Jammu and Kashmir police has issued an advisory asking its field personnel to avoid returning to their homes for the next “few months”.
Srinagar: As the situation in Kashmir slips further and further out of the government’s control, a new challenge is emerging: midnight knocks by gunmen on the doors of political workers and policemen, followed by open threats and warnings to their families.
Wary of the situation, the police on April 16 issued an advisory asking its field personnel, particularly those from south Kashmir, to avoid visiting home for the next “few months”.
The alert came a day after a group of gunmen, believed to be militants, broke into the house of a policeman in Hajipora village of Shopian district at around 11 pm on April 18 and forced him to announce his “dissociation” from the force on the public address system of a local mosque. The same night, gunmen appeared in Shopian’s Lundoora village and ransacked the house of another policeman who was away on duty. Family members were asked to convey the “quit-job warning” to the policeman, a senior police official confirmed.
“There have been [a] few incidents in the Valley when militants, anti-national and anti-social elements have tried to cause damage to life and property of police personnel,” reads the advisory. “In view of these unfortunate incidents, police personnel, particularly from south Kashmir, are advised to exercise extreme caution while visiting their homes. They should preferably avoid visiting their homes for the next few months as their personal security is of paramount importance.”
This is the first time in the recent past that the Jammu and Kashmir police has cautioned its men from visiting home. “The situation is grim, there are no two thoughts about it and that is why the advisory,” a senior police official posted in south Kashmir told The Wire.
The first incident of militants forcing their way into the houses of policemen came to the fore on March 8 this year, when a group of gunmen told family members of a deputy SP-rank official in Shopian to ask their son to “quit the job or face consequences”.
The incident sent alarm bells ringing among the J&K police brass, prompting the director general of police, S.P. Vaid, to issue a warning to militants that their families could be harmed too, if they try to target those of policemen.
“Militants should realise they too have families..,” Vaid said. “This is between police and terrorists, and families should not be brought into this conflict. If the police start doing this (threatening), what will happen to their (militant) families?”
Since then, over a dozen such incidents have come to the fore, mostly in Shopian, Pulwama and Kulgam districts of south Kashmir – the epicentre of the civilian uprising last year.
“This trend has caused panic in the ranks of the police. It is a very tricky situation,” a police officer said.
The war of words between the police and militants actually started in August last year, when posters surfaced at many places in south Kashmir asking local the police to stop “troubling” those taking part in the protests. Later in December, Hizbul Mujahideen commander Zakir Rashid, the successor of Burhan Wani who was killed in July 2106, warned family members of policemen of dire consequences if police “continue to harass relatives of militants”.
”You (police) have committed a big mistake by harassing our families, by involving our families,” Rashid said. “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 said in a video.
The deputy inspector general of police, south Kashmir, S.P. Pani said militants barging into the houses of policemen isn’t something new. “The statistics show that there have been scenarios where police houses have been attacked. It isn’t happening for the first time,” he said, adding the police has officially received only five complaints so far.
“But there could be more cases,” he said.
Another police official, however, linked the incidents to the prolonged political uncertainty in Kashmir. “The job of the police is to ensure law and order, but in Kashmir the situation is different. What have we (the government) done to address the political problem? We don’t even have juvenile justice homes for minors and teenagers. It isn’t a police problem. What have we done in this regard? These are very unpleasant questions but the Kashmir problem is beyond law and order,” said the official.
Political workers facing the heat
But it is not only families of J&K policemen who are being harassed. Even political workers in south Kashmir are being threatened and told to give up their affiliations or face consequences.
A police source told The Wire that during the past three weeks, gunmen forced their way into houses of around 25 political workers and warned them to publicly announce their dissociation from mainstream politics. In one such incident, militants broke into the house of a political worker in a Kokernag village in south Kashmir, thrashed him and ordered him to tender a public apology and dissociate from mainstream politics.
“A few days ago, gunmen barged into the houses of two political workers in Anantnag town at night,despite high security,” said the police source.
Many video clips have already gone viral on social networking sites wherein political workers are seen tendering an apology and announcing that they quit mainstream politics at gun point. In one such clip, a nervous-looking trade union leader and a political worker announce that they are no longer associated with any political party. “Today, the situation is not such that we can be part of any organisation,” one of them says.
In another video, a visibly shaken worker of another political party seeks forgiveness for his association with the mainstream party. Struggling with his words, he then announces his dissociation from politics, terming it a “dirty game”.
But what has sent chilling reminders to the state establishment has been the killing of three people – two political workers and a notorious counter-insurgent of yesteryears – by militants over the past three days.
On April 16, militants shot dead Bashir Ahmad Dar, a worker of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and injured his cousin, Altaf Ahmad Dar, in Pulwama district’s Qasbaya village. The next day, militants shot dead advocate Imtiyaz Ahmad Khan in Pinjura village of Shopian, who was associated with National Conference. Later the same day, militants killed the counter-insurgent Abdul Rashid Parray alias Rashid Billa inside his home in the Hajin area of Bandipora district.
Billa, who was accused of killing seven civilians in 1996, was among many counter-insurgents who were provided official patronage in the 1990s to stop the surge of militancy in North Kashmir.
Since April 9, the day by-polls were held for the Srinagar parliamentary seat, 12 people have been killed, including nine civilians who faced bullets from security forces during clashes with protestors.
The situation in Kashmir has been on edge since the killing of Wani by security forces in July 2016, with no end to the protests and all-time high support for militants.
“The lowest ever turn out during the Srinagar by-poll was a setback for mainstream politics in the Valley. Now this forceful dissociation of political workers at the gun point will further shrink the space for political parties,” said PDP chief spokesman Mehbooba Beg, emphasising the need to address the Kashmir issue. “We have the agenda of an alliance between the PDP and the BJP as roadmap for moving forward on Kashmir. The sooner we start working on it the better, otherwise we may have to see the worst.”