Kashmir unrest: Continued targeting of cops by militants threatens the societal structure in state

Situation in Kashmir continues to remain tense, as the security establishment attempts to contain the fallout of the violence of 9 April Srinagar by-polls and the student protests which rocked various parts of the Valley on 17 April. Internet services restrictions have been put in place, telecom operators being instructed to allow only 2G services to prevent any mobilisation and uploading of any inflammatory videos on social media. On the ground, there is an extra deployment of the police forces in major towns to thwart any potential protests.

However, there is a new challenge which has come up for the security establishment. While the government has deployed extra policemen to prevent protests, the policemen themselves are caught between a rock and a hard place as the militant threats are hovering on their heads.

On the night of 15 April, masked gunmen entered houses of two policemen in Meldoora and Hajipora villages of Shopian district in south Kashmir and asked them to publicly announce from the masjids that all policemen should resign en-mass. Earlier, militants had warned the relatives of the policemen to quit their jobs and join them to “fight the oppression.” Last month, on 6 March, at least 10 gunmen vandalised the home of a senior police officer in Shopian and warned his family that he should quit his job or face the consequences.

Incidents such as these have prompted the police department to issue an advisory asking its field personnel to avoid returning to their homes for the next few months especially in south Kashmir.

During the unrest last year after the killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) commander Burhan Wani on 8 July, militants had issued several warnings to the local police to stay away from the protests and not harass the participating youth. The militants were particularly incensed by the use of excessive force by the security forces on the protesters.

The international human rights organisation, Amnesty International too had criticised the security forces for this.

The warnings from militants included threats of dire consequences if the policemen harassed the families of militants. For instance, in December 2016, Burhan’s successor, Zakir Rashid Bhat, had in a video warned the family members of policemen that they would be attacked if the police continued to harass relatives of the militants. “You (police) have committed a big mistake by harassing our families, by involving our families. If you touch our families, we will not spare your families. You think your families are in Jammu so they are safe. Even if your families are in Kanyakumari, we have the capacity to kill them there,” he had warned.

 Kashmir unrest: Continued targeting of cops by militants threatens the societal structure in state

Representational image. PTI

This spurred the police to retaliate. After an attack on the senior policeman’s home in March, the Director General of Police SP Vaid too warned the militants saying “militants should realise that they too have families." He said, "We have always been nice to the families of militants and have always asked them to get their children to surrender and rehabilitate, but they have attacked our families. They should realise their families live in Kashmir only."

Yet, the militant gaze on police and the recent killings have set alarm bells ringing in the security establishment and have worried their families. And this concern is increasing with each passing day.

The policemen and their families, this reporter talked to, repeatedly requested us to not to write their names in the report. The son of one of the police personnel posted in Srinagar told Firstpost that, “My father is one among the revered persons of the village. He is very religious. There is no threat, but yes the feeling of insecurity is among all of us.” He believes that the police chief’s advisory is right. “We too feel, they should avoid coming home, as it adds to our worries,” he said.

A policeman from Anantnag in south Kashmir who spoke to Firstpost on the condition of anonymity said that his family calls him many times a day. He added that he has gone through the trauma last year. “Last year the situation was different, though I am not in executive police. I used to stay inside my house whenever I visited home in between,” he told Firstpost. He believes that now “the situation is calm as compared to last year,” but adds that the “militant threat is worrisome.”

Last year’s unrest was particularly unnerving for the policemen since the separatist leadership had publicly named some police officers, who were part of the crackdowns on the protestors.

In one such case Chairman of Hurriyat, SAS Geelani had named a sub-inspector Mir (full name withheld by the media reports), for allegedly firing pellets on protesters in south Kashmir.

Commenting on the trend, Sameer Patil, a security analyst at Gateway House, a Mumbai-based think tank told Firstpost, “This trend of the militant threats to the policemen in the Valley is not new, as earlier too there have been several warnings from the militant tanzeems. What is different this time is publicly singling out of the particular police officers which in the current security environment, will surely impact affect their morale, particularly those involved in the sensitive counter-insurgency operations.”

This naming of specific police personnel has also created a dilemma for many policemen who are bound by their profession and concerned about their livelihood but weary of social boycott in their locality.

While the J&K Police grapples with the threats to its own personnel, militants, perhaps as a sign of demonstrating their intentions, have targeted the mainstream political activists and a counter-insurgent.

A political worker, Bashir Ahmad Dar was killed in Pulwama district while his cousin, Altaf Ahmad was injured when gunmen opened fire on them on 15 April. Similarly an advocate, Imtiyaz Ahmad Khan, who was believed to be associated with the political party, was shot dead on 17 April in Shopian. On the same day, Kashmir’s infamous counter-insurgent Rashid Billa was killed at his home in Hajin area of Bandipore district in north Kashmir. He was a former notorious renegade of Ikhwan era in the early days of the insurgency.

These killings and the militant threats to police, coupled with the several video clips of political workers being forced to give up their association with the political parties have created a fear psychosis amongst those who have been associated in one way or the other with the mainstream political process. On 18 April, Bashir Ahmed Wani, President of the Pulwama Traders Federation resigned from the post saying that he had no direct or indirect affiliation with any political party.

Whatever the outcome of this current phase of unrest, it is clear that the sustained targeting of the police personnel has created dilemma for many policemen, especially those at the lower levels who are vulnerable to random acts of violence and also sensitive to any ostracizing by the society at large in the current surcharged environment.

Updated Date: Apr 20, 2017 18:55:32 IST