When families get involved

Soon after the encounter at Chadoora which killed a militant and three civilians, the militants once again ransacked a senior police officer’s house at Khudwani, Kulgam, in a third such incident in the last seven days. The village falls in the neighbourhood of Yaripora, where the slain militant Tauseef Wagay hailed from. A day earlier, militants had similarly raided  an assistant sub-inspector’s house at Dairoo village of Shopian district. Earlier, they attacked the house and torched the car of a Jammu and Kashmir Prisons Department officer in Budgam district. Last month, twelve gunmen had raided the house of a DySP level officer at Shopian  and warned the family that he should  either quit the job or otherwise  stop harassing the families of the militants. During all these incidents, the police officers were not present in their homes.

Up until now as part of a tacit code, the militants and the police men didn’t harm each other’s families. But on Monday night, the former chose to unilaterally revise this mutually accepted rule of engagement. Considering their far-reaching implications for the anti-militancy operations in the state, the incidents have sent alarm bells ringing through the security establishment. Already, no less than  Director General of Police S P Vaid has issued a counter warning to the militants.

“Militants should realize they too have families. Let them take this as a warning,” Vaid said after the last month’s raid on a DySP’s residence adding the conflict was between the police and the militants. “If the police start doing this, what will happen to their families”.

Militants, on the other hand, have justified the raid as a retaliation to the police raids at their houses and those of their sympathisers. “If police harasses our families, we will do same”,  the militants are alleged to have told the family members of the police men.

The raid have attempted to cross a red-line that has traditionally been respected by all the sides in the conflict, even by the ruthless pro-government militia in the mid-nineties. The transgressions have been fewer and far between. For example, when pro-government insurgents or their sympathisers were killed by separatist militants, they would occasionally kill the members of their families in retaliation. Police and the militants, on the contrary, would stay away from one another’s families, knowing well it was an arena where both  are vulnerable. The rule has largely also been observed by the Army and the paramilitary forces.

But over the past year,  the situation has transformed drastically. A new generation of militants has come on the scene, more so in South Kashmir, which is rewriting the rules of the game.   Last year,  Hizbul Mujahideen commander Zakir Rashid Bhat in a video threatened J&K police to stay off  families of the militants.  The raids on the houses of the police men are seen as the outcome of the change in tactics by the militants. The trend shows the very disturbing turn that the situation is taking. And the response to this is not the use of disproportionate force but a sustained political engagement. But this is something that the government currently seems least interested in. The militant raids on the houses of the police officers and those of the later on the militant houses is not a good sign of the things to come. It is time that the governments, both at the state and the centre wake up to the situation.


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