The Jammu and Kashmir Police is the best counter-insurgency force after the Indian Army. Tackling insurgency in the Valley over the last three decades, it never lost its cohesion or faltered from its duty. Most of Indian Army’s successful operations have been possible due to the information provided by the Jammu and Kashmir Police or with their cooperation. This is why the recent arrest of celebrated officer DSP Davinder Singh, caught ferrying two Hizbul militants, is a curious case.
But is Davinder Singh the odd black sheep or the manifestation of a malaise that prevails in the Jammu and Kashmir Police (JKP) and other security forces operating in the new Union Territory?
My answer to the question is an emphatic “no, he is not a manifestation of the malaise”. The security forces, by and large, adhere to the law, and violations are aberrations by a rogue minority. A minority that is significant enough to cast a shadow over the legitimate operations, give Pakistan and the terrorists fodder for propaganda, and create serious doubts in the minds of the international community.
State’s right to go after terrorists
Counter insurgency is a dirty, no-holds-barred war. Terrorists, by nature, follow no rules, whereas the security forces have to adhere to the law of the land, rules of engagement, and international conventions while conducting operations. In practice, though, a significant minority ends up committing violations out of zeal, reputation of the unit/force, and/or lure of money and rewards.
The government and its security forces have full right to carry out covert operations against terrorists. These include infiltrating terrorist organisations, assassinating their leaders, using those who have surrendered to target their former comrades, creating conditions of internecine war among terrorist groups, and creating vigilante groups from the harassed anti-terrorist population.
All these operations involve large sums of unaccounted money, are controlled at the highest level of command, and covered by strict government protocols. It is extremely necessary that the controllers and operatives hold a very high standard of integrity. None of these protocols is in public domain and my assessment is that, if at all they exist, they are not followed in letter and spirit. As a result, a state of laissez-faire takes over, resulting in corruption and abuse of law. In its worst form, it can lead to false ‘flag operations’ with or without a complicit state.
Failure to prosecute own
But there are instances when aberrations – violations committed by the rogue minority – are not investigated properly. There is a marked tendency to cover up or condone them to safeguard the organisation’s reputation. And when the top leadership of the security forces and the government overlook it, the problem gets compounded. To date, the central government has not given sanction to prosecute any armed forces personnel when charged by civilian courts because of immunity granted under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
The state government does the same in most cases related to police personnel. In cases where sanction is given, the investigation and prosecution are done in a manner that the cases fall in courts. Statistics are not in public domain, but the Army has carried out over 100 court martials for offences in Jammu and Kashmir to award sentences, which include dismissal and life imprisonment. To the best of my knowledge, despite hundreds of complaints and allegations, no Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel has ever been punished for violation of human rights or other offences in counter-insurgency operations.
There is a need to bring about reforms, strictly enforce the rules, regulations, protocols and law, otherwise the good work of the security forces will come to naught.
DSP case is what you get
DSP Davinder Singh was a perfect example of the Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel. A handsome Sikh with an impressive military bearing who had a chequered but impressive record of 25 years, a large part of which was spent with the Special Task Force/Special Operations Group – the counter-terrorist force of JKP. As per media reports, Singh was awarded the President’s medal for meritorious services on 15 August 2019. This has been denied by the JKP, which has said that he was only given the state award, Sher-e-Kashmir Police Medal for Gallantry, in August 2018, which the state administration has now forfeited as well.
It is to clarify that
Dysp Davinder Singh is not awarded any Gallantry or Meritorious Medal by MHA as has been reported by some media outlets/persons Only gallantry medal awarded to him during his service is by the erstwhile J&K State on Independence Day 2018.
— J&K Police (@JmuKmrPolice) January 14, 2020
On 11 January, DSP Davinder Singh was travelling in a car in the company of two Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists and a lawyer who was also an “over ground worker”. Singh and his companions were arrested at a check-post after a tip-off. Later, two AK-47 rifles and ammunition were recovered from his house on the outskirts of Badami Bagh cantonment.
According to the police, Davinder Singh was absent without leave Saturday, and had taken four days’ leave with effect from Sunday. Apparently, he was in the process of “escorting” the terrorists to Jammu. The media has speculated that the terrorists were planning to carry out bomb attacks in Jammu, Chandigarh and New Delhi on Republic Day. On the face of it, Singh was not undertaking a ‘sanctioned’ covert operation as being claimed by him. In any case, the nature of his job as the officer-in-charge of anti-hijacking at Srinagar hardly warranted an operation of this kind. On 14 January, the case was handed over to the National Investigation Agency for further probe.
In the four days since his arrest, a Pandora’s box was opened, putting out the ugly side of Davinder Singh, the JKP hero. Media reports say there have been allegations against him for selling seized-heroin in 1995, custodial deaths, extortion, human rights violations and of being a double agent. In 2004, Afzal Guru, who was hanged for his role in the 2001 attack on Parliament, in a letter to his lawyer, had alleged that Davinder Singh had forced him to take a person named Muhammad to Delhi, hire a house for his stay, and buy a car for him. Muhammad was a Pakistani Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist who was killed in the Parliament attack.
These allegations not only raise doubts on all successful counter-terrorism operations carried out by DSP Davinder Singh but also put serious question marks over the conduct of scores of senior JKP officers who did not follow up on his investigations or condoned his various offences or simply turned a blind eye.
Let there be no doubt that DSP Davinder Singh is not a lone black sheep. There must be more like him in Jammu and Kashmir Police, Indian Army, and the Central Armed Police Forces.
Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.