Sainudhin Malik*, a sarpanch in one of the remote villages in Bandipora district in Jammu and Kashmir, was once a gun-yielding militant leader commanding 70 militants. He had joined Hizbul Mujahideen, the Pakistani militant group in the ‘90s, eventually becoming the leader of a local group.
The persistent effort of a newly joined army officer in the area around the mid 1990s convinced him of the futility of his cause which led to his surrender in 1995.
Also Read: Over 400 Militants Surrender in Balochistan
The officer was an upright individual contrary to the image we had about the Indian Army. He convinced us about the futility of the cause. After 8 months of negotiations and discussions, we decided to lay down our arms.
Most of them, including Malik, joined the Territorial Army (TA), the force which works in tandem with the regular army whom they had earlier fought. After almost a decade he quit TA to join a political party with whose support he has become the sarpanch now.
In fact, Malik and his men are evidence of the painstaking work by the men in uniform. Many officers in the army and other paramilitary forces have such incidents to narrate. From the patient discussions with families of militants or their lovers, the soldiers use all available means to convince them to lay down their arms.
Many of these men go on to lead peaceful lives and join the ‘mainstream’. Many like Malik are recruited to the TA and assist the regular army and even take part in military operations. Recruitment to the army requires extensive police verification which is not the case with the TA.
This transformation from being a militant to an army jawan, is a story many officers want to share.
Lay Down Your Arms, Give up the Fight
Lieutenant General (retired) Ravi Thodge, a veteran army officer says that this is more about the individual initiatives of the army officers on the ground. He had persuaded around a dozen militants to lay down their arms.
This is more about the personal rapport and trust established by an officer with the locals. We try to convince the people that we are not after the locals who have been misguided. At the same time, we demonstrate a firm resolve, with the leaders and the hardened militants.
He says that the government and the forces take initiatives to integrate them into the mainstream society. From providing skill development training to inducting the eligible ones into government service, several measures are taken. Those who surrendered before him work as jawans, special police officers, teachers and also run businesses.
To be Human Again
Like Thodge mentioned, the focus is on local militants but there have been cases where even foreign militants have laid down their arms. A serving officer in one of the infantry units had managed to convince a Pakistani militant to lay down his arms.
“He was cornered but when asked over the microphone, he was ready to surrender. Later he told me that he had heard of me as an officer who was true to his word with regard to humane treatment,” said this officer who was a Commanding Officer in one of the militancy-inflicted areas of Kashmir.
What had shocked this militant was the difference between perception and reality. “When militants like him come to the Valley, the heavy military presence convinces him of the propaganda. It is only after some time that he found the Indian army to be the same as any other combat force,” said this officer.
This ability to portray a humane image of themselves is one of the best strategies the army could depend on.
Living With Dignity but Fear
Anwar*, another former militant with Hizbul Mujahideen who is now a jawan with the home and hearth battalion is testimony to this. He had become a militant when he was around 16 years old and in high school, when a group of militants walked into his home one day and asked him to join them.
Initially, Anwar helped them with the cooking and later took to arms. After roughly a decade, he learnt from his family members, whom he visited occasionally, about a new army officer. He told The Quint:
Contrary to what we had heard about army men, he was neither a trigger-happy man nor a womaniser. This made me listen to him and in a few months, I surrendered.
After his surrender in 2004, Anwar joined the army. How is life for him now? The father of four children, Anwar says:
It is tough. My former comrades are after my life. I was attacked a few times at home and outside. Now I do not sleep at home at night. Instead, I visit them secretly and stay at some of my friends’ houses.
All the surrendered militants have similar tales to narrate. Malik too was attacked a couple of times. “Being a former leader, I’m a prime target. The government has allotted me a Special Police Officer for my protection,” said the former militant.
Sometimes, it might be an accidental conversation that leads to the unexpected. Muthuvel*, a senior officer in one of the infantry units remembers a conversation he had with a militant over a wireless set around 2005.
“It started with him abusing me for irritating him,” remembers the then company commander. “Later, I would irritate him for fun, which eventually led to a friendly association. I would never try to drag him into a conversation about his views. But one day he appeared upset about the duplicity of his superiors,” he said.
This provided an opportunity to the army veteran to start a conversation with the militant about his views, following which, it was only a matter of months before militant Riazudeen* would surrender.
Muthivel who has managed several such surrenders says that not all their efforts pay off, but it is worth the effort. “It is worth knowing their stories. Sometimes we become friends where the militant becomes an informer for you, not perhaps for the money but for the respect he has for you. If you can get one, why shoot him,” he says when asked about the risks.
*Names changed on request.
(The writer is a former journalist with The Times of India, Coimbatore and currently works as a researcher.)
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