Top doctors in militant crosshairs

August 20, 2013 12:00 am | Updated 05:34 am IST - SRINAGAR:

None of the cases have been solved, though two are said to be “under investigation”

After Dr. Farooq Ahmad Ashai and Dr. Abdul Ahad Guru, Dr. Sheikh Jalal-ud-din is the third prominent medical professional to have fallen to a bullet since the onset of armed insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir in 1989. However, none of the assassinations have been solved by the police, though two of the three first information reports are said to be “under investigation”.

The Chief Orthopaedic Surgeon at the State-controlled Bone and Joint Hospital and the former Orthopaedic Department head at the Government Medical College in Srinagar, Dr. Ashai was driving back home with wife and daughter when he got hit in the firing from a Central Reserve Police Force [CRPF] pillbox at Rambagh on February 18, 1993. He was rushed to his hospital, about 300 metre away, but the team of doctors could not save his life.

Driving from his brother’s home in Rajbagh, Dr. Ashai had no inkling of the grenade attack some suspected militants had carried out on the CRPF bunker. Even as CRPF personnel did not suffer any damage, they fired several rounds at Dr. Ashai’s car. Later, his family complained that he died due to a massive blood loss as the same CRPF unit had stopped an ambulance carrying surgeons Dr. Manzoor and Dr. Sethi for a pretty long time. Politics was soon attached to Dr. Ashai’s death with some human rights groups alleging that the surgeon was “killed in cold blood for his frequent meetings with foreign journalists and human rights representatives”.

Even as he had no such profile, these groups claimed that Dr. Ashai was killed on account of treating injured and physically tortured militants. Even a United States’ Department of State report described him as a “human rights monitor”.

It said: “Dr. Ashai, a prominent Kashmiri orthopaedic surgeon and specialist in the treatment of torture victims, died on February 18, when he was caught in the line of fire from a security forces’ bunker.”

Dr. Guru, the founder-head of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery Department at the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences [SKIMS], was kidnapped allegedly by Hizbul Mujahideen militants on March 31, 1993. His bullet-riddled body was spotted by Soura residents on April 1.

Sympathetic to Kashmir’s separatist cause and known for his proximity to Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chief Yasin Malik, Dr. Guru was extensively questioned for treating the militant commander, hiding him at his residential quarter and subsequently shifting him to a safer place. Mr. Malik had got injured during a raid on his hideout in 1990. Suspected to have tipped off the forces, Sarla, a resident Pandit nurse at SKIMS, was kidnapped and shot dead, allegedly by JKLF militants.

For years, Dr. Guru’s assassination remained shrouded in mystery. In January 2011, former Hurriyat Conference chairman Professor Gani Bhat said at a JKLF seminar that most Kashmiri intellectuals, including Dr. Guru, had been killed “by our own people”.

However, retired bureaucrat Wajahat Habibullah, who functioned as Kashmir’s Divisional Commissioner in 1993, claimed in a book published by the United States Institute of Peace Press in 2008, that the Jammu and Kashmir Police had roped in Hizbul Mujahideen commander Zulqarnain Haider to eliminate the JKLF ideologue.

“The police made an arrangement with Haider, then in custody, who agreed to kill Dr. Guru in exchange for his release. But to ensure that this collusion remained secret, Haider was killed shortly thereafter and the then Director General of Police B.S. Bedi trumpeted his death as a triumph for the security forces,” Mr. Habibullah, also known for his “friendship” with Mr. Malik, recorded in the book.

Dr. Jalal-ud-din, who functioned as SKIMS Director after serving as Head of Department of Cardiology, was ambushed by a group of suspected militants close to his home and clinic at Pampore on July 18, 2013. Both his police guards died and the assassins decamped with their guns.

Critically injured in the attack, which took place in broad daylight, Dr. Jalal was treated at SKIMS but soon shifted to the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, where he died on August 17.

Though Dr. Jalal-ud-din was also known for his ties with the JKLF chairman, police officials believe the strike had been carried out by three local Lashkar-e-Taiba militants “apparently for snatching away the guns of the two PSOs [Personal Security Officers]”.

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