As riots spread uncontrollably across the Kashmir valley during the summer of 2010, Shiv Murari Sahai was brought back from Delhi as Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kashmir. Having restored a measure of calm over the last 20 months, Sahai talks to AJAI SHUKLA about the situation today.
Sahai is an unusual policeman, and immensely popular with his men. He keeps Roza (fast) during Ramzan, and is guardian to a young Kashmiri boy, the son of his personal security officer (PSO) who died in 2004. Through his widely visited Facebook site Sahai engages directly with the Kashmiri youth.
Q. What is the security situation in Kashmir today?
Militancy has reduced dramatically. In 2011, we wiped out the entire leadership of several militant organisations and they have not been able to replace them. But the AK-47 has been replaced by the pistol, the grenade and the IED, which are used by recycled militants who join forces with radicalized young boys. That combination is becoming a great challenge.
Q. Can you explain that?
Our problem today is a radicalized youth bulge. Some 50% of the population is between the ages of 13 and 25. With so many youngsters, parental and societal checks have failed… the elders are unable to restrain them. A similar youth bulge has fuelled the radicalization of agitations in the Middle East. That is happening here too, because the separatist leadership draws inspiration from there.
Besides, there are some 25,000 released militants walking the streets of Kashmir. These people have been released after completing prison terms, or are out on bail. They are not ideologically compromised, like the surrendered militants, who are less of a problem. They spread anti-state sentiment to the new generation. We have to absorb them into the mainstream before they radicalize the next generation.
Q. What fuels this radicalisation…?
The problem was sparked in 2008 when street violence, which had become history, resurfaced. It was not a political issue, but an emotional issue… the controversy over the Amarnath shrine land, and Jammu’s blockade of the valley created a grievance that still persists. And the separatists realized how street protests could be effectively used.
Again, in 2010, our inability to take action on the Machhil encounter (which was exposed as a fake encounter) created a chain reaction of agitation and deaths. A street protest would lead to a death (in police firing) and that led to another protest, which led to more firing. It didn’t help that 120 people were killed in 2010.
Q. How do you deal with this?
We have shifted our approach towards much greater youth engagement. I’ve sent the government a policy paper for rehabilitating released militants and absorbing them into society. I’ve done rallies with the released militants and probed into their problems.
The 25,000 released militants have low employability, little education, no capacity, no training, but they have a big attitude. If they open a shop and a customer throws back something at them, they will not be able to take it. They’re used to toting an AK-47 and being the boss of all they survey. They agree that they have this problem. But we are engaging them.
Q. What are the elements of your new strategy?
Firstly, the youngsters who have not broken the law should not feel that preference is being given to those who committed crimes. While upholding the cause of the law-abiding citizen, I have proposed individual counselling for released militants. Their needs are individual, there is not some overarching general need.
What they want is respect. We have already stopped requiring them to lodge attendance in police stations whenever there is tension. This was humiliating for them. Instead, they have been organised into NGOs, and the NGO in charge of a released militant accounts for him.
We will start recommending the kin of released militants for the issuance of passports. Earlier, we were not recommending them. As for the released militants themselves, we will provide verification to them when they need it for getting a job, but not for government service.
Q. Does Pakistani meddling continue?
Pakistanis today have much less capacity. And with the local militant leadership decimated, it is getting more difficult to infiltrate fighters into Kashmir.
Q. What about public support to militancy?
Today the militant is not a full-time fighter with pride in his uniform… he is more a part time terrorist. And released militants all say they have low social acceptability. At a recent rally they admitted that their neighbours now look down on them. For the young, impressionable man who became a militant, it is a life destroyed.