Operation All-Out: The abject ‘surrender’ of the surrender policy in Kashmir
On 28 March, a joint team of 53 Rashtriya Rifles of the Indian Army, Special Operations Group (SOG) of Jammu and Kashmir Police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel claimed to have killed Touseef Ahmad Wagay. Wagay, a 22-year-old Hizb militant, was killed in an ‘encounter’ in Durbagh Chadoora in central Kashmir’s Budgam district.
He was a resident of south Kashmir’s Kulgam district and was killed in a house owned by Dr Shaheen.
Highly placed sources revealed that Wagay was being treated at Shaheen’s house for Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). At the time of the ‘encounter’, the Hizb rebel was carrying “only a pistol” with him.
The house in which Wagay had been hiding in for “three-to-four days” was eventually destroyed in a blast triggered by the government forces that had cordoned off the area.
A Hyundia car, bearing registration number JKO1P-1578, parked in the garden of Dr Shaheen’s house too was severely damaged in the blast.
Could Wagay have been captured alive?
Why was a rebel in poor health conditions killed and not persuaded to surrender with an aim to gather vital information from him about his armed group, other modules and possible sleeper cells in Budgam district?
Was it necessary to kill him when it was perhaps more useful to catch him alive, especially, when he, apparently, was not even in a position to fight?
That's how it works?
According to Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), Kashmir’s prominent human rights body –
“This is yet another example of how the armed forces are interested in a monetary reward for killing militants, instead of arresting (them). This policy of monetary rewards ensures extrajudicial killings by incentivising it (these).”
Indian Army personnel participating in an encounter do not get any monetary reward if an armed rebel is arrested, and captured alive. However, the local police personnel do get monetary rewards either way.
But is this the only reason why we don’t witness enough surrenders any longer?
A top source in police’s counter insurgency cell said that rationale raison d’être in relation to monetary rewards, citation and out-of-turn promotion may all be valid within a given context, but “lack of training and the lapses in operational procedures” need to be factored in as well.
“Sadly, even after fighting militancy for the last 27 years we don’t have a psychologist with us who could actually motivate a militant to surrender by handling critical moments in a professional manner,” the source said.
Lack of advanced training and expertise in “room interventions”, the source argued, is yet another critical reason why fewer and fewer surrenders are made possible during these encounters.
Other factors include “lack of coordination among the Indian Army, CRPF and SOG during any anti-militancy operation”, he added.
According to Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), a district Superintendent of Police (SP) is the person in charge of the encounter. “In most cases though, the district SPs don’t assert themselves enough to prevail upon the Army and CRPF,” he said.
Though there are examples from the recent past where offers of surrender have been made to some militants, such cases – after the so-called ‘Operation All-Out’ launched this April – are very rare.
The issue of a surrender
In early March, two Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militants and two civilians were killed after a nine-hour-long gun battle between government forces and armed rebels in south Kashmir’s Awantipora area in Pulwama district.
Among the two trapped militants was a local rebel identified as Shafi Shergujri.
Government forces brought forth Shergujri’s family members, including his wife Dilshada and mother, to the encounter site. The stated aim was to persuade Shergujri to surrender. Media reports said that Shergujri’s wife and mother made repeated pleas, on the loudspeaker, asking him to come out and surrender. But, nothing worked.
Shergujri was eventually killed along with his associate, Jehangir Ganai.
In the recent past, a purported telephone conversation between an India Army’s company commander and a top Lashkar militant, Abu Dujana, went viral.
According to the taped audio conversation, the army commander was speaking to Dujana in a cordial and courteous manner to which the rebel commander was responding in equal measure – as if both knew each other pretty well. However, Dujana too refused to surrender and got killed.
But, such offers of surrender seem to be history now.
As per ‘Operation All-Out’, government forces seem to have prepared a proposal to inflict massive damage on Kashmir’s armed rebellion. Especially in the hotbed of Kashmir’s new-age of rebellion in south Kashmir’s four districts – Pulwama, Shopian, Anantnag and Kulgam.
Reliable sources said that at least 258 armed rebels, which include 130 locals, from various militant outfits have been “identified to be eliminated” – strategically in phases.
“To achieve maximum results, government’s intelligence agencies have carried out a covert district-wise survey to locate militant safe houses,” a highly-placed source revealed.
“Police is deriving benefits from excellent human intelligence,” he added.
On 12 December 2016, Director General of Jammu and Kashmir Police SP Vaid said that local armed rebels operating in the Kashmir Valley were “rejecting surrender offers” made by government forces when they get trapped during encounters.
“We don’t intend to kill our own local boys. We do offer them to surrender whenever they are caught in the encounters or wherever they are zeroed in by the forces,” Vaid told Srinagar-based English daily Greater Kashmir.
He noted that directions in this regard “have been passed on to all the SSPs in all the 10 districts of Kashmir to use loud speakers for offers of surrender before the encounter breaks out”.
In April 2017, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti directed all government security agencies, especially the state police, to take families of local militants in “confidence” so as “to bring militants back to the mainstream”.
Chairing a Unified Command meet — held to review the security situation in the Himalayan Valley — Mehbooba Mufti asked government forces “to ensure that the families of Kashmiri militants were not harassed.”
However, opposition Jammu and Kashmir National Conference’s Provincial President Nasir Aslam Wani, aka Nasir Sogami, believes that in the absence of a robust surrender policy by the PDP-led coalition government, Kashmir is witnessing killings of militants who are “even 15-day” old.
“Even during the peak of militancy, National Conference-led government’s surrender policy had shown excellent results on the ground. Nowadays, we, unfortunately, see 15-day militants being killed and not being given a chance to surrender,” Sogami said.
He added that even after Mehboob Mufti’s public statement at Zewan, in which she directed government forces to persuade local rebels to surrender, the facts on the ground suggest otherwise.
“See, militancy is a mindset. Eventually, the wisdom demands that a sustained dialogue with all shades of opinions is initiated for sustained peace in the state,” Sogami said.
It is, however, difficult to conclude whether ‘Operation All-Out’ will eventually prove successful or counterproductive. Arguments are made either way.
The other side of this act
Since March this year, government forces have been successful in killing at least eight top commanders of Hizb and Lashkar. These include Abu Dujana, Bashir Lashkari, Ayub Lelhari and Junaid Matoo of Lashkar, and Yasin Itoo alias Ghaznavi and Sabzar Bhat of Hizb. Most of them were put in category ‘A’, ‘A+’ and ‘A++’ and carried a bounty of over a million Indian rupees each.
Sabzar, who had replaced the popular tech-savvy Hizb commander Burhan Wani, was killed on 28 May in an encounter in Tral, his hometown. Junaid Matoo of Lashkar was killed in June, Bashir Lashkari in July and Dujana, Yasin Itoo and Ayub Lelhari in August.
Sources in the police intelligence department said that “at least 120 militants have been neutralised” in first seven months of the current year.
But, on the other hand, at least 30 locals joined the rebel ranks in the first four months this year. Even in the once militancy-free districts of Srinagar and Ganderbal, there are more than 20 militants operating as of now.
“Well, militancy is a mindset. We may be able to neutralise all those wielding guns in their hands, but how does one deal with a militant mind that is prevalent in Kashmir?” asked a top source in police’s counter-insurgency grid.
“Kashmir requires a political intervention at the highest level,” he insisted.
Despite the joint combing operation ‘Operation All-Out’, the police’s counter-insurgency data reveals 34 new boys have joined the ranks of the armed rebels.
The Srinagar-based Mirwaiz echoed a similar sentiment that more and more boys will be lured to pick up the gun.
After being barred from delivering his customary Friday sermon at Srinagar’s historic central mosque (Jama Masjid), Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said on 18 August –
“The sentiment of freedom cannot be killed by the Government of India’s (GoI) ‘permanent solution’ to the Kashmir problem, which is ‘to eliminate all the gun-wielding youth’.”
Mirwaiz Umar warned the PDP-BJP coalition government that for each youth killed, “ten more will stand up”. “The ‘problem’ – unrest and armed rebellion in Kashmir – will continue as long as there was ‘repression’”, the moderate Hurriyat leader said in his address at the Friday congregation after nearly 60 days of continued house arrest.
Another top source in the police’s counter-insurgency grid, however, claimed that militancy in Kashmir is on the decline because “we have been able to eliminate some thinking militant commanders like Yasin Itoo, Dujana and Bashir Lashkari in quick time”.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen