Once backbone of anti-militancy operations, the Ikhwanis, or the surrendered insurgents, are now hardly trusted by the security forces.
The recent killing of top counter-insurgent-turned politician Ghulam Nabi Mir alias Azad Nabi by his own men in Anantnag has once again put the spotlight on surrendered militants.
Discredited in the eyes of the security agencies and the militants, these counter-insurgents are trusted by none. Even as the counter-insurgents are being blamed for eliminating Azad, two frontline militant oufits — the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Hizbul Mujahideen — have claimed responsibility for the killing.
Director General of Police A.K. Suri reasons: ‘‘Turn-coats can join Hizbul or Lashkar and are responsible for the killing.’’ According to some, Azad’s credentials were suspect. Sources say he was suspected to have been in league with the Hizbul Mujahideen, his former outfit.
The growing incidents of the involvement of counter-insurgents — also known as Ikhwanis — in militant and criminal activities is not just earning them a bad name, they are now seen as a potential security threat as well.
Initially, these militants, who turned pro-government, helped the security forces take on the extremists, but of late, the Ikhwanis have lost their relevance. A senior officer now terms them a ‘‘millstone’’ round their neck. Expressing displeasure over the use of former militants for counter-insurgency, Lt General Arjun Ray, GOC of 14 Corps, recently termed it ‘‘immoral and counter-productive’’.
‘‘It is the worst part of counter-insurgency duty in Kashmir that we rely on those who are discredited in their own society,’’ says another top Army officer in the Valley. He says that most of the time, the Army is mislead and used as a cover to settle personal scores.
The police recently arrested five grenade-throwers in Kupwara. They were working with the security agencies. They are said to be responsible for the death of 10 persons in more than a dozen attacks in and around the town in the last few months.
The ‘‘double agent’’ nomenclature for the pro-government militants first gained credence when police foiled an attempt by detained foreign militants to hijack a Jammu-bound police bus on the Kupwara-Srinagar highway. One of them, a detained militant of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, had received the grenade from a youth working for an elite security agency at the District & Sessions Court premises at Kupwara.
Five counter-insurgents engaged as Special Police Officials (SPOs) in Handwara were allegedly involved in the killing of five armymen, including a Brigadier and a Colonel last year. They had allegedly detonated an IED at Warpora in Rajwar last September. Brigadier Shergil of 7 Sector Rashtriya Rifles (RR) and Col Chouhan of 21 RR unit were among the victims of the blast.
The finger of suspicion pointed at the SPOs, who were working with the 21 RR, especially after Army picked them up at Rajwar. As per police records, these SPOs are still missing. An FIR has been registered at the Handwara police station in this connection. The Army is, however, tight-lipped. The Hizbul Mujahideen had claimed responsibility for the IED attack.
Once the backbone of counter-insurgency operations in the Valley, the Ikhwanis are now hardly trusted by the security forces. And this change of attitude is not without reason. Official records indicate that many of these ‘‘reformed men’’ have engaged in subversive and criminal activities in the Valley.
Initially, when they defected from their militant outfits and turned pro-government in the mid-90s, they provided valuable information about their former outfits, rendering great help to the counter-insurgency operations.
Now, with hardly any live links with the militants, they have become a liability for the forces. In fact, they are proving to be a double-edged sword for the police and security agencies because of clandestine links with militants under the cover of counter-insurgency activities.
‘‘We are keenly determining the role of the surrendered militants working with the security agencies. Many of them have been found to be in league with hardline militant outfits,’’ says a senior security officer.
‘‘They still lead us to arms recovery from militant hideouts. But at the same time, they are helping the extremists through subversive activities under the pretext of fighting them,’’ says another officer.
Several incidents blamed on the militants have proved to be the handiwork of the counter-insurgents. In April 1999, an attack on the police post in Chogul, Handwara, was allegedly organised by some SPOs. Five policemen were killed and their arms and ammunition stolen. According to the police, two counter-insurgents confessed that they had hatched a plan.
On August 14, 1999, a car bomb was detected near the Tourist Reception Centre of Srinagar. Police blamed the militants and claimed that they had averted a major tragedy by ‘‘foiling plans of disrupting Independence Day celebrations and the Amarnath Yatra’’. They, however, could not name any outfit. Later, investigation by Intelligence agencies showed that two Ikhwanis, at the behest of a police officer, had parked the car fitted with a cylinder bomb at the site. The whole drama had been ‘‘enacted’’ to help a police officer claim credit.
Official figures say there are around 8,000 SPOs working in the Kashmir Valley: of them around 300 are surrendered militants. Officials say over 1,200 surrendered militants have already been appointed with the BSF and the CRPF.
In addition, around 3,000 Ikhwanis are currently working with various security agencies in the Valley. A rough estimate puts the number of counter-insurgents who have rejoined the militants in the last three years at 200.
Demanding the immediate disarming of counter-insurgents, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, former Union Home minister and president of the People’s Democratic Party, alleges that ‘‘surrendered militants engaged in anti-militancy measures are responsible for harassing people, contributing to their alienation’’.
Published in IndianExpres's KashmirLive