Op Bakhpura– Hunting down terrorists who massacred Kashmiri Pandits in Nadimarg

In Nadimarg, Kashmir, the once bustling home of Bhats, a Kashmiri Pandit family, is now a dilapidated house. Terrorists killed 24 members of the Bhat family– 11 men, equal number of women and two toddlers, on 23rd march 2003. An intelligence operative from Military intelligence unit (MI), who was one of the first to visit the site of carnage, says– “16 years on, the Nadimarg massacre still rankles. But I ensured the mastermind of Nadimarg massacre was hunted down”.

The massacre

Nadimarg, a sleepy hamlet, despite being closer to Pulwama district, is administratively under Anantnag. Back in 2003, the village was on the boundary of BSF’s and Indian Army’s area of responsibility (AOR). Both the parties had their share of perplexities as to whose AOR, Nadimarg village was under? Whilst such a quandary whittled down the chances of cordon & search operations and patrols in the village, it also made space for the terrorists to frequent Nadimarg. The Bhat family soon came under the terrorist’s cross-hair.

According to official records, that fateful night terrorists dressed in Army uniform, barged into the house of Bhat family, brought the men out, asked them to kneel down under a tree in the courtyard, and shot them. Post-mortem reports confirm this, as most of the males were found to be hit on their faces. But women were, ostensibly, butchered– reminiscent of the revenge crimes that occurred post independence of India, when trains from Pakistan returned with butchered female body parts.

One of the family member who had escaped unharmed that night, Mohan Bhat, narrates –“after shooting the men, when the terrorists heard a child crying, one of the terrorists shouted– Ye karnawun chupe, ordering the toddler to be silenced and there were more gunshots”. A 90 year old lady, in front of whose eyes, her children and grandchildren were killed brutally, begged the terrorists to kill her too. But a terrorist retorted in Kashmiri — there was no need to kill a dead person. The site of carnage had faceless dead bodies dumped for the vultures to feed on them.

(The above quotes are from Rahul Pandita’s book on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits– Our moon has blood clots)

Dead body of the toddler at Nadimarg

“Despite having seen myriads of dead bodies in our lives, that day me and CO (Commanding Officer) of Infantry unit were aghast at the cruelty this Kashmiri Pandit family had to face. It will haunt me for the rest of my life”, says the Military intelligence officer Abdulla (name changed).

Even before the massacre took place surge in the terrorist activities at Nadimarg had brought it under the radar of intelligence agencies. People had begun schmoozing that Abu Mazza, LeT (Lashkar-E-Toiba) battalion commander, a Pakistani national, who had been frequenting Nadimarg. A bad-to-bone terrorist, skilled at wielding daggers, he was known to slay Mukhbirs— a network of informers our forces have relied on heavily ever since the rise of insurgency in the valley. As early as January 2003, terrorists had begun reconnoitering the Nadimarg village for their operation. Simultaneously intel agencies had begun chasing Abu Mazza, who was busy stifling and head hunting the sleuth network in the valley.

The Chase

For a very long time military intelligence operatives were navigating in the dark, as Abu Mazza had never been photographed.  But like most of the terrorists, this one too was infamous for his debauchery and for being an incorrigible womanizer. Sifting through possibilities to track this terrorist, MI officer, zeroed in on a house in Gundchahal where a man lived with his 3 daughters, aged between 14 and 23 years. Ostensibly, Abu Mazza had been using all the girls for his voyeuristic pleasures. Sources of MI were able track his movements, and then finally MI managed to get a picture of Abu Mazza through their network .

On a spring morning, in February 2003, a month before the massacre, there was an information that Abu Mazza was traveling from Mohamadpura to Anantnag, via Kulgam. He was being accompanied by an over ground worker (OGW), and was ostensibly unarmed. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to neutralize a terrorist, MI officer Abdulla, with his team reached Kulgam bus stand, pronto. But that day Abu Mazza had luck on his side; by the time the spotter– the man tasked to recognize Abu Mazza, reached the Kulgam bus stand the terrorist had hopped into a Tata-Sumo and fled the venue.

“But I saw him. Not a typical Pathan, shorter than average men and a good looking guy in his late 20’s”—says the military intel officer. They say –a book should not be judged by its cover, Mazza’s innocent countenance had no bearing to his misdeeds.

Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in the early 90’s had changed the demography of Jammu and Kashmir, yet Nadimarg was a village known for unity of Hindus and Muslims. The survivors of the Bhat family were requested by Mr Syed Mufti, then Chief Minister of J&K, to stay back in the village and had promised them security. But the Bhat family had lost their love for the land after the attack. Two days after the incident, they left their ancestral village for Jammu.

“The intel failure was nonplussing, we knew terrorists were planning something but could not put a finger to what was it that Abu Mazza & co. were plotting. The massacre was a jolt out of the blue.”—says the Intel officer.

GOC of Victor force Maj Gen Lider, tasked Military intelligence unit to hunt down the terrorists who had executed the carnage, sans any delay. Meanwhile Abu Mazza had changed his mien; once a bearded man, he was now clean-shaven. Late in the month of April, MI and Abu Mazza crossed paths again. This time, Mazza was in for a surprise at Mohamadpura. He had been trapped inside a house by the forces after a massive operation was launched by soldiers from 3 battalions. But to Mazza’s relief, overground workers (OGWs) had managed to disrupt the operation. The din caused by locals and overground workers at the encounter site, facilitated Abu Mazza’s escape among Burkha-clad ladies. Over ground workers have been the mainstay for insurgency movement in Kashmir. Initially their responsibilities were limited to logistic support and intel-gathering, but now they serve gamut of purposes for the terrorist organizations, like recruiting delinquents, purveying disinformation, and if need be, to carry out small scale strikes.

While Mazza escaped death twice, his partners were not as lucky. In the month of march, Mumbai police was successful in killing two Lashkar terrorists involved in Nadimarg massacre. Then in April, arrest of LeT district commander Mustafa was also considered a harbinger of good news, though the mastermind of the massacre was still at large.

The Anantnag district commander of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Zia Mustafa, suspected to be involved in the Nadimarg massacre

The Last lap

In the month of July that year, intel officer Abdulla met with a major accident when the Gypsy he was traveling in, was hit by a truck. Fortunately, the officer escaped with minor injuries. He refused to confirm if the accident was in any way connected to him being a target of terrorist organizations. It’s not uncommon for intel officers to come under attack when terrorist organizations sniff their presence. Two days after being discharged from the hospital, one of his informers alerted him of Mazza’s presence in a house, at Bakhpura (Rakhpura ). Like a Tarantula waiting for his prey to fall into his web, MI Officer Abdulla had been waiting for Mazza to resurface, so that he could be trapped.

A small hit team of  Special Forces (SF) , joined the MI officer in his mission, and they reached Bakhpura (Rakhpura ). Special Forces in action, was elite team of commandos, who are called mustafas of desert warfare. As the name suggests these tough boys are trained for ops in deserts, and then cross trained in all other warfare. Sporadically, they participate in counterinsurgency operations in Kashmir.

Minutes before they were to break into the house, intel officer Abdulla had plethora of emotions disturbing him. “Indeed, there was a trepidation, ergo we had to ensure — the operation had to be done briskly and sans any errors. We wanted to ensure it was Mazza’s last night”.

Captaan Dost and his havaldar buddy were the first to break into the house. As soon as they had barged-in, Mazza who had hid himself in a mut (a huge rice storage container), emerged with his gun to take a shot at the soldiers. The Captain from SF was swift. He ducked the bullets and took a shot at Mazza. Abu Mazza died on the spot! The “dreaded” terrorist could not even put up a decent fight. Violent death Mazza faced had turned him into a sieve– just what he had done to the innocent souls of Bhat family.

“This was a pinpoint operation. There was no collateral damage”- MI officer Abdulla says proudly. The soldiers involved in the operation were decorated by the Indian Army, after all, Abu Mazza was no ordinary terrorist. But officer reveals gleaning information on the man was the toughest part. Since Mazza had gained the reputation of Mukhbir slayer, it took some coaxing and skulduggery on the MI’s part to dig information on him. MI had to create special team to trap Mazza, they had to wait for Mazza to show up at random places from dawn to dusk after being misled by informers, and MI operatives had to put themselves in perilous situations where their life was at risk. The intel operatives had their set of teeth-grinding moments, and head spaces when they had to be morally vacuum to ensure the operation was a success. “It doesn’t come easy. From the day I saw brutal display of savagery at Nadimarg to the day when we hunted down Mazza, I had to let absence of emotions pass through me like a thread through a needle. I had to desensitize myself or it would have become difficult for me maintain my sanity. I had to ensure Operation Bakhpura was a success”—MI Officer paused, and then continued “and finally we avenged the killing of innocents at Nadimarg”.

An article by Levina

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  1. I am so proud of our Kashmiri Pundits. I acknowledge and salute their courage. They were facing most barbaric but coward race from across the border. I am glad that the present dispensation had the courage to abrogate an expired article in the Constitution. I am sure in times to come Pundits would be able to return to their homes in Kashmir. A heart-wrenching narrative Levina.

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