As Home Minister Rajnath Singh lands in Kashmir to review the Ramzan ceasefire, declared by the Centre on May 16 and due to end on June 16, the police and paramilitary forces are divided on the success of the conciliatory measure.
Though militant groups in the Valley rejected the ceasefire, top police officials in the Valley had insisted that the ceasefire had been a success so far. A week into the ceasefire, Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police Shesh Paul Vaid had tweeted that it had been “successful thus far” and “helped in general improvement in law & order”. In South Kashmir, he claimed, “the situation has eased & is serving as confidence Building Measure for families who want their boys to return back home.”
Two weeks and several grenade blasts later, a senior police official still claimed the ceasefire had been a success, giving the police space for more “holistic measures”. The six months that had preceded the ceasefire had seen the highest number of militant deaths in the last decade, he pointed out. “We haven’t operated for 20 days doesn’t mean we have given them the upper hand,” he said. “Statistically this ceasefire still comes from a position of strength.”
Taking advantage of the ceasefire, the police has shifted its focus to building cases against individuals and organisations in conflict with the law, intensifying investigations and defending its cases in court. As a result of its efforts, on June 2, the high court cancelled the bail granted to Dukhtaran-e-Millat chief Asiya Andrabi and four others from her outfit, the Dukhtaran-e-Millat, labelled a “soft-terror” group by the police.
Even as the police establishment insists it is taking “non-combative” actions against militancy, paramilitary forces complain that they are increasingly under pressure in law and order situations.
An officer of the Central Reserve Police Force said there was “dissatisfaction” among its personnel. “We are not against peace but a ceasefire has to be bilateral, not unilateral,” he said. “A nuclear power has become helpless before some militants”.
Police officials claim that the ceasefire had addressed, “to some extent”, the public’s fear of the government’s “muscular approach”. “The state has shown its benevolence to the people,” he said. “The same hasn’t been from the militants side.”
On the night of June 5, militants launched an attacked on an army camp in north Kashmir’s Hajin, a town marred by a string of civilian killings. On the night of May 16, the day the ceasefire was announced, a civilian was tortured and killed, allegedly by militants.
Over the past three weeks, the Valley has witnessed a range of militant attacks: several grenade attacks have injured civilians and security forces, at least 11 weapons have been stolen from the police, army installations have been targeted and roadside bombs planted. Meanwhile, alleged infiltrators have been killed in the forests of North Kashmir, not far from the Line of Control. Two militants gunned down in Tangdhar were youth from South Kashmir whose bodies were exhumed and taken back to their villages where they were given large public funerals.
But the senior police official maintained the attacks were not a sign that the situation in the Valley had deteriorated. Resorting to grenade attacks, he explained, was the militants’ way of maintaining anonymity. “There is a leadership crisis,” he said. “The Lashkar and Hizb are not able to hold it anymore.”
At least one militant group, al Badr, which was defunct for years, is said to have been revived. But the official said it showed “signs of split in the militant groups” as al Badr had absorbed cadres of the Hizbul Mujahideen. “The emergence of multiple groups shows that the central command of the terrorists has been broken,” he said. “No outfit now holds command.”
Another sign of an improvement, the officer said was the fact that “flashpoints” had not led to “protracted unrest”. And there have been several potential flashpoints over the past few weeks. There were multiple incidents of security forces opening fire on protestors. Then Leetul Gogoi, the army officer held responsible for using a “human shield” last year, was detained by the police for allegedly trying to enter a hotel with a young girl. On June 1, a paramilitary vehicle that was pelted with stones in Srinagar ran over three youth, killing a 21-year-old. A case has been registered against Central Reserve Police Force personnel involved in the incident.
Or a dip in morale?
But while the police hold up the new emphasis on legal means as one of the successes of the ceasefire, the Central Reserve Police Force has mixed feelings about it. The recent registration of first information reports in cases involving personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force has led to a dip in the force’s morale, its officials said. Police officials, however, insist that FIRs are necessary to take cognisance of incidents, particularly when a person is killed.
Referring to the atmosphere of hostility towards paramilitary personnel, a Central Reserve Police Force official said that his men were “afraid to use their guns in life threatening situations” for the fear of legal action. “They [the government] have to be crystal clear about what they want from soldiers who are doing their bonafide duties,” he said.
Senior police officials, however, disagree. “There has to be a rule of law response where they are put to trial,” the senior official said. “Killings can’t be the only response.” They also point out that there had been periods of unannounced ceasefire earlier as well.
Talk of talks
Politically, too, the ceasefire has drawn a mixed response. On Wednesday, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti blamed militants for “sabotaging” the ceasefire process.
Overtures to the separatist camp are yet to bear fruit. On May 25, Rajnath Singh had announced that the government was ready for dialogue with the separatists and Pakistan. “If Hurriyat is ready to talk, we have no problem, we are ready to talk to anyone. Even if Pakistan comes for a dialogue, we are ready for it,” Singh had told AajTak. But he qualified this statement: “Pakistan has to stop promoting terrorism first.”
But the separatist leadership of the Hurriyat were wary. “Let the Indian government give clarity on what it wants to talk about and speak in one voice. We are ready to join the process,” the prominent joint separatist leadership had said in a statement. “The ambiguity leaves little room to consider the talk about talks seriously.”
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