New police-militant faultline in Kashmir Valley: family versus family

Indian Express (Muzamil Jaleel)

The conflict between militants and J&K Police in South Kashmir has come home. For the first time since militancy erupted 28 years ago, close relatives of ten police personnel were abducted by militants in the last 24 hours. By Friday evening, sources said, all of them were freed.

But the abductions have stunned J&K Police and left the top brass embarrassed, especially after a purported video clip went viral — of a relative of one of those abducted pleading for mercy.

They have also escalated tensions across Kashmir, where families of police, especially those not linked to the counter-insurgency Special Operations Group, lived without fear of being targeted. Those abducted and freed include seven sons and three brothers of police personnel.

Sources said one of those abducted Wednesday was almost immediately released. Four others kidnapped a day later were freed early Friday, soon after police released Asadullah Naikoo, father of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo, from custody. The rest were released by evening, sources said.

The abductions, sources said, were triggered by a policy shift where forces started putting “increased pressure on families of militants” across South Kashmir to curb militancy.

Although close relatives of militants have previously been called for questioning, especially after an attack, two homes of militants — Shahjahan Mir of Amshipora Shopian and Syed Naveed of Nazneenpora Shopian — were allegedly burned down this time.

The trigger was the killing of four constables on August 29 in Shopian. At the same time, the son of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen chief Syed Salahudin was arrested by NIA.

Sources said there are two contradictory views within police on handling South Kashmir. A small group of senior officers feel that “vandalism” and “arrests and harassment of close relatives of militants without any evidence” adds to the “legitimacy of militancy on the ground’’. The other, dominant, opinion is to exert pressure on the families as a deterrent.

The hardliners, sources said, see a “Punjab-type” response to militancy, especially the indigenous version in South Kashmir. Here, a direct confrontation between the Kashmiri Muslim police personnel and local militants is seen as a way to turn around the situation.

This approach appears to have gained favour at the Centre, and the J&K administration has placed officers with this “thought process” in key positions. Sources said there was even a proposal to deny bodies of militants killed during encounters to their families. “But no decision has been taken,’’ an officer said.

Sources said the hardliners want “the families of the militants to be targeted on multiple fronts — make their lives so difficult that no other family allows their ward to join militancy”.

A senior police officer said this approach, which shows no distinction between militants, over ground workers and their families, will not work. “We have 30,000 police families. We cannot risk making them vulnerable. Anybody who thinks this escalation will help counter-insurgency is delusional. Policemen will start leaving their jobs,’’ the officer said.

“This is not 1990, when an entire village would empty out when a security vehicle arrives. Today, civilians come out to disrupt operations. Our challenge is not militants — how many are there… 170 to 200? The increased legitimacy for militancy on the ground is the problem,’’ he said.

“In the 1990s, there were a lot of militants but less militancy. Now, there are lesser number of militants but more intense militancy. The only response is to follow the law in letter and spirit. If we go for short cuts, it will boomerang,’’ he said, pointing out that 68 militants have been killed in South Kashmir so far in 2018, as against 76 last year.

The other reason for this escalation is the “removal of local Kashmiri officers from key positions on ground in South Kashmir and at the policy level”. “Local Kashmiri officers, especially those questioning the hardline approach, are being removed from important positions. Apart from an ADG and an IG who oppose that approach, there is no local in the top hierarchy,’’ an officer said.

Asked whether the detention of militants’ family members triggered the abductions, DGP (Kashmir) S P Vaid said: “We used to call them (for questioning) earlier as well”. On the alleged burning down of houses, he said: “I had received information from the Police Control Room.”

Vaid, however, denied that local Kashmiri officers have been removed from key positions. “This is a wrong notion. We post officers (at key positions) based on their performance,’’ he said.

A M Watali, who was DIG when militancy first emerged in Kashmir, described a retaliatory approach as a “new and dangerous trend”. “It will lead to disaster. We used to call family members, especially fathers, of the militants. But our aim was to talk to them so that they would convince their sons to return. We managed to arrest 72 of the 100 active militants. What is happening today is retaliation. Once it becomes a cycle, it won’t stop,’’ he said, adding that the situation is being “mishandled”.

According to police, the others who were abducted and freed include: Shabir Ahmad Zargar of Kangan Pulwama, brother of SOG personnel Zahoor Zargar; Zubair Ahmad Bhat, son of policeman Mohd Maqbool Bhat, Arwani; Arif Ahmad Sankar, brother of Inspector Nazir Ahmad Sankar, Arwani Bijbehara; Faizan Ahmad Makroo, son of policeman Bashir Ahmad Makroo, Kharpora Kulgam; Sumair Ahmad Rather, son of policeman Abdul Salam Rather, Yamrach Yaripora Kulgam; Gowher Ahmad Malik, brother of DySP Aijaz Ahmad, Katapora Kulgam; Yasir Ahmad Bhat, son of ASI Bashir Ahmad Bhat, Watho Shopian; Nasir Ahmad Mir, son of policeman Ghulam Hassan Mir, Midura Awantipora; Mohammad Shafi Mir, brother of policeman Nazir Ahmad Mir, Naman Kakpora; and, Asif Ahmad Rathar, son of Head Constable Mohammad Rafeeq, Pinglish Tral.

Asif Rathar is a PhD scholar at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology.

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