*✅Story of Lateef Tiger: Lone surviving militant of “Burhan Group*
Awantipora: It all started on that cold evening in October of 2010.
That’s when he left his home at Shareefabad in South Kashmir, only to return draped in garlands after six years, and with an enormously proud but equally sad and wailing crowd following his coffin.
*The crowd was in a tizzy, not knowing whether to mourn or to celebrate his death. Eventually, they did a bit of both. They were wailing over his death, and praising his elevation into immortal martyrdom with pride.*
Burhan Wani had died only to live on forever.
*A decade long lull in Kashmir’s armed struggle had received a major boost in July of 2015 when the photo of a dozen or so affable local youth, in camouflage and proudly holding AK-47s in their hands, first went viral online.*
It was the dawn of what is now called The New Age militancy in Kashmir.
*The rebels in that iconic photograph were Sabzar Ahmad Bhat, Waseem Malla, Naseer Ahmad Pandit, Ishfaq Hameed, Tariq Ahmad Pandit, Afaaquallah Bhat, Adil Ahmad Khanday, Saddam Padder, Waseem Ahmad Shah, Anees, Lateef Ahmad Dar, and Burhan Wani.*
*While as the government claims to have closed the ‘Burhan group; chapter for good after Saddam Padder’s death, one image still lingered above the graves of the others. It was that of the rough- and- tumble, wavy haired Lateef Ahmad Dar, alias Lateef Tiger. He was the only combatant in the group photo with Burhan who has not been killed, making him:*
“The Lone Survivor.”
On May 13, 2018, the Indian army released a list of the 10 most wanted militant commanders of Kashmir and Lateef Tiger is listed as Number 6. The list was prepared after the death of Saddam Padder. Earlier he was the most wanted Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militant. Now he was replaced by Lateef.
*They always disappoint us,” said Lateef, young and tall and with his mane of long black hair shimmering under the tungsten light. Pakistan was about to lose to Sri Lanka.*
“I am going back home, Zubair. It is pretty late. Ammi, must be worried,” he said to his younger brother.
*All over sudden there was a huge bang, the lights went off, and all went dark. The TV screen’s afterglow still shed a bit of light on everybody’s’ scared faces, as women were heard wailing loudly on the main road along the banks of the river Jehlum.*
Ghulam Dar, an 84 year old man and father of the village Sarpanch, was dead. He had been shot in the face by unknown gunmen. This happened while he was on his way to the mosque for his evening prayers.
*The next day, army vehicles were rushing along the village roads, with masked men sitting in the turrets, and with their eyes darting from side to side while casting suspicious glances upon every village boy on the road.*
The Jammu and Kashmir police were on tenterhooks and doing everything they could to nab the killers of the old man. After all, he was the father of the village head. But soon enough, everything went back to normal. The days passed as usual. For most people it had already become a thing of the past.
*With the skin cracked on his hands, Lateef, a carpenter by profession, got busy again with his daily chores. Ghulam Hassan Dar, his father and professional mentor, had given up the job a few years ago after Lateef had learned the trade.*
Ishfaq, a graduate student, was one of his closest friends. The son of a teacher, he often accompanied him to work so he could keep his friend company. Although a bit younger than Lateef, they could often be seen together somewhere along the banks of the Jehlum, hanging out and watching the silent waters under the russet sky.
*But every now and then the police could be seen at the house of the village head. A door to door questioning had also started by them. The gunmen had been invisible to everyone. Clearly, a sense of fear was palpable among all the eye witnesses.*
A week passed by. It was a normal day. Lateef as usual went to work. At around 5 in the evening, police picked up Ishfaq and asked him about Lateef’s whereabouts. Within an hour, both Lateef and Ishfaq were in police custody, accused of killing the Sarpanch’s father.