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Amid India-Pakistan hostility, army focuses on 'surrender-return policy' in J&K: Rehabilitating young recruits riddled with issues

Following the chain of events post the Pulwama car bomb attack on 14 February, 2019, de-escalation is under process in the India-Pakistan equation. The attention, therefore, is once again returning to the internal issues of Jammu and Kashmir although the national electoral scene in the next few weeks will take eyeballs elsewhere. However, it is good to see, among the more important news emanating from the Valley, that a fresh surrender and return policy appears to be on the cards.

Recent utterances by the Indian Army leadership also appear to point towards encouraging parents to influence their wayward sons who are in the ranks of the terrorists to return and be assimilated back in society. It is even better to see the army once again taking the lead in doctrinal issues at the apex level because in recent months that space appeared to have been abdicated by the Army.

The context here is the surrender and return policy. 'Surrender' relates to those locals who have picked up arms against the State while 'return' is applicable to those who had gone across the Line of Control (LoC) at different times in the quest of training and joining the terrorist ranks, could not return and now wish to get back home and be assimilated in society. The latter may or may not have wielded arms against the State. It is not certain whether the draft policy under formulation and awaiting final approval has any provision for return from across the LoC; it could well be just a policy for surrender of those who are in terrorist ranks and can be influenced by their parents to break away from the shackle hold of terror.

 Amid India-Pakistan hostility, army focuses on surrender-return policy in J&K: Rehabilitating young recruits riddled with issues

Representational image. AFP

Such a policy harps on the fact that many who pick up the gun do so at the spur of a moment of emotion and negative passion, many times without conviction. It has been happening at or just after funerals of local terrorists in particular. Many are disillusioned within a few days but find it difficult to perk up the courage to breakaway and are uncertain how they will be perceived by society and especially by the law. With a transparent policy in place it becomes easier for intelligence agencies, the army and other security forces (SF) to embark on a campaign to influence the mind of the local terrorists as also the mind of the parents and relatives.

However, it is not such a simple issue either. In the early nineties, a surrender policy without any resettlement package was put in place. It led to the creation of the Ikhwan ul Muslimeen which assisted the army and the police in many operations but could never be accepted and integrated within the society. In 2003-04, the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed-led Peoples Democratic Party government evolved another surrender policy under his 'Healing Touch' program.

The provisions of this policy required the potential individual contemplating surrender to be a listed terrorist as per the roster maintained by the CID Jammu and Kashmir, to hand over a serviceable weapon/firearm and be prepared for a sympathetic legal process which would usually be much more relaxed. As a reward, he would receive a sum of Rs 1.5 lakh in a fixed deposit in the bank and a stipend of Rs 3,000 per month for a fixed period of time.

My personal experience with this policy was that every attempt was made to circumvent it and lay hands on the promised sum of money. Weapons were available then at a cost of Rs 5,000 for a pistol smuggled from Muzaffarabad and about Rs 15,000 for an old pattern AK-47. People made desperate attempts at being designated terrorist by getting hold of derelict weapons even those in high state of rust. Family members of some who had probably assisted terrorists in logistics activity of a kind made attempts to reach out to army and police camps to prove how their relatives were actually terrorists.

This did not fool anyone in authority. However, some genuine cases of surrender did take place. The unfortunate experience I carry is that while many got their fixed deposits, others did not and in Kashmir's corruption-ridden system there were enough demanding their pound of flesh to become part financial beneficiaries of the meager amount that had been promised.

Surrendered terrorists once released from custody if held, and for the sake of security, are required to report to the designated police station or an army camp on a regular basis to ensure that there are not involved in any nefarious activities. Over a period of time this system, called 'haazree', has got diluted and control over surrendered terrorists has waned making them vulnerable and viable candidates who might make a re-entry into terrorism, especially if they have not received any compensation package or in any way become victims of corruption. These segments of people are always available for re-recruitment to terrorist ranks and keeping tabs on them has become more and more difficult.

A return policy was attempted in 2006-07. There was lack of clarity about the terms and conditions. One more was tried in 2010-11. However, the fear of the authorities always remained the possibility of sleeper agents being inducted by Pakistan's ISI into the Valley. A few people did succeed in reaching Dubai and Nepal from where they made their way to India. The cost was very high and compensation insufficient to cover it. It also gave rise to an infiltration mafia in Nepal to extract its own price. Those who did return successfully, added to the numbers who had to be under surveillance making that task even more difficult.

The proposed surrender policy is apparently looking at a stipend of Rs 6,000 per month for three years along with job and other rehabilitation measures. In Jammu and Kashmir, such vagueness helps no one and ends up being one more failed attempt, leading to more frustration. An organisation or a body designated to oversee this and, more importantly, monitor the post surrender process of merger of former terrorists in society.

Specifications about the legal process must again be transparent. There are enough people waiting in the wings to exploit an honest attempt by the government but such attempts need to be thought through in consultation with the public itself and with experienced hands. A surrender policy is the need of the hour as stated by many former army and police officials but without proper commitment to implementation and monitoring it will again emerge cropper.

Perhaps a look at the United Nations model of surrender and disarming of parties to the conflict and their re-integration in society so successfully executed in countries like Mozambique may give us better ideas on the evolving and implementation of such a policy.

The author is a retired lieutenant-general of the Indian Army and tweets @atahasnain53

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Updated Date: Mar 12, 2019 12:59:58 IST