AS always, Jammu and Kashmir has figured prominently on the national horizon, the last two years being no exception, and tumultuous changes effected there have shaken the very foundations of the structure — changes which were not entirely unexpected. However, in doing so, we may have played into the hands of our enemies, who are always looking for opportunities to create divisions and weaken our republic. The tremors are being felt across the erstwhile state in most spheres of life. Trust is the basis of all human relations, and this was what we were working towards for decades. This trust lies fractured today and I’m hopeful that we can rebuild it. We have to stay united even as we respect each other’s diversity all over the country. I also was a participant in the task of strengthening this ‘trust’ through the rebuilding of J&K Police.
Elections to the J&K Assembly were held towards the end of 1996 and Dr Farooq Abdullah was sworn in as the Chief Minister of the National Conference government. At some point thereafter, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs took the decision to appoint the DGP from outside the J&K cadre to head J&K Police. I was asked if I was willing to go on deputation from the Punjab cadre and I agreed to do so, considering it a great privilege to head the police in the trouble-torn state. I took over as DGP in February 1997 and stayed on till the end of 2000.
It was winter and so I joined at Jammu and quickly completed the formalities of calling on the Governor, the CM, the Chief Secretary and officers of the armed forces, paramilitary and police. I then began a tour of the Valley police stations and those in Rajouri, Poonch, Doda and other districts. I interacted with the constabulary and junior officers everywhere and took the opportunity of calling on senior Army/PMF officers in the area. I called upon the police officers and men to honour their uniform and act together in defence of the motherland against foreign agents and their local supporters. My aim was only one — to win the trust of the police and the people and this could only be done if I was seen to be fair, unbiased, compassionate and professional. The force lacked in infrastructure and modern arms, vehicles, communications, etc. With full backing of the MHA, we assured them that all of this would be available in a matter of months and the only thing expected from them was loyalty, devotion to duty and good intelligence for our operations.
One of the policy decisions was to augment the strength of the police force. This was deemed necessary not only as it was seriously undermanned, but because the employment generated would be of immense benefit to the local population. In the months to come, the remotest of areas was covered and a large body of able-bodied young men were recruited. We would give short notice before going to an area and then transport the selected candidates to the nearest Police Lines. This was done in order to remove all scope for middle men, ambiguity and the accompanying nuisance of bribery and underhand dealing. The young men could not believe their luck and would often ask the recruiting party to take them along at that very moment. One could see abject poverty in the remote parts of the state and a desolation which years of conflict had brought about.
These young men from the remote border hamlets proved to be a great asset in counter-terrorist operations and became an integral part of our protective shield. They were not only familiar with the treacherous mountainous terrain and moved nimbly on it, but were an excellent source of information. Religion or region was no consideration except that the balance was maintained between Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. The positive results of this were visible in a few months and ‘trust’ started becoming a reality. The policemen came to form the vanguard of the Special Operation Groups (SOGs), which also contained elements of the Army, PMF, SPOs. The men behind the success of the SOGs were these local boys, who provided real-time actionable intelligence.
Modern equipment started coming in and we first ensured that the transport, communication and arms, etc. were given to the police stations. This led to further strengthening of our credibility and the police officers and men had a new spring in their step. Senior officers were given due regard and responsibility assigned to them, which they gladly accepted and discharged. We started developing into a team at headquarters and in the field. After due deliberation, we posted young and bold officers in the districts and told them to work carefully and fearlessly and we would ensure total moral and material support. We facilitated on an urgent basis the induction of approximately 35 state police officers into the IPS (something which had been lying pending for seven-eight years) by coordinating with the MHA, DoPT and UPSC. This led to an increased level of motivation. All this was made possible by the continued support of Delhi and the state government. During my tenure of approximately four years, I saw three changes in government at the Centre and as many Prime Ministers. Not one of them diluted the fight against terror and to the contrary, it only strengthened with time. The purpose, the direction and the goal was common — to defeat the designs of our enemy and build a strong, unified, effective police force. We were fully trusted by the Centre and the state government, which enabled us to go from strength to strength.
Another example of the country coming together on this quest was the training of new recruits. We had recruited thousands of constables and non-gazetted officers, but lacked the facility to train them. I made a request to the heads of police forces in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi and they took on a few thousand each and devoted personal attention to their training. This exposure to other states and police forces was very useful to our men. To top it all, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi refused to charge us anything for the training. Yes, the country responded to our dire need, and our need was indeed dire as the enemy was not sitting idle. Massive attempts at infiltration were made and Pakistan, freed from its ‘jihad’ in Afghanistan after installing a Taliban government there, had diverted major resources and manpower towards Kashmir. In the years leading up to Kargil, we were put hard to the test, but the young men of J&K Police held strong. Many were martyred in the defence of our republic. During the Kargil war, many attempts were made by the ISI to create disturbances and violence within the state to create an image of a revolution within. It is to the credit of the J&K Police and other forces that our shield held strong — a quiet battle was fought by many an unnamed policeman in his remote police station. This was especially commendable as all the regular Army units on internal security duty were withdrawn overnight and only gradually replaced by RR units.
Here I must pause and acknowledge the tremendous contribution of the armed forces, the PMF, the intelligence agencies and all the allied forces and institutions which worked together under the Unified Command. Above all, the support of the Chief Minister and MHA was total. Only once did the Deputy PM come up with an apprehension about arming of the J&K Police and SPOs on a large scale with modern weapons. I assured him that there would be no desertions or loss of arms. At the time of demitting office, I reminded him of his fears and informed him that these had been unfounded and in all the three regions of the state, we had a loyal, trained and dedicated force. Unity in diversity, combined with a strong federal structure, has been our strength. It is what distinguishes us from our fanatical neighbour. I have always believed that if we had worked more towards establishing a vibrant democracy in J&K and held the politicians and bureaucrats accountable to the people, the situation would have been vastly different. I do hope that years of fighting the barbarians have not made us more like them. As Roosevelt said, ‘War is young men dying and old men talking.’ It is easy to draw lines on maps and make proclamations while in positions of power — the ramifications are felt for long.
— The writer is ex-chairman of UPSC, former Manipur Governor and served as J&K DGP