Rumours, Media Blackout: How Cops Kept Kashmir from Erupting After Mannan Wani’s Killing
Lolab: On the cold morning of October 11, Basheer Ahmad Wani had returned from Fajar prayers from the local mosque in Tikipora village of Kupwara district. The birds had begun chirping when he received call from a friend. “Mannan is trapped in an encounter,” the friend revealed to Basheer.
The news was about his scholar son who had turned to militancy 10 months ago.
Basheer frantically made calls but no one could confirm the news. An hour later, his phone rang again and the friend said: “It was a fake news.”
A teacher by profession, Basheer, 57, felt relieved. He murmured prayers and started preparing for the day, as usual.
The news, however, was not fake. A joint team of army’s 30 Rashtriya Rifles and Special Operations Group (SOG), the counterinsurgency wing of Jammu and Kashmir Police, had laid a siege around few houses in Shatgund village, around 40 km away from Basheer’s house.
The forces zeroed in at around 2 am after a specific intelligence input. Inside a house was Mannan Wani, a popular militant commander of Hizbul Mujahideen.
Wani, 29, was a PhD scholar in Geology at Aligarh Muslim University when he picked up the gun in January. He gained popularity as soon his gun-wielding picture went public. He was becoming the new face of militancy in Kashmir. The militant commander was spreading his “agenda” by his writings. His two articles, where he had justified his decision of choosing the gun, had become immensely popular.
The surging admiration for Mannan was worrying the security agencies. They feared his death would create a law and order situation, like the one created after the killing of Burhan Wani, the 21-year-old Hizb commander who was killed in July 2016. Burhan’s killing was followed by months of unrest in which over a hundred people lost their lives, while thousand others were injured.
Mannan Wani was operating from south Kashmir, the hotbed of current militancy, sources in counter-insurgency forces said.
However, since the last 15 days, there was an intelligence input that Mannan would be travelling to north Kashmir to crossover to the other side of the border. During this time, Manna’s father was regularly called for questioning. Homes of his relatives were also being raided.
“The police officers told me that he is in north Kashmir. They kept calling me on regular basis,” he said. “I felt mentally tortured.”
It was on Monday that Mannan managed to reach north Kashmir, an official from the team tracking Mannan revealed.
“We had inputs that Mannan is putting up in a Baramulla village. He came to Shatgund village on Thursday. We were following his movement,” the officer said.
Top police sources believe that Mannan was planning to cross the LoC.
At around 2 in the night on October 11, the cordon was laid. By the first beam of morning Mannan and his associate were killed.
The intelligence input was accurate, the police said, adding that the location he was putting up in is surrounded by a cluster of houses making the operation challenging.
No picture should come out, the men on ground were ordered by the top officials after Mannan was killed.
“We ensured that not a single picture of Mannan’s corpse comes out till we manage other affairs,” a top police official, wishing not to be named, told News18. “We did not want to repeat the mistakes done in the past.”
In 2016, when Burhan was killed his picture lying on a stretcher with blood stains on his t-shirt and his face had gone viral on social media minutes after the encounter. Police officials believe that it was the trigger point, outraging the people.
When the encounter ended by the noon, police made sure that Mannan’s face was not revealed.
“We carried Mannan’s corpse in a body-bag from the encounter site to keep his face concealed. Otherwise, after any encounter, the locals identify the militant and spread the news, making the task tough for us,” the police official said.
However, the OGW’s in the area had already informed the locals about the presence of militants, sources said. Soon after the first gunshots, people surrounded the encounter site and hurled stones to hinder the operation. Many youth were injured during the clashes.
By the time body of Mannan and his associate was taken to the police station, government had ordered closure of schools and colleges in north Kashmir.
“We made sure that there are no gatherings, protests or stone throwing incidents,” the police official said.
Confusion was created among the people. Rumours about Mannan’s killing were in the air but police officials maintained that “the news is baseless”.
In certain areas of north Kashmir, rumour was spread that a lunatic man had been killed and not Mannan.
“Before breaking the news of Mannan’s death, restrictions were put in place,” the top police official said. “We didn’t want the situation to look extraordinary. The internet was not shut in the entire valley, which is usually done after such encounters.”
Mannan’s family got to know about his killing in the afternoon.
“We got to know about it by 1:30,” said Basheer Ahmad. “We were deceived and dodged by the police.”
The body wasn’t handed over to family in the police station, which is the regular procedure. The body was brought in an armoured vehicle and was handed over to the relatives in nearby Chandigam village.
Managing the Funeral
Restrictions were put in place at the only road leading to Lolab valley. Only local residents were allowed to move towards Lolab.
Even the journalists were not allowed to witness the funeral. The reporters were told by the police that there were strict orders that the press should not be allowed. It was only after Mannan’s burial, scribes were allowed to visit his home.
No photographer was allowed to attend the funeral.
“The images from the funerals keep the militants alive,” a police official said.
Moreover, a rumour was spread that the funeral would be held the next day.
Mannan’s Plan to Cross LoC
Mannan’s writings were making him popular.
“It was not the gun that was disturbing us, but Mannan’s write-ups were becoming instrumental in propagating the message of militants. It was luring more youth towards militancy,” the top police official said.
The militant leadership wanted Mannan to be in the safe zone so that he would keep doing his work untroubled, the police say.
“Once on the other side of the LoC, Mannan’s writings would have been an important tool for militants,” the police official says.
He was accompanied by the local militants who were aware of the north-Kashmir landscape.
“This was being done at this time because winter is approaching. It would have been more difficult for him to cross-over in later months because of the snow and harsh weather,” the police finds.