The new surrender policy of J&K Police prioritises reuniting militants with their families
In November, shortly after joining the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Majid Irshad Khan returned to his family. His return was very high-profile, as his decision to join the militancy had created waves across the state. video of his distraught mother desperate for his return had gone viral, even as many of his friends had taken to social media to beg him to come back.
While Lashkar denied that Majid had surrendered, claiming instead that he'd been allowed to return home as he was the lone son of his parents, Majid's return is being celebrated as a success story for one of the J&K Police's newest policies to fight militancy in the state.
Called the ‘No surrender, no apprehension policy’, its USP is that militants will no longer have to report to police, but can now return to their families and settle straight back into their normal lives.
“We will automatically come to know about every youth who returns home and remove his name from the list of active militants,” Munir Khan, ADGP of J&K, told a local daily. He said that this is being done to reassure militants that they will face “no security threat, harassment, or the fear of reprisal”. Majid's return is therefore naturally seen as a success of this policy, whose aim is to ensure “return of maximum youth who have picked up arms in the recent past.”
In fact, following Majid's return, many parents had issued Facebook appeals to their militant children to return. However, according to police, the effort is served better when it remains 'a private affair' between the families and their militant sons. In keeping with that, there are no success stories to report from the wave of Facebook appeals that followed Majid's return.
Unsurprisingly, the offer is not for foreign militants.
A new approach
According to sources, the guidelines of the policy were set by J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti during her first United Headquarters meeting in early 2016. In the meeting, Mehbooba had made a passionate pitch for a counter-insurgency strategy that prioritises the surrender of local militants over killing them.
The same sources claim that Mufti had also sought to incentivise this approach by offering suitable pecuniary reward for the personnel who ensure such surrenders from her own fund. More importantly, she sought a subtle change in semantics to dispel the perceived ignominy associated with an active militant giving up gun. As a result, surrender was rechristened as 'homecoming', with the J&K Police going a step further by openly calling the policy "no surrender, no apprehension".
"Our intent is to encourage homecoming of local militants as a state policy," Naeem Akhtar, J&K government spokesman and Minister for Public Works, told Catch.
Though slow to pick up, the policy has since become a reasonable success. According to Director General of Police SP Vaid, “At least 65 youth have been brought back from militancy to the mainstream."
The option of surrender, however, is not for all local militants. “If a militant who surrenders has a case under section 302 (murder) against him, he will have to face the law. This should be clear,” ADGP Khan stated categorically.
A thriving militancy
While a reasonable number of surrenders over the last year seem to indicate a militancy that has been demoralised, the reality on the ground is quite the opposite. In 2017, security forces killed 218 out of 282 militants - the highest number in last seven years, but there are still 229 militants left. What's more, local recruitment continues unabated. Around 117 local youth took up arms last year. Just recently, on 4 January, Manan Wani, a research scholar from Aligarh Muslim University joined the militancy. He was pursuing his PhD in applied geology.
According to the AMU website, Wani received an award for the best paper presented at an international conference on ‘Water, Environment, Ecology and Society’ in 2016. An image of Wani holding a gun and raising his index finger has since gone viral on Facebook. The picture mentions all his qualifications in a seemingly propagandist effort to entice more recruits. "Recruits like Wani discourage surrender," admitted a police officer.
Militants, on their part, have tried to stem the easy exit from their ranks by recruiting only the most ideologically motivated youth, say police sources. "They have their own rite of passage," said a police officer with a long experience of counter-insurgency in the state. "A fresh recruit has to get most of the basic things he would need as a militant. More often than not they are also asked to get weapons by snatching it from police men on security duty. They are also required to announce their recruitment on Facebook so that all their ways of return are closed".
However, by obviating the need to report to police, the new surrender policy is an extremely tempting prospect for those seeking a return to everyday life. The return of 65 youth is a testament to its success. The real success of the counter-insurgency measures, though, will be the cessation of all recruitment, which, as of now, is not the case.