Unnamed, unknown, foreign militants remain alive in Kashmir graveyards
A discreet call went out as bullets whizzed past and the report of automatic rifles echoed in the surrounding mountains of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district on July 3.
The message from Bamnoo village to a police station in north Kashmir was short. “Keep a grave ready.”
Security forces have killed two militants, but their partner was holed up in a house and fighting desperately. In the thick of the counter-insurgency operation, ground intelligence suggested the third gunman could be a foreigner.
The man was shot dead hours later and his grave was ready by the Jhelum river in Baramulla district’s Gantmulla village, about 100km away.
But the pit remained empty for two weeks, covered with a tin sheet. The body never reached the pre-assigned grave. The man turned out to be a Kashmiri and was buried in his native village.
The gravedigger’s labour in windy, rainswept Gantmulla didn’t go waste, though.
The corpse of an unidentified foreign militant, killed in a cave hideout in Pulwama’s Tral forests, arrived a fortnight later.
The waiting burial pit became one of the 43 graves of “foreign militants” on a rocky patch in Gantmulla, a mountain village buffeted by breathtaking greenery and the Jhelum. It is close to the Line of Control, the de-facto border between Indian and Pakistan, and 65km north of Srinagar.
The graveyard is strategically sandwiched between Sheeri police station and a military camp.
Except for two small rocks placed at each end of the grassy mounds, the rudimentary graves in two neat rows are mostly unmanned and unmarked.
For epithets, some of the older graves have small metal plaques with serial numbers, betraying the bare minimum information — the place of death. The graves are numbered till 22. The rest are ready but police are hard-pressed for time.
“S. No 1: From Khrew,” reads the oldest plaque. Khrew is a town in Pulwama.
Sheeri police officers keep a record of the dead on their watch, but won’t share any details. They won’t even tell the graveyard’s age, though villagers believe it sprang up probably a year ago.
Little is known about dead foreign militants. Police provide patchy strands of information such as the militant’s code name, his organisation and the time he has been active in the Kashmir Valley. His life and family remain a mystery.
Police said villagers help during the last rites. Abdul Majeed Mir, a 50-year-old tea-seller, was the first gravedigger to lend a hand.
“We are all humans and it is a universal obligation for us to respect the dead. Also, the Prophet taught us to perform the last rites of people with respect. Rest, I don’t care whether they are militants or otherwise,” Mir said.
The graveyard overlooking the Baramulla highway is open for the public. “Many strangers offer special prayers from the road itself,” a constable said.
The imam of the village mosque, Mufti Aijaz, leads the funerals but the revolting sight of mutilated bodies almost forced him to quit.
“A corpse with its face blown off … a body without the back of its head, and another with no flesh on its legs. Anyone would get disturbed by such scenes,” he said.
“I decided to leave the responsibilities of an imam. But the people did not allow me to.”
The shroud of official silence and secrecy helps authorities prevent people from making a “martyr” of the non-Kashmiri militants. The strategy is followed diligently after thousands of people in south Kashmir attended the funeral of Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Abu Qasim, a Pakistani from Multan, in December 2015.
That funeral prompted police not to hand bodies of foreign militants to residents of places where they are killed for burial.
Still, a 28-year-old man of Gantmulla feels proud to be part of the funeral of “guest militants”.
“They are martyrs. I feel very proud to get a chance to touch their bodies,” he said.