them as traitors. Rotating them across units guarantees safety and secrecy, army officials said. Hailing from Cheki Ashmuji in Kulgam district, Wani is survived by his wife and two sons aged 20 and 18, the army said.
“Under intense hail of bullets from the terrorists, he eliminated the district commander of LeT and one foreign terrorist in a very daring display of raw courage,” defence spokesperson Colonel Rajesh Kalia said, describing Wani as “Kashmir’s seasoned warrior”. A civilian teenager was also killed in clashes with security forces that erupted around the encounter site during the fateful day.