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Cop out: why are policemen fleeing to join militants in Kashmir?

Catch Team | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:40 IST
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Disturbing trend

  • This month, a cop ran away with his rifle but surrendered soon after
  • Since 2012, several policemen have run away to join militants
  • One serving cop was arrested for carrying out 13 militant attacks

Urgent worry

  • IGP Javid Mujtaba Gilani says his force will start start counselling cops
  • Experts say the cops are swayed by the militants\' online propaganda
  • Nasir Pandith joined the militants after fellow cops harassed his father

More in the story

  • How the cop Abdul Rashid Shigan managed to carry out 13 militant attacks?
  • What is the police doing to prevent the desertions?

On 6 February, Riyaz Ahmad Shah fled with his service rifle from a police station in Rainawari in downtown Srinagar, where he was posted. Two days later, he surrendered in Budgam. He's being interrogated and the reasons for his escape are being ascertained.

Read- Facebook recruits: what the disturbing Kashmir militant pictures mean

But in Kashmir valley, his escape had made the people suspect the obvious: Shah would have joined the militants. And not without reason. Over the past 10 months, three police personnel have run away and joined the militants.

Worrying trend

In January, Constable Shakoor Ahmed Parray fled with four AK-47 rifles of his colleagues. He was the Personal Security Officer of Irshad Ahmad Rather, Sub-Divisional Police Officer of Bijbehara in south Kashmir.

Incidentally, three weeks before Shakoor's escape, Rather was critically injured in a militant attack in the market near the Bijbehara police station. Two militants fired at him with a pistol from close range, wounding him in the chest, abdomen and a leg.

Shakoor was with Rather, but he didn't fire in retaliation. When questioned by the police about it, he is said to have claimed that his rifle had slipped out of his hand.

It's a really worrisome trend. We'll start counselling our personnel: IGP Syed Javid Mujtaba Gilani

In March 2015, Nasir Pandith, a guard at the residence of then minister Altaf Bukhari fled with his service weapon. Not long after, pictures surfaced online of a Kalashnikov-wielding Pandith standing alongside Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.

Before that, on 7 February 2015, security forces in Pulwama had killed Syed Mufeed Bashir, a former Special Police Officer turned militant. Mufeed had escaped from Police Lines Pulwama with his weapon just days after joining as an SPO.

Such desertions of police personnel has obviously become a source of deep worry for the security establishment in Kashmir.

"This is really worrisome and we are looking into it," IG, Kashmir, Syed Javid Mujtaba Gilani told reporters. "We have already taken some measures. We will now start counselling cops to prevent them from taking any extreme step."

The police chief K Rajendra has now issued an order barring his personnel from taking weapons along when they go on leave. They will have to deposit their weapons at the nearest post or police station.

Also read- Flashback: When militancy reached Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's doorstep in 1989

The precaution is understandable. Not least because this is the first time in the 26 years of militancy that policemen are fleeing their ranks, with weapons no less, to join militancy.

So, what the rampant militancy of the '90s couldn't achieve is now being inspired by a small band of local militants, revealing a degree of militant penetration into the police.

No single cause

Some security experts put this trend down in part to the aggressive online jihadist propaganda launched by the new tech-savvy breed of largely local militants.

"Social media has made militancy a 24x7 lived reality for everyone. The pictures, videos uploaded by the militants glamorise jihad, ensuring that a steady trickle of the impressionable youth are taken in and join militancy," a police officer explained. "And sometimes a few cops also fall prey to the propaganda."

Others, however, don't give much currency to the "online propaganda", blaming instead the recruitment of Special Police Officers, who are later regularised and promoted as constables.

'Social media has made militancy a 24x7 reality. A few cops also fall prey to this online propaganda

"Many of the SPOs are recruited for their background. It could be for their links with militants, or for sharing some sensitive information, or for being important in intelligence gathering," said another officer. "And it's these men, torn between two sides, who sometimes slip back into their old life."

Indeed, a bitter personal episode is said to have forced Pandith to take to militancy. He reportedly had an argument with the munshi of a police station in his hometown, Pulwama, after the latter picked up his father Ghulam Rasool Pandit over some "misdemeanour".

Since Pandith joined the militancy in March, the Munshi is said to have taken refuge in the police station along with his entire family.

Compromised ranks

Although desertions are new, the police-militant nexus in the state isn't. In 2012, the police arrested Constable Abdur Rashid Shigan for carrying out 13 attacks over 18 months that had killed six people including four policemen, one of them a retired DSP, Abdul Hamid Bhat. Another of his targets was Peer Jalal-ud-Din, a noted faith-healer in Srinagar.

Read more- 23% more attacks, 150% rise in civilian deaths: is the Northeast insurgency back?

After killing Bhat on 11 August 2012, Shigan, who had adopted the alias Omar Mukhtar, called news agencies to threaten more attacks. "We are not against all policemen. We respect those policemen who are pro-movement but we will keep chasing those who have harmed it and they will meet a brutal end," Shigan had told the news agency CNS.

Shigan headed a two-member militant module called Kashmir Islamic Movement. His companion Imtiyaz Ahmad Gojri alias Amir hailed from Nawakadal in downtown Srinagar. According to the police, they operated independent of any known militant outfit.

Shigan is from Lachmanpora, a thick cluster of old houses in Srinagar's Batamaloo. He was well respected in his neighbourhood; he even led the prayers at the local mosque, run by the conservative religious group Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith, and teach Quran at the madrassa.

In June 2012, the police also arrested four other police personnel for having links with militants. Among them was Mukhtar Ahmad Sheikh, reportedly an undercover police agent who had provided SIM cards to the militants involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

We hope that joining militancy doesn't become some sort of a fashion even in the police: senior cop

Soon after Shigan's arrest, the police had exposed a "police-army-militant nexus" in Rajouri district by arresting four people, including the constable Abdur Rahim, Territorial Army's Muhammad Hanief and Muhammad Rashid, a suspected militant.

Although Shah's surrender has brought a "happy ending" to this latest desertion from the police's ranks, Kashmir's security establishment has little reason to cheer. While the number of cops joining the militancy may be tiny, the police is worried about the trend.

"We hope that there are no further desertions and that joining militancy doesn't become some sort of a fashion even in the police," said a police officer. "And to prevent this we are initiating some steps."

Edited by Mehraj D. Lone

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First published: 14 February 2016, 4:46 IST
 
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