As cops found their colleague accompanying the most wanted militant in a Jammu bound car intercepted on the highway, it was like a proverbial killing of two birds with one stone. The arrest of the DySP, shady for most of his career, however, shocked the police that lost nearly 2000 members to counter-insurgency. Amid the din over who actually handled the officer, a fair investigation may help solve certain riddles for the sake of history, writes Masood Hussain
Newsrooms worldwide have routine evening tensions. The one that prevailed at the Jammu and Kashmir government’s Media Facilitation Centre (MFC) at Srinagar, on January 11, 2020, was a peculiar one. Reporters had drafted their copies about the arrests made by the police at the highway township of Wanpoh but were desperately waiting for the formal confirmation.
Reporters might have run their copies without naming the officer, Devinder Singh, who was held with the most wanted militant, carrying Rs 20 lakh bounty on his head, and his two associates. Then there was a breakthrough. Nazir Masoodi, who had broken 2020’s hottest story earlier in the day, actually came with brief news on NDTV website. The copies were finally pushed off.
Formal confirmation came almost 24 hours later when Kumar addressed his maiden presser after taking over as the IGP Kashmir.
“There was a very big operation yesterday. SP (Shopian) had an input that an i10 (car) with two militants had left from Shopian and was heading towards Jammu-Srinagar national highway,” Kumar told the crowded news conference. “I asked DIG (South Kashmir) to set up checkpoints… On searching a vehicle, we found two wanted militants. We also found a DySP and an advocate with them. They have all been arrested.”
“As you know, he (Singh) is a senior police officer. He has worked on several anti-militancy operations in J&K. But the way he was caught yesterday… (with) two, three militants in a car to Jammu… that is a heinous crime. And that is why we treated him like a militant. He has been taken on remand and interrogation is going on.”
Given the sensitivity of the case, Kumar said Jammu and Kashmir Police (JKP) have involved all the security agencies – Intelligence Bureau (IB), CRPF, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and police’s own CID wing, in the investigations of the case. That was a day ahead of the MHA shifting the case to the NIA.
Singh, who was one of the 76 JKP officers to get a gallantry medal in 2019 for countering a Fidayeen attack in Pulwama (August 25, 2017), where he was DySP headquarters, was arrested along with two militants in a car that a Shopian lawyer was driving towards Jammu. Atul Goel, DIG South Kashmir, was personally supervising the barricade, named A1 Stop, at Wanpoh when the speedy car was asked to halt. As Singh came out of the car, The Indian Express reported Goel lost his cool. Website Scroll said the DIG slapped him.
Those who came out of the car included Naveed Babu, the second most important militant of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), his associate Asif and lawyer Irfan Shafi. Babu is a resident of Nazneenpora (Shopian) whose real name is Syed Naveed Mushtaq. A constable, he deserted police and fled with four assault rifles on May 20, 2017, when he was part of the guard at the Food Corporation of India (FCI) at Chandgam (Budgam). Now, police believes, the deserter has emerged into a major fugitive whose role in forcing apple growers against harvesting the crop and killings of non-local drivers and apple traders in wake of abrogation of special status to Jammu and Kashmir is almost established.
Asif, his accomplice, is a resident of Shopian periphery and has recently joined the militancy. Lawyer, Irfan Shafi, who drove the car he owned, lives in Diaroo (Shopian) has no history of sabotage but was questioned by police in the past. Earlier, he was detained and questioned in Jammu’s Satwari area also. This was, however, for the first time that he was held along with two militants. Shafi was driving the car with Singh sitting on his left and the two militants were on the backseat. Interestingly, Jammu based Daily Excelsior quoted sources saying that Mir had travelled to Pakistan five times and the police are now investigating if “Singh and Mir were helping the two militants in ex-filtration or planning an attack somewhere in the mainland”.
The Call Alert
Officials said that Babu’s call to his brother alerted the security grid. Contrary to this, there are reports suggesting that Singh was under surveillance for some time. India Today reported he was being watched for two months.
Singh, the interrogation revealed, had travelled to Shopian to get the two militants. He drove them to Srinagar, hosted them at his residence for the night. By the time, he was making preparations for his Jammu travel; security grid was busy fortifying the Srinagar airport and the national highway.
“Seemingly it was an absolute trust,” one police officer, who has been in counter-insurgency for a long time, said. “He left his guards and drove to Shopian, got into the armed militants home; retained their arms and ammunition at home and then moved with them to Jammu.”
Once intercepted, none of the four persons attempted to flee and were quickly driven to Joint Interrogation Centre (JIC) for separate interrogations. Later that day, police registered a case (FIR 05/2020) at Qazigund police station under relevant sections of IPC covering arms, ammunition and the Unlawful Activities Act.
Hours later Singh’s Indra Nagar home, outside the 15-Corps headquarters, was searched and one AK47, two pistols and some money was recovered. A second raid, slightly longer one, on January 13 is reported to have fetched some documents as well.
“They said that militants had struck a deal of Rs 12 lakh with Singh for transportation, providing them accommodation and other related issues,” Daily Excelsior reported. “Sources further said that Singh was providing hideout to militants in Jammu during winters for last several years for which he was getting handsome amount of money.”
Frequent raids at his residence (he is living with his brother in law but his own home was ready for house warming), had made the locality suspicious about him for the first time. Residents said they know the man as a helpful person who in the last two years led a serious campaign against the Cantonment Board over construction issues around city’s oldest garrison. “His home was demolished at least twice and he did whatever he could in reaction and finally got a court order to complete his house,” one resident, unwilling to come on record said. “He maintained a gentleman image in the locality.”
Singh, who was the No 2, at the Srinagar airport, one of the highly secured airports in India, had been absent from duty and had applied for a four-day leave. A quick decision by the UT government gave security of all the Jammu and Kashmir airports to CISF, a central paramilitary.
It is clear that he was driving towards Jammu but there are no clear answers about their destination beyond the winter capital. Some say it was Chandigarh and so many think it was beyond that. “They are suspected to have been headed to Delhi and may have been targeting the Republic Day function in the national capital,” The Hindu reported. Media reported that he has been taking select militants to Jammu every winter, for last three years.
Series of Operations
The capture fetched certain results quickly. In Gulshanpora (Tral), on Sunday, three most wanted HM militants – Umer Fayaz Lone alias Hamad Khan, a resident of Seer, Faizan Hamid of Mandoora and Adil Bashir Mir alias abu Dujana of Monghama, were killed in an encounter. A day later, another militant, Aadil Ahmad Gania was killed in Behrampora (Budgam).
Police, however, linked the early disclosure of the arrests with the fleeing of the fugitives from their open orchard hideout in Durpora, a village not far away from Zainpora. It was a hideout almost eight feet underground and had a small opening. Inside, there were provisions, rations, ammunition and various documents.
“We have carried out raids on the inputs provided by Naveed Baba,” Jammu and Kashmir Police Chief Dilbagh Singh said in Jammu. “We carried out five operations and busted two hideouts but no terrorist was found. We carried out searches in the houses and seized incriminating material.”
“The police and the fugitives operate from the same small space of a close-knit society and take the impact of each other’s actions, quite often,” explained one senior police officer, who wishes to remain anonymous. “There could be cops doing such things deliberately, some land in situations where they end up as black sheep and there are instances in which even assets get waste.”
“The arrested officer has claimed that he was carrying out an operation. Unfortunately, the evidence gathered is not in his favour,” Dilbagh Singh told The Hindustan Times. Referring to his counter-insurgency stint, the DGP said that “you develop sources in the opposite side” as part of the job to prevent attacks. “Sources are essential to counter-terror operations and they need to be handled and run very carefully as per the procedure. Using sources for personal gains is terrible.”
Farooq Khan, the founder of the SOG, now an adviser to the Lt Governor G C Murmu termed Singh a black sheep. “In any organisation, there are black sheep and he (Davinder) was the one in the police,” Khan said in Jammu. “The credit goes to the JKP for identifying him and exposing the conspiracy being hatched by him with terrorists.” He asserted: “It (arrest) will have no bearing on the image of the police. The uniform of the police is full of blood of its martyrs. The JKP has a history of making thousands of sacrifices in its fight against terrorism, so one black sheep or one rotten fish cannot contaminate the police pond.”
There are countless cases of cops deserting the force and joining militancy. Since 2000, as many as 11 cops have joined militancy and in most of them, they took their service weapons along. Of late, there are various cases involving members of the armed and paramilitary forces deserting their forces. So, Singh is not the first cop.
1992 PHQ Blast
The first such case was reported as early as 1992 when the top brass of the security grid comprising the then State Police Chief, JN Saxena, IG BSF Ashok Patel, IGP Kashmir Veerana Aivalli, DIG Kashmir Rajan Bakshi and IG CRPF MK Singh, were in a meeting to discuss Murli Manohar Joshi led Ekta Yatra at Srinagar’s police headquarters. The meeting was underway when a blast ripped the chamber apart at 1215 hours killing constable Shiv Dev Singh instantly. All others survived with serious injuries.
The case was shifted to Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) that held two cops, Mohammed Maqbool Ganai and Ghulam Mohiuddin Ahangar, responsible for planting a landmine on the evening of January 23. All others found involved in the attack were fugitives, mostly dead with two still absconding. In April 2009, the duo, already dismissed from services, was sentenced to a decade of rigorous imprisonment and fine.
At the peak of militancy when Jammu and Kashmir was busy campaigning for the second post-1990 assembly election, a “woman” shot dead ruling National Conference (NC) law minister, Mushtaq Ahmad Lone on September 11, 2002, that led to the countermanding of the polls in Lolab constituency. Assassins also killed his security guards during his public meeting at Tikipora. Two months later, on December 3, 2002, militants shot dead Gulam Mohi-ud-Din Lone, his younger brother, a militant-turned-politician-turned-contractor, at Dooniwari village in the same belt.
On May 12, 2003, two CRPF personnel were killed and four others who survived got injured in Fidayeen attack. A fortnight later, on June 3, 2003, when a khaki-wearing gunman tried to enter the Lalpora police station, the alert sentry pounced upon him and snatched his AK47 rifle. He fled. A week later, the same young man was arrested in Kupwara. A top militant, he revealed a story that shocked the police. Syed Ashiq Bukhari was deputed to specially investigate and the revelations were devastating.
On June 14, Gopal Sharma, the then police chief, announced they arrested seven cops including an Assistant Sub Inspector and a civilian for running a complicated militant cartel in the border town. Apart from assassinating the Lone brothers, the group was operating from the local police station and had managed a series of attacks on the security grid.
“Four cops and two militants were directly involved in the killing of Lone brothers as four cops had provided logistical support that included transportation and intelligence gathering”, Sharma said. A selection grade constable (SGC) Abdul Ahad alias Khalil Bhai, a resident of Tikipora, led the gang comprising Shah Hussain, Sonaullah, SPO Mohammed Rustam Lone and ASI Gulam Rasool Wani, who was heading the Sogam police station. Sharma said Ahad was the main militancy coordinator in Lolab belt for four years. It was the SHO who personally transported the Fidayeen to Kupwara and for the second attack, this time on Lalpora police station; he had hosted him in his police station.
“One again wonders that in spite of a comprehensive security bandobust, a VIP is shot dead like a sitting duck by the assailant then who is safe and under what circumstances,” Navin Choudhary, IAS, then DC, Baramulla concluded in his magisterial enquiry. “The only conclusion one is led to is that the security personnel who were deployed for protecting the VIP have at the best proved a band of cowards and have just protected their own lives.”
All the cops involved in the case were dismissed and are facing trial.
However, the high-profile instance was that of Abdul Rashid Shigan, a resident of Batamaloo (Srinagar) who was part of a district SPs personal security ring. He was arrested after he mounted 13 attacks including some cold-blooded murders.
Within months after he was recruited as a constable, Shigan’s trainers found his proclivity towards militancy and discharged him from the service in 1998. Soon, he was arrested under Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act. Once, he moved out of the jail, he petitioned the court and got his job back with full salary benefits in 2002. Since 2007, he remained posted in the security wing.
On January 4, 2011, Station House Officer (SHO) Batamaloo, Bashir Ahmad miraculously survived an assassination bid. This marked a series of 13 attacks on police and politicians that police were unable to manage a breakthrough for in almost 18 months. For the then State Police Chief, Ashok Prasad, the assassination of retired DySp, Abdul Hamid Bhat in Batamaloo, on August 12, 2012 – the first police casualty of his term, was something serious that he wanted to solve quickly.
“Police and ESU (Electronic Surveillance Unit) scanned thousands of call detail records of over 500 mobile and landline phones in the capital city but failed to get any inkling of the militants carrying out the series of attacks,” a Jammu newspaper quoted the exclusive details of the operation. “Finally, the investigators zeroed in on half-a-dozen SIM cards which had been used in particular areas for communication including threats and statements delivered on media persons.” This led to the emergence of Omar Mukhtar, the leader of hitherto unknown Kashmir Islamic Movement. Cops were already chasing a “Molvi Sahab”, whom they had actually photographed while interacting with a militant group somewhere in Hazratbal area.
The SIM that Mukhtar had used to stake the claim for Bhat’s murder had an interesting schedule. It would spend the day in the backyard of the University and would remain in Batamaloo for the night. Analysing the call records, sleuths were alarmed to find the particular number that had rung up the then SSP, Bandipore, Bashir Ahmad Khan, twice. It solved the riddle. Omar Mukhtar was SSP’s PSO, Abdul Rashid Shigan, a resident of Batamaloo, whom his boss had deployed for the protection of his wife and two daughters, living in the rear of the University of Kashmir. The SIM card was issued in the name of a Ladakhi, who knew Molvi. The card seller also knew him. When his identity proofs were accessed officially, he matched the Molvi Sahab. On Eid-ul-Fitr, his IRP battalion was asked to deploy 200 cops for duty. These included Shigan, who was rounded up. Barely a few hours later, the then IGP, SM Sahai announced how Shigan was hunting with the hounds and running with the deer. He would be on police duty carrying his militant Kirankov gun in a laptop bag, the same gun that he used to assassinate Bhat. From his home, a cache of weapons was recovered.
Police rounded up two more persons and found that Shigan was a 2-men army. Police also investigated that Shigan, who is still in jail, was not working for Pakistan. “He wanted to build his profile to a level where the militant groups and Pakistan will approach him and make him their boss,” one police officer, who was part of the investigation process, said.
Prior to Shigan’s arrest, a sensational attack took place in Saderbal on June 7, where militants allegedly made an assassination bid on Ghulam Hassan Mir alias Shabnam, a small-time shopkeeper. Basically a resident of Tral, Shabnam was a Hizb militant who was arrested in 2006 and released in 2007. Soon, he shifted his base to Srinagar and started living a normal life. However, his group had scores to settle. He survived the attack.
As investigations started, police found its own men around. Apart from five Tral residents, four cops were immediately arrested – Mohammed Abbas, Riaz Ahmed, Mohammad Ilyas and Mukhtar Ahmad Sheikh. They were formally charged under Section 10 (being member of an unlawful organisation), Section 13 (any form of assistance in unlawful activity) and Section 18 (conspiracy to commit terrorist act) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act at Shergarhi Police Station. They later arrested one more cop, Zahoor. Police were shocked because the detained cops had been assigned the job of infiltrating the militants but were eventually found working for them. It was a pure case of an asset getting compromised.
Top police officers admitted that the four cops were sharing intelligence in reverse direction that was helping militants. Later, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) was constituted.
Interestingly, one of the detained was a key asset who was arrested during the 26/11 Mumbai attack investigations. Mukhtar Ahmad Sheikh, a resident of Srinagar’s Rang Parestan in Rainawari, was an auto-rickshaw driver in Kolkata. In Srinagar, militants killed his brother and the cops who handled him brought Mukhtar into the police. Gradually he evolved into a “valuable source”, according to Muzamil Jaleel, who extensively reported on him in The Indian Express. Soon, he was promoted from a follower’s position to a constable and he worked with four top police officers.
“After 26/11, the trail of SIM cards recovered from the militants killed in Mumbai led to Sheikh’s dramatic arrest in Delhi in December 2008,” the newspaper said. “Sheikh had been on an undercover mission to infiltrate the Lashkar, and had successfully planted 22 SIM cards in the organization — a few of which were used by the militants involved in the 26/11 attacks.” On JKP intervention, Sheikh was ultimately set free.
Back home, he was caught in another mess as he was picked up. The media hype led certain central agencies to seek involvement in investigations. Not much is known about the current status of the case.
This is Different?
However, Devinder’s case is being seen differently, partly because of his 29-year-old career history especially his hitherto un-investigated role in the parliament attack that brought India and Pakistan literally to war. Even the timing of the expose is interestingly different.
A resident of remote Wowrigund village, almost 7 km from Tral, Singh belongs to a well-read family. His elder brother heads the genes department in the prestigious Indian Centre for Agriculture Research (ICAR). Another brother is a medical assistant. He himself has masters in mathematics. His wife’s sisters are married to a top dentist and a police officer. Though his son is in school, his daughter is reportedly pursuing some professional studies abroad.
His family is unwilling to buy the official theory. “Entire family is in shock over what the media channels are showing,” Singh’s sister-in-law told Deutsche Welle. “He (Davinder Singh) has been trapped (by the State). He has always been a proud Indian who has faced bullets for the country.” She almost broke down while narrating the family’s side of the story, the German broadcaster said, adding she said Singh was hit by bullets while fighting militancy in Kashmir. “Because of the several bullet injuries he would limp,” she was quoted saying. “How can a person of his stature be a traitor and be linked to militancy?” When Deutsche Welle visited the family, Singh’s wife and son had gone for prayers to the Gurdwara.
Singh was enrolled locally in a state-run school and later would walk to Kahlil village for his secondary education. Later, he moved to Amar Singh College and finally did his masters from the University of Kashmir.
After joining the police as sub-inspector in the 1990s, his first crisis were life-changing, one police officer said. He and one of his colleagues recovered some contraband from a truck driver and sold it in the market. An officer said an internal enquiry was initiated against the two officials. “At a time when their dismissal was being considered, there was a serious initiative to get fresh recruits to work for anti-militancy Special Operations Group (SOG),” the officer said. “The duo showed a willingness to work and the case simply disappeared.”
Controversies never left him, however. “Twenty years ago, a group of five gunmen hijacked a truck from the Athwajan periphery of Srinagar and looted its load of merchandise belonging to a close relative of the then in-charge, acting Chief Minister Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah,” journalist Ahmad Ali Fayaz wrote in The Quint. “As the police failed to trace the truck, the operation of recovery was discreetly assigned to the then ruling National Conference MLC and former counter-insurgent Javed Hussain Shah. Shah got the truck recovered and it’s driver released from Kulgam within two days. He reported to the Director-General of Police that the hijackers were counter-insurgents who had received AK-47 rifles from none other than Davinder. There was neither an inquiry nor any action against the hijackers or the police officer who allegedly had handed them unaccounted arms and ammunition.”
Soon, he was shifted to Police Control Room (PCR) allegedly over complaints of extortion. It was during that tenure that he moved for a yearlong deployment with the UN Peacekeepers in 2003. In 2006, he was elevated to DySP and posted with the SOG Budgam.
It was during his Budgam posting, where he, by his own admission, got his reputation as torturer firmly established. There, he had met Afzal Guru. Guru and his wife have detailed the crisis in different notes and letters, which were in public domain years before he was hanged on February 9, 2013.
Mrs Guru Writes
On October 21, 2004, The Kashmir Times published A wife’s Appeal for Justice, a detailed letter by Guru’s wife, detailing his association with militancy, his surrender and the unending trail of arrests and torture by BSF, army and the SOG. It was the time when the High Court had upheld the trial court verdict and the case was in the Supreme Court.
“Some days later they (SOG Palhalan) took him to the Humhama STF camp. In that camp, the officers, DSP Vinay Gupta and DSP Darinder Singh demanded Rs one lakh. We are not a rich family and we had to sell everything, including the little gold I got on my marriage to save Afzal from the torture,” Tabasum wrote. “Afzal was kept in freezing water and petrol was put into his anus. One officer Shanti Singh hanged my husband upside down for hours naked and in the cold. They gave electric shocks in his penis and he had to have treatment for days.”
Later, SOG got him again. “The STF (as SOG was initially called) told my husband to bring one man Mohammad to Delhi from Kashmir. He met Mohammad and one other man Tariq there at the STF camp. He did not know anything about the man and he had no idea why he was being asked to do the job. He has told all this to the court but the court chose to believe half his statement about bringing Mohammad but not the bit that he was told to do so by the STF.”
Guru had personally written to his lawyer, Sushil Kumar, that “DSP Davinder Singh”, then posted with SOG Budgam, had asked him to “take Mohammad”, a Pakistani national identified as one of the five militants who carried out the Parliament attack on December 13, 2001, “to Delhi, rent a flat for his stay and purchase a car for him”.
“D.S. told me that I had to do a small job for him, has to take one man to Delhi as I was well aware about Delhi and have to manage a rented house for him,” Guru wrote to his lawyer. “Since I was not knowing the man but I suspected that this man is not Kashmiri as he did not speak in Kashmiri but I was helpless to do what Davinder told me. I took him to Delhi. One day he told me that he want to purchase a car. Thus I went with him to Karol Bagh. He purchased the car. Then in Delhi he used to meet different persons and both of us he, Mohammad, and me used to get the different phone calls from Davinder Singh.”
Ideally, there should have been a probe. As Singh’s name was circulating around, the officer was posted in the traffic police department. He was later posted to Shopian and Pulwama. His last posting, since August 2018, was as DySP anti-hijacking at the Srinagar airport where his last major activity was receiving the 15-envoys including the US ambassador, Kenneth Juster.
“As far as I know, all his immediate seniors maintained some distance from him because they knew he was unprofessional,” one officer, who knows Singh closely, said. “Complaints against him were always in bulk and almost everywhere.”
JKP’s Crime Branch had also received a complaint against Singh for his alleged involvement in fake currency. “Somehow, the complainants did not follow up,” one official said. “The case was closed though the court is yet to issue mandatory closure orders.”
“Singh owned three properties in Jammu and Kashmir and sources said the J&K police had reported his property portfolio as unusual for a DSP to the Intelligence Bureau (IB) in January last year,” journalist Swati Chaturvedi wrote in The Wire. “The IB took no action.”
But why did Singh do all this? “Meri mati maari gayi thi (I must have lost my mind to do what I did),” media reports quoted him telling his interrogators. A police officer said one of the three reasons could be responsible – ideology, money or operation. In Singh’s case, ideology element is missing.
Singh did invoke the operational grounds. He, however, lacked evidence and, apparently, a mandate. However, Singh’s escort to top fugitives in anticipation of the January 26, is something that people within and outside Kashmir are unwilling to delink. “Bring terrorists to Delhi. Bomb blast on Rep Day. Hundreds die. Muslims blamed… and targeted. Was that the scenario?????” actor Simi Garewal tweeted.
Editor Siddharth Varadarajan is unwilling to accept the money theory. “I am not inclined to accept the theory that DSP Davinder Singh was running his high-class escort service for a little bit of money,” he wrote in The Wire.
Media reports suggest that Singh has been taking militants on winter vacations for three years. Does that mean, he was aware of the killings that took place in the last three years especially the post-August murders linked with the apple trade?
Now, when the sensational case is handed over to the NIA, an expectation is that Singh’s shady deals and his masters will get exposed. Everybody in Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi is saying that Afzal Guru angle will also be probed. Will it happen? Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has already gone hammer and tongs with his tweet on the investigations suggesting that the case is “as good as dead”.