September 2018 News

In Kashmir, Abductions And Intelligence Warfare Cause A Major Churning Within The Police

29 September 2018
The Wire
Azaan Javaid

Srinagar: Last week, militants uploaded threatening pictures of over a dozen special police officers (SPO) on social media and asked them to quit their job. It is unclear why or how the SPOs were identified and targeted. A senior government official, requesting anonymity, revealed the process might have been more complex than appears on the surface. According to official sources, some of the SPOs whose pictures, names, designations and addresses were splashed across Facebook, were part of Electronic Surveillance Units (ESU) that are responsible for monitoring militant and separatist activities on the internet and mobile networks. A district can have multiple ESUs depending upon its size and law and order situation. The units in the past few years have been extremely important in aiding anti-insurgency operations. If the government official is to be believed, targeting individuals from ESUs indicates that the 320 plus militants operating in the Valley might have developed a more intimate understanding of the inner workings of the J&K police department, putting the lower ranking police officials at an even greater risk than ever before. However, a stronger exhibit to establish J&K police force's vulnerability in the Valley, especially in the South, is the what is now known as 'abduction day' among the police. Abduction day refers to August 31, when eleven family members of six policemen were kidnapped by militants in four districts of south Kashmir. The Wire spoke to a number of police officers privy to the developments on August 31. 'Family members of a Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) commander named Hammad Khan were detained and interrogated in June. Soon after, we received an intelligence input that family members of police officers might be targeted,' said a senior police officer posted in Srinagar. Khan is a Hizb commander operating in Tral and a picture of him brandishing an automatic light machine gun (LMG) had gone viral on social media last December. A senior government official said that soon after Khan's family members were interrogated, HM's field operations commander Riyaz Naikoo and his now slain deputy Altaf Dar alias Altaf Kachroo, initiated their plan to pressure law enforcement authorities at the lower levels, i.e SPOs. As intelligence agencies anticipated targeting of police families, Kachroo's killing in Muniward area of south Kashmir in an encounter triggered HM's contingency plan. Hours later, the abductions took place. At least three senior police officers with whom The Wire spoke to said that whereabouts of four abducted individuals were known to the police. However, plans of a rescue operation was dropped as it might put the lives of other hostages at risk. 'We also knew that this is a pressure tactic, a psychological warfare and the hostages will be released soon. We waited for our orders. Lives of the hostages were supreme to us,' said a senior police officer. One officer, also based in Srinagar, said the abductions 'seemed like an operation carried out by not less than 30 militants and 50 overground workers'. 'We can't be certain about the numbers, but each abduction must have involved five-six individuals, given that they were carried out almost simultaneously,' he said. A senior home ministry official, requesting anonymity, said the abductions triggered the transfer of former J&K police director general S.P. Vaid. It is imperative to mention that last year, militants carrying automatic rifles barged into the house of a deputy superintendent of police (DSP) at Shopian, prompting Vaid to say, 'Don't bring families into this conflict. You too have families. If you harass our families, we will do same to your families.' Multiple sources in the police department said Vaid's approach to the abduction was seen as 'soft' by the Centre, meaning he had dealt with the situation in a passive manner. No official enquiry was initiated to uncover the reasons behind the intelligence failure that resulted in an embarrassment for the security forces in Kashmir. However, multiple steps have been taken to maintain the morale of the police. For instance, on September 12, the State Administrative Council (SAC) that functions under the chairmanship of J&K governor Satya Pal Malik since the fall of the state government, decided to enhance ex-gratia to kin of police personnel killed in course of performing duties attributed to act of violence-militancy. This week, a proposal was cleared by the Union home ministry, according to which SPOs with less than five years of service would be entitled to monthly honorarium of Rs 6,000, while those who have completed five and 15 years of service would respectively get Rs 9,000 and Rs 12,000. Earlier, the SPOs drew Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 monthly. While the proposals had been in the offing for quite some time, a senior government official privy to the details of the meeting said 'incidents of August 31' played a crucial role in their sanctioning. 'The possibility of demoralisation within the J&K police was discussed. The abductions of police personnel and their family members in August has impacted the psyche of law enforcement authorities operating at grassroots level. I cannot say the decisions to increase the honorarium is a direct result of the abduction, but they definitely were taken with that it mind,' said a senior government officer, requesting anonymity. However senior IPS officer Vijay Kumar, who is one of the advisors to the governor, maintained that the morale of the local police force is as high as ever. 'They continue to be at the forefront of fighting militancy in Kashmir,' he said. 'The proposal doesn't have anything to do with the abductions. The morale continues to be strong. In the late 80s and early 90s, when militancy first erupted, local police was the third line of defence, behind the army and paramilitary. Now the police is leading the fight against militancy,' Kumar told The Wire. The Wire also spoke to former Union home secretary G.K. Pillai, who said police families have been targeted 'on and off' in the past 15 years. 'During the 2010 protests, several SPOs had resigned fearing repercussions. This happened even during the Punjab militancy. So I wouldn't call it unprecedented. There should be a focus on human intelligence. Furthermore, individuals involved in the kidnappings should be held accountable,' Pillai said. He added that 'unconventional policing methods' like putting 'pressure on militant families' were followed in the past in Punjab and Kashmir. 'Such methods may yield some results, but the overall law and order situation must be improved to prevent such things from happening again. Prevention is more important in such cases,' Pillai added. Meanwhile on Friday evening, an SPO decamped with nine service weapons of colleagues from a police post guarding the residence of a legislator here at Jawahar Nagar, Srinagar. SPO Adil Bashir decamped with the service weapons, including seven AK-rifles, one INSAS and one pistol, from the guard room at J-11, Government Quarters Jawahar Nagar. The residential quarter from where the SPO stole the weapons belongs to Wachi MLA Aijaz Mir. Sheikh was engaged as SPO from March 11, 2017.