Kashmir issue

J&K Police face internal threat: cops who sympathise with the insurgency

An estimated 128 state policemen face charges for abetting insurgency.

One recent day, as Abdul Rashid Shigan waited in Srinagar's Saddar Lower Court with his right hand cuffed to the belt of a policeman, he displayed a diary containing notes from his many court appearances.

“Twenty-seven cases,” said Shigan, smiling. He faces charges of murder, attempted murder and waging war against India. The authorities say he committed these crimes between February 2010 and August 2012, while he was a constable in the Jammu & Kashmir Police. Even as he wore the official uniform, he was also allegedly a militant with the Kashmir Islamic Movement, a fringe affiliate of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen separatist group.

Among Shigan’s alleged targets were fellow J&K Police officers, activists of the ruling National Conference party, suspected informants, moderate separatists, several paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force camps and former law minister Ali Mohammad Sagar. Shigan denies all the charges.

Shigan is just one example of a longstanding problem in Kashmir: even as they had been employed to collect ground intelligence that could quell the 25-year-long insurgency, more than 100 members of the state’s police force face charges for abetting separatism and many more are said to believe in Kashmir’s right to political self-determination.

Shigan was first arrested for links with rebels in 2000, a year after he joined the state police. “Yes, I was a militant, but I was reinstated into the police” on court orders in 2002, said Shigan, 35.

He was arrested again in August 20, 2012. According to his interrogation report, Shigan operated under the aliases Molvi Muslman and Umar Mukhtar. He is accused of killing a retired deputy superintendent of police, Abdul Hamid Bhat, on August 10, 2010. Bhat had risen to prominence after subduing anti-government protests in Srinagar’s restive old city that year.

The Union Government and intelligence agencies point to a decline in militant attacks in recent years and reduced infiltration across the Line of Control as an indicator that the insurgency is losing potency. But that interpretation is misreading, said Mir Shafkat Hussain, a lawyer who has defended several policemen accused of militant involvement.

“The resistance movement here is not what the prevalent discourse emanating from Delhi says,” said Hussain. “It is indigenous and that is why has been going on for so many years.”

Former Research and Analysis Wing chief AS Dulat said that as talk about infiltration in the force has grown, there has been an increase in recruits with a radical bent of mind. "That is a matter of concern,” he said.

Few police officers will openly acknowledge anti-India or pro-separatist bias within the 80,000-strong force’s rank and file. As local representatives of Indian authority in Kashmir, the police are prime targets for insurgents themselves. “You have to expect that [some policemen] will have to face internal ideological conflict,” said a deputy police superintendent who worked with Kashmir’s notorious counter-insurgent Special Operations Group, requesting anonymity.

“At one point, he’s a Kashmiri, second he’s Muslim," this official said. "Because of these two facets he has to be – I can’t say sympathetic, but he’s in a moral dilemma. He has to oscillate between extremes.”

Inside the courtroom, an officer guarding Shigan said that there are 128 policemen facing charges of abetting insurgency in the state.

Not long after Shigan’s arrest in August 2012, during a speech in Aligarh former J&K governor SK Sinha said that half of the state’s police were militant sympathisers. In 1990 and 1993, hundreds of J&K Police went on strike over allegations of mistreatment by Indian soldiers.

“Ninety per cent of the Kashmiri police, from 1990 to 1996, were directly involved in militancy activities,” said Shigan’s lawyer MA Pandit, who has defended several rebels. “At this time also, I can find 20%-30% of the police force who are supporting militant activities in Kashmir. If I know it, India definitely knows.”

While overt opposition is unusual today, Pandit claimed that for most members of Kashmir’s state police, the “heart remains against India”.

One young constable told Scroll.in on condition of anonymity that he had twice hurled stones at Indian paramilitary troops since joining the force, both occasions when he was on leave. Ironically, he said he had been recruited in 2011 as part of a central government-backed drive to curb stone-pelting.

A 20-year veteran constable with the Criminal Investigation Department wing of the police said that many people join the police force to save themselves from arrest. "I would say approximately 1,500 stone pelters had joined since 2011,” he said.

Yet Kashmir’s Inspector General of Police Abdul Gani Mir said any tension between state police and Indian military forces is operational rather than ideologically motivated – the result of wanting to claim credit for tactical successes and intelligence inputs.

“For policemen there is one ideology, and that is policing,” he said.

Ex-RAW chief Dulat also said questions of a trust deficit between India’s security apparatus and local police in Kashmir were exaggerated. “By and large the J&K Police has been a professional force," said Dulat. "If today the situation is under control, huge credit must go to them.”

Inspector General Mir said J&K Police applicants undergo an elaborate screening process and that Shigan’s case is an anomaly. He did admit, though, that the “system needs to be refined”.

 

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