Starved Of Pay, J-K 'special Forces' Run Away
5 May 2003
The Indian Express
Doda: In this township in the thick of anti-insurgency operations, the J-K Police is suffering an unlikely casualty. Complaining of non-payment of salaries for the last three months, almost 100 Special Police Officers (SPO) have deserted their posts in the Doda forests, taking their weapons - AK-47s, light machine guns and self-loading rifles - with them. Sources said that last week, senior police officers managed to bring back 34 SPOs with their weapons with promises to settle their issues soon. The district police administration is holding them in Doda Police Lines and is interrogating six suspected leaders. The state government, on its part, is saying it is looking into the matter, but no senior official was willing to come on record. With a change in government and its security policies, the SPOs are a casualty in the complexities that dog counter-terrorist operations in J-K. Raised by state police along with material and training support of the Army, the SPOs staffed the Special Task Force (STF) and the dreaded Special Operations Group (SOG). Most, like Zorawar Singh (name changed), had all the right qualifications to be signed up as SPOs. They had lost a family member to terrorist attacks, knew the local language and the treacherous terrain and were physically and psychologically fit to take up arms in the war against terror. Trained by the Army, they took up the Kalashnikov, guiding the police and Army columns through jungle terrain and mountain passes during operations. Each kill would be awarded with a citation from the local unit commander and promises of becoming a regular policemen. All that changed when the People's Democratic Party (PDP) government came to power with its 'healing touch' and a resolve to disband the SOG. Senior police officers say that while the PDP government was keen to weed out the Ikhwani elements - the surrendered militants - the SPOs became a natural target. 'They are our best force-multiplier. They serve as personal security officers, go out on counter-terrorist operations and help fill the gap that the police could not fill when militancy arrived in the state,' says a senior police official. But this year, with a change in government the state government was delayed in picking up the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) - funds that come from the Centre for security and also pays the salaries of the SPOs. For three months without their monthly allowance of Rs 1,500, many started abandoning their posts with their weapons, sending shock-waves through the local security establishment. The state government's resolve to allow only matriculates into the police has SPOs staring at a bleak future. Most left school years ago and are even scared to go back where militants regularly visit their homes looking for them. Meanwhile, with political parties threatening to make this an issue for political gains, state police officials are in a bind.