At least 160 militants have been killed in J&K Police’s latest security campaign this year but Kashmir needs a “political initiative” and the central government should take steps to prevent “jobless” youth from being “influenced by a lot of unwanted and dangerous stuff”, State DGP Shesh Paul Vaid told The Indian Express in an exclusive interview.
”There is no doubt that there is a need for a political initiative. Whether there is one going to be taken soon, I am ignorant about it. But I think some progress is happening. Political initiative is the need of the hour,” said Vaid.
According to J&K’s top police officer, “there is a problem in the political narrative in Kashmir”.
“Mainstream parties do not talk about India, tell people how it benefits them to be a part of India. Look at what a senior leader has been saying — stone-pelters are freedom fighters. He has been a chief minister… The mainstream political leaders need to speak in favour of India here and that will help change the narrative on the ground. I don’t know why they hesitate,” said Vaid. He was apparently referring to a reported remark by NC president Farooq Abdullah.
Following the massive unrest that followed the killing of militant leader Burhan Wani in an encounter last year, Vaid said his worry now is to prevent another “trigger” that will spark strife on the streets again.
”My worry is that there shouldn’t be a trigger like the one last year. We are constantly preventing a trigger that is planned from across. But we must also be aware and prevent sudden triggers created by controversies surrounding issues like Article 35 A. We can’t do much in such cases,’’ he said.
Identifying social media as a major challenge for police, Vaid said, “We are under attack in cyberspace in a major way and it can’t be blocked. We need to create a counter narrative — cyber jihad is a reality. We know that Jamaat-ud-Dawa has recruited thousands of men across Pakistan, telling them that you don’t need to go and fight in Kashmir, you can do that sitting inside your home — they call them cyber mujahids. This is the kind of attack we are facing from our neighbouring country. We need to do something about it.”
According to Vaid, radicalisation has taken root in Kashmir. “When I came to Kashmir in 1990, it wasn’t like this at all. Radicalisation has taken place. But it isn’t what ISIS or Al-Qaida propagates,’’ he said.
Speaking of measures to prevent the spread of militancy in the Valley, Vaid said the Centre should take steps focused on youth in Kashmir. “The youth are jobless. He will offer namaaz and then his mobile is his madrassa. He spends a lot of time on social media where he gets influenced by a lot of unwanted and dangerous stuff. We need to have schemes and programmes to engage youth… to earn livelihoods. We need to focus on youth who are 10th-pass, 12th-pass. We need to engage them in work where they can earn — for example, TV repair, motor repair, plumbing courses, etc. I mean, provide them courses where they will learn a skill so that they can earn. The tourism industry can also come as a huge help. Idle youth is a potential bomb,” he said.
On the challenge posed by militancy, Vaid said that “south (Kashmir) remains the priority”. ”We have already killed 160 militants till now this year, most of them in the south. Remember what the situation was last year. Things have changed considerably there. In the south, Shopian (district) especially remains a concern. Tral is a concern, too,’’ he said.
”Though there aren’t exact figures of active militants available, there are around 70-80 in north, 90-odd in the south and 10-15 in central Kashmir. The total is less than 200 today,” Vaid said.
The DGP said that “as far as HM (Hizbul Mujahideen) and LeT (Lashkar-e-Toiba) are concerned, a majority of their commanders have been neutralised. There are only six-seven commanders who are left. This has led to a lot of improvement in the situation and helped in halting the recruitment,’’ he said.
However, Vaid described the rise of Jaish-e-Mohammad as “a new phenomenon”. “Three-four fresh groups of Jaish have been pushed. These groups are active in the Tral area, north Kashmir and the Pulwama-Anantnag area. We have had some successes, like we killed Khalid recently. He was a top commander of Jaish who was active for a long time. In Hajin, we killed two (militants) recently. One of them was local, who was extremely important. I have information that Mehmood, who is a Pakistani, was also injured in that operation. That is a big blow to them (militants),” he said.
Among those killed this year was the prime suspect in the Amarnath Yatra attack, Abu Ismail, a Pakistani militant who had replaced Abu Dujana as LeT’s Kashmir chief. According to security forces, Ismail was killed during a raid on the outskirts of Srinagar city last month, but there has been intense speculation in the Valley that he was poisoned to death. “It is a false rumour. He wasn’t killed by poisoning but killed in an encounter,’’ said Vaid.
Referring to Zakir Musa, who is leading a breakaway faction of militants, Vaid said he “follows ISIS/Al-Qaida ideology which is dangerous”. “Musa isn’t close to us or working with us at all. As far as I know, I don’t think he is close to any of our agencies. If he comes in front of us, we won’t spare him. For us, anybody who holds a gun and opens fire at us is a terrorist,” he said.
Referring to the recent investigations by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) against several Hurriyat leaders allegedly linked to funds for militancy, DGP Vaid said that “it is wrong to say the case registered by the NIA and subsequent raids on Hurriyat alone have helped improve the situation”.
”This is a wrong perception. Of course, the NIA (case) has been a complementary factor. But if we had not exerted consistent pressure, killed so many terrorists, this wouldn’t be possible. If we had not improved the situation, NIA raids wouldn’t have happened. Do you think they would have been able to go and conduct raids and searches here (in Kashmir) last year?” he said.
Insisting that J&K Police is competent to investigate any case, Vaid said, “We tell NIA that you have a mandate to deal with scheduled offences and you are investigating terror funding, please stay focused on that and please don’t try to spread out. We (J&K Police) are dealing with the situation efficiently and effectively.”
Vaid also defended the use of pellet guns while tackling protesters but said that J&K Police have reduced their use substantially. “Since I took charge earlier this year, it is now used only in places where we think people will get killed while controlling the situation. Short of killing, it is not a bad idea. It (pellets) is better than killing — at least the person lives when hit by pellets,” he said.
Vaid said that J&K Police are currently “focused on controlling the situation and pressure on militants and separatists will continue during the winter as well”.
”Infiltration can only take place till the snow falls and if Army is able to check it (infiltration) to a bare minimum and we continue to build pressure inside, the overall situation will improve,’’ he said.