Srinagar: The trend of snatching and stealing of service rifles by potential militants has landed security forces in Kashmir in a spot of bother. There has been a steep rise in such incidents in the recent years and most of the stolen weapons are ending up in the hands of Hizbul Mujahideen militants.
A wary J&K Police has now asked its personnel not to retain their weapons while going on leave and instead deposit them in the post or nearest police station, according to a PTI report.
On 24 December, deputy superintendent of police Irshad Ahmed Rather was on duty to check security arrangements for an ongoing Eid-e-Milad procession in Bijbehra town of south Kashmir when militants fired at him. Rather and Tanveer Ahmad, the constable accompanying him, received multiple bullet injuries.
Twenty-four days after the incident, Shakoor Ahmad, a constable and Personal Security Officer (PSO) of Rather, went missing with four service rifles and two of his friends. Although the friends - Gazi Ahmad Dar and Aaqib Ahmad Dar - were arrested, he still remains at large and has possibly joined militancy.
“He was roaming in the Shopian area with these weapons before we arrested his two accomplices and he has obviously joined militancy. But he would be caught soon,” DIG South Kashmir Nitish Kumar told Firstpost in Anantnag. The police are looking at the possibility that the attack on the DSP might have been carried out by militants in collaboration with missing Ahmad.
The first incident of a policemen decamping with a service rifle in Kashmir happened when Naseer Ahmad Pandit, a constable posted at the residence of Altaf Bukhari, a minister in the PDP-BJP coalition government, decamped with his service rifle in March 2015. He later joined Hizbul Mujahideen and was later seen in a picture with militant commander Burhan Wani. The picture went viral on social media.
Two incidents of policemen decamping with service rifles have been reported so far and there have been some where they have been attacked for weapons. A pattern is visible. Those who wanted to join militancy in recent years have first snatched weapons from security forces and then become part of mainly Hizbul Mujahideen group.
“In one instance, we arrested a boy hours before he was supposed to be approached by militants on the outskirts of Srinagar. He had stolen a pistol and was waiting for militants to approach him,” according to a police officer.
A daring attempt was carried out in September last year when unidentified gunmen decamped with a service rifle of a policeman posted outside the district court complex in Kulgam district in south Kashmir. The pistol borne attackers sprayed chilli powder into the policemen’s eyes before snatching his rifle.
Unlike in the past, when after becoming a militant there was a chance of returning to normal life, security agencies say, now militants exhaust all the options of leading a normal life.
“It is a loyalty test. The new Kashmiri militants won’t allow anyone to be part of their groups until he either snatches a weapon or kills policemen, and then all the doors of leading to normal life gets closed,” a police official said.
According to sources in Jammu and Kashmir Police, all those who have snatched weapons or stolen in recent years have ended up with militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, whose cadre largely comprises local Kashmiri militants led by the commander of the group Burhan Wani.
Kumar, the DIG, said there were two reasons behind the number of weapon-snatching incidents going up. “One is they (militants) don’t have weapons and they can’t buy them in Kashmir because the government here doesn’t make weapons. Second is the strict guard at the Line of Control (LoC),” he said.
Infiltration from across the LoC has witnessed a dramatic decline in recent years. One of the reasons attributed to this is strengthening of the counter infiltration grid along the LoC to prevent militants from sneaking in.
Lt Gen SK Dua, General Officer Commanding (GoC) of 15 Corps, told Firstpost recently that although militants “are eager to cross the LoC and are waiting at their launching pads” there had been almost zero infiltration in the Valley in the year 2015.
The Jammu and Kashmir Police refuses to make public the number of incidents in recent years in which weapons were snatched, but acknowledges it as a challenge.
“In the past two years, militants have resorted to more than half a dozen hit and run attacks besides injuring the forces and snatching their rifles. This is worrisome,” a police official in south Kashmir said.
“It is a disturbing new reality, but most of the times attempts made to snatch weapons have been foiled. Efforts have been made to to ensure this doesn’t get repeated,” Director General of police, K Rajendra had told Firstpost last year, after a weapon-snatching incident.
The new Kashmiri militants, who have joined the different groups in recent years, have largely survived without much arms and ammunition, according to experts, something, which was not the case in early nineties when crossing the LoC was easy and manageable.