On August 21, 2012, the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) police neutralized a militant module involved in all the 13 attacks that Srinagar had witnessed since January 1, 2011, with the arrest of two persons: a policeman, Abdul Rashid Shigan, and a released Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) militant, Imtiyaz Ahmad Gojri alias Raashid. Operating under the shadow name of Omar Mukhtar and General Usman, Shigan was acting as spokesman for Kashmir Islamic Movement (KIM), a shadow outfit of HM. Shigan was the co-conspirator as well as the executor. Meanwhile, on August 27, 2012, police arrested Manzoor Ahmad Chiloo, a released militant (he was 'divisional commander' of HM), and the mastermind of all these attacks.
The arrest of a policeman in a militancy infested region is not a surprising development. J&K has seen several such arrests in past. According to the partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management, a total of 21 policemen were arrested for their links with militants since 1990. More worryingly, while there were only three such arrests till 2009, 2010 alone witnessed four arrests and it increased to seven in 2011. The current year has already witnessed seven such arrests. Apart from these policemen, four army personnel and a central reserve police force trooper have also been arrested since 1990.
What is astonishing, however, is the magnitude of Shigan's direct involvement in terrorist activities, and the fact that he was directly in touch with his handlers in Pakistan.
Prominent among the attacks in which Shigan was involved included:
June 29, 2011: Inspector Shabir Ahmad was fired upon and injured at Iqbalabad Bemina. He later succumbed to his injuries.
December 11, 2011: An attack targeting Minister for Rural Development and Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Sagar was carried out in the Nawakadal area. Though the Minister escaped unhurt, one policeman died in the incident.
December 24, 2011: An activist of the ruling National Conference (NC), identified as Bashir Ahmad, was shot dead near Dhobi Mohalla in Batamaloo.
April 20, 2012: Assistant Sub-Inspector of police Sukhpal Singh was fired upon and critically injured while on duty near Darishkadal Chattabal. He died later.
May 30, 2012: A troop transport of the Central Reserve police Force (CRPF) was fired upon near Rainawari, resulting in injuries to seven CRPF personnel.
June 28, 2012: Four Rifle grenades were fired at a Territorial Army's (TA) camp in Batamaloo. There were no casualties.
July 18, 2012: A rifle grenade was fired at the Civil Secretariat in Srinagar, housing the office of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, his Cabinet colleagues and top bureaucrats of the State. There were no casualties.
August 10, 2012: A Deputy Superintendent of police (DSP, retired), Abdul Hameed Bhat, was shot dead near Tangpoara in Batamaloo.
Inspector General of police (IGP), Kashmir Zone, S.M. Sahai claimed, "With the arrest of Shigan all these cases have been solved." Significantly, apart from the recovery of a cache of arms and ammunition, during subsequent raids and searches conducted on Shigan's Batamaloo house, the police found that his hand writing matched with statements claiming responsibility, which he had issued to the press after each attack. A cell phone used to call a local news agency to claim responsibility for the August 10, 2012, killing of DSP Abdul Hameed Bhat, was also recovered.
Earlier, in June 2012, four policemen working for HM had been arrested. On June 15, 2012, police summoned Muhammad Abbas Rather for questioning. Rahter was a constable in the criminal investigation department (CID), and had been assigned to infiltrate into militants ranks. Rather was questioned in connection to an incident of firing on a former HM 'commander', Ghulam Hassan Mir alias Shabnam, at Saderbal in the Hazratbal area of Srinagar on June 7, 2012. Shabnam, who had been arrested in 2006 and released in 2007, survived the attack. Subsequent investigations revealed that all the five to six persons involved in the attack were police and CID constables who had affiliated with the HM and had carried out the attack on the instructions of one of their 'commanders'. Rather was subsequently arrested on June 16, 2012, along with another three policemen, Riaz Ahmad Beigh, Mohammad Ilyas Khan and Mukhtar Ahmad Sheikh.
In a remand application filed before a Srinagar court, police stated, "During his [Abbas] search, police recovered a document written in Urdu containing information about how to prepare IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and how to use them. The accused met Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militant Shabir Ahmad alias Adil in Tral area of Pulwama District. During the meeting, he demanded lakhs of rupees from the militant in lieu of sharing information. Then he met Muhammad Ilyas Khan, Riyaz Ahmad Beigh and Mukhtar Ahmad Sheikh. It was decided that militants would be provided pictures of police officials and their residential houses. They also decided to provide information regarding movement of police officials. Rather was involved in ferrying weapons from one place to another." IGP Sahai added, "These people were informing the militants about police officers who are at the forefront of fighting militancy, our operational details. The militants would get prior information."
In the second week of July 2012, police arrested Bilal Ahmad Rather alias Mistri, who admitted he was working as an intermediary between militants and the four arrested cops. According to police sources, in October 2011, Mistri received Rs 90,000 from Shabir to be given to Abbas Rahter for arranging weapons and explosives for the terrorists militants. Abbas Rather subsequently went to Tral to hand over the bag of explosives to the militants. Mistri confessed that the arrested policemen were receiving money from terrorists in lieu of sharing sensitive information about police officers and their movements.
Meanwhile, on August 25, 2012, the Rajouri police arrested four persons and neutralized a police-territorial army (TA)-militant nexus involved in illegal activities. The arrested persons included police constable, Abdul Rahim, TA trooper, Mohammad Hanief, a suspected terrorist, Mohammad Rashid aka Kaka, and a civilian, Aurangzeb. Investigations later revealed that the TA soldier had sold a Chinese grenade to Kaka for Rs 5,000. Kaka had been approached by Aurangzeb, who wanted to trap his brother, Javed Ahmad, in a terrorism case by planting a grenade at his shop at Darhali Bridge in Rajouri. Another policeman, Basharat Hussain, is also under investigation in this case.
The complicity of some policemen in militancy-related activities has now become an issue of major concern, as modules operating with the help of policemen have been particularly difficult to identify and neutralize. After the August 21, 2012, arrests, IGP Sahai conceded, "Normally any militant attack that took place in Srinagar was solved in a couple of months. But for the past 18 months police had failed to uncover these 13 attacks, which took place in Srinagar."
More disturbing is the failure of the police department in tackling the problem at an initial stage, despite ample evidence. Indeed, Shigan had been discharged from the police in 1998, while undergoing basic training, following his involvement in militant activities. He had also been detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA) after police recovered a pistol and some ammunition from his residence. He was, however, reinstated to the police Department in 2002 on the orders of the State High Court. Despite his background, there was no check on his activities for such a long period, raising questions about the Departmental mechanisms to check such eventualities.
Similarly, all the four policemen arrested on June 16, 2012, had recurrent allegations of extortion against them in the past years. However, they were being shielded because of their role in undercover operations. Moreover, when Mukhtar Ahmad Sheikh (arrested on June 16, 2012) was detained by the Kolkata (West Bengal) police in December 2008 in the aftermath of November 26, 2008 (26/11) Mumbai attacks for supplying SIM cards to Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) militants, the cases against him were dropped after the J&K police informed their Kolkata counterparts that he was an undercover agent, and was trying to infiltrate into the terror group.
J&K appears to be poised at the end of an over two decade-old militancy. It now needs a strong police force. As Director General of police Ashok Prasad, noted, "the challenge for state police has changed from counter-insurgency to law and order". However, the existing turncoats within the 76,805 strong police force, can undermine the state's efforts to maintain peace and restore normalcy.
Ajit Kumar Singh is Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy: the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.