Frustrated, All

Sopore killings have thrown up new challenges for the security grid and the politicians as the government is desperate to restore its credibility, reports R S Gull

Sopore-SituationEvery time, there is a crisis, Kashmir has conspiracy theories in air. Right now as Sopore is confronted with a tense situation, people feel time-machine has abruptly halted at a wrong point. The town never was disquiet but a chain of recent ‘controversial’ killings have created credibility issues for all, the militants, counter-militants and the governance structure.

With no outfit, real or shadowy, staking claims to the murders, people sitting on the two sides of ideological divide are blaming each other. Fence-sitters are caught in between as a frustrated lot not knowing what the coming days are all about.

Killings followed the controversial statement of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar suggesting the mantra for counter-insurgency: kante se kanta nikalna (remove a thorn with a thorn)”. Refusing that he did not mean covert operations, Parrikar later asserted: “Many terrorists are drawn into terrorism because of financial allurements… they are paid money for it. If such people are there, why not use them? What is the harm in using terrorists against terrorists? Why should our soldiers be in the front?”

This has convinced separatists that Modi government is keen to revive the Ikhwan culture.

On ground zero, NC, state’s principal opposition in an effort to reclaim its turf, seems on the separatist page on this. “Defence minister says that militants will be used for killing militants here. What does it mean? That they will give a rebirth to Ikhwan,” Omar told an impressive rally that enabled him to walk on foot in Lal Chowk. “Since his (Parrikar’s) statement came, see the situation in Sopore. Someone is being killed there regularly. This is because of this government.”

Mufti Sayeed led government played down the Ikhwan claims but lacks substance to prove it otherwise. Ikhwan culture, that was encouraged to decimate militancy, was controlled during Mufti’s healing touch’ regime but now it is facing music for ‘reviving’ it!

The security establishment is apparently blank on the issue. They have theories but nothing much to substantiate. “One module has left the Hizb,” one middle rung police officer said. “They picked a battle over resources with their handlers and finally were adopted by Moulana Azhar Masood and, in order to enforce their writ they have started attacking even the people apparently supportive of (Syed Ali) Geelani.”

The officer involved in intelligence gathering sees a crisis looming large. “I foresee group clashes in coming days and it will gradually come out of Sopore,” he insists.

North Kashmir Police Chief Gareeb Dass claims to have gathered vital clues about the Hizb breakaway group Lashkar-e-Islam. His cops have already pasted posters in the town offering Rs 10 lakh booty each for the heads of Imtiaz Kandoo and Abdul Qayoom Najar.

Even the army is desperate for information. “We had some intercepts indicating problems within the ranks,” an officer said. “We know there are around eight guys operational on ground but we exactly do not know who handles them, right now.”

“Six persons were killed and we know they were black or grey barring one of them but our crisis is a different one,” the officer continued. “The issue is that Defence Minister said something, there were killings and a perception got created which is untrue but the problem is we have nothing much to prove it otherwise…We are groping in dark.” He feels the issue is more of credibility than anything else.

The impact is across Kashmir. “At one point of time, we were in a position to even replace the arsenal of militants but now I am a sitting duck,” said a middle rung police officer who has been with SOG earlier. “I do not know what is happening around me?”

Police officers talk in whispers within themselves. They say their “friends” are not taking up their calls or showing up their faces. In certain cases, some have migrated out for safety.

Unlike Srinagar, managing better intelligence in Sopore has always remained a heady task. Now when the new militants, according to police, operate as autonomous modules skipping cell phones, radio sets and manage their rations, weapons and pocket-money locally, gathering intelligence has become all the more tougher. This militancy dominated by teenagers is considered too dangerous to even think of infiltrating the ranks, insiders admit.

A ragging debate within the security grid, especially the state police, is non-stop about why J&K has reached a time when events are shocking the system. Manned by more than 100 thousand regulars, it is now being pointed out at the highest levels that J&K police, spending Rs 4104 crore in 2015-16, which almost equals the overall yearly budget of Pakistan Administered Kashmir (Rs 4288 crore), should be slightly more informed. Even voices within police now talk about lobbyism, IPS V/S KPS and now, especially after PDP takeover, SOG versus non-SOG personnel.

Inputs from security grid apart, a PDP leader confided that ground situation suggests confusion. “Regardless of who is behind all this and why, these body-bags have already started creating a huge credibility crisis for the government,” the leader, speaking anonymously said. “Hurriyat that survived in fragments for all these years is united, for the time being.” He said security set up has its own problems. “Change comes with its own problems and our security set up takes it own time to understand it. That happened in 2008 and that is taking place in 2015.”

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