Ever since the Shopian fake encounter of July 2020, that took the lives of three labourers, security forces in Jammu & Kashmir have been increasingly persuading militants to give up arms during anti-militancy operations in Jammu & Kashmir.
According to police sources, half a dozen militants have surrendered since the fake encounter. In 2020, 9 militants have surrendered during live encounters – 7 of which took place after the Shopian fake encounter.
The Jammu and Kashmir Police, in October 2020, stated that security forces and the police are witnessing success as “misguided youth are coming back, even during live action.”
Inspector General of Police, Kashmir Range, Vijay Kumar, during a press conference in Srinagar, said that surrendering is being preferred to death by the militants in live encounters. In a tweet, the IGP said: “Success of police and security forces is that they are getting misguided youth back. This year has been successful as they (youth) are returning now and they are being welcomed.”
‘Proof’ Of Militants Surrendering In The Valley
A senior security correspondent working with a local news agency told The Quint that even though surrenders used to happen on and off, this year, since the Shopian fake encounter, security forces have been keenly focused on persuading militants to surrender. “Unlike previous years, forces this year were also seen making videos during live encounters showing militants surrendering, and circulating those on social media,” he told The Quint.
The videos showing militants surrendering are being widely shared by the security forces on social media. In all these videos, security personnel are seen appealing to the youth to give up their arms and to surrender.
A soldier is seen assuring a trapped militant that he won’t be harmed, and orders his colleagues not to fire as the militant starts to walk towards them with hands raised. When he reaches them, the soldiers, all in combat fatigues, offer him water as he sits down to rest.
In another video, the militant’s family is seen thanking the soldiers for bringing their son back alive. They then hug their son and assure the troops that they won't let him go back to militant ranks.
Another senior journalist, Syed Aijaz, who has been working with local Urdu newspaper Kashmir Uzma told The Quint that earlier, security forces would hesitate to reveal the news of a surrendered militant, but this year the security forces have taken videos of militants surrendering during live encounters. He, however admitted that more militants are surrendering since the Shopian fake encounter.
Shopian Fake Encounter: What Happened & What It Led To
On 18 July 2020, the Army’s 62 Rashtriya Rifles claimed to have killed “three unidentified Al-Badr militants in Amshipora, Shopian in south Kashmir”, and the bodies were buried based on established protocols.
The police statement for this also claimed that during the search operation, militants fired upon the Army and the encounter started with police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) also taking part in the operation.
Only a few days later, three families in Dhar Sakri village in Rajouri, Jammu, complained that those killed were innocent – that they were three cousins – Imtiyaz Ahmad (26), Abrar Ahmad (18) and Mohd Ibrar (21) – who had travelled to Shopian to work as labourers in orchards.
The Army initially claimed that the three were ‘militants’. However, it later said an inquiry had, prima facie, showed evidence indicating that, “during the operation [in which the three were killed], powers vested under the AFSPA [Armed Forces Special Powers Act] 1990 were exceeded, and the dos and don’ts of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), as approved by the Hon’ble Supreme Court, have been contravened.”
The army added that the “competent disciplinary authority has directed initiation of disciplinary proceedings under the Army Act against those found prima-facie answerable.”
Two months after the fake encounter, the Jammu & Kashmir Police, in September 2020, said that the DNA samples of the three had matched with their family members in Rajouri.
Army & AFSPA Slammed By Human Rights Activists & Organisations
The Army’s admission, that it had exceeded the legal brief under the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) – in the killing of three persons on 18 July – brought back focus on the AFSPA, with human rights bodies seeking its revocation.
Meenakshi Ganguly, Director, Human Rights Watch, South Asia, tweeted: “After inquiry on allegations of extrajudicial killing of 3 #Kashmir men in July, army orders "disciplinary proceedings." But @hrw finds soldiers are protected from proper prosecution for rights violations. Recall Pathribal and Machil killings #RepealAFPSA.”
The staged encounter was also questioned by Amnesty International India, which called for the extrajudicial execution to be investigated and prosecuted by independent civilian authorities.
Executive Director Avinash Kumar, in a statement issued to the media, said that civilian investigations and trials offer a degree of transparency and independence that is missing from the military justice system.
The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, which has documented cases of torture, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings, said that the killing of the three civilians were a reminder of the “deeply entrenched structures of violence” that are prevalent in the Valley.
Army’s New Draft ‘Surrender Policy’
Following the wide criticism of the Shopian fake encounter, the Army is known to have, of late, proposed a fresh ‘surrender policy’ that is reportedly under the consideration of the Government of India.
If approved, it is expected to boost the surrender of more militants in the Valley, where the total number of active militants is estimated between 200 and 250.
Official sources revealed that the security forces had recently submitted a Draft Surrender Policy for the rehabilitation of surrendered militants, which was currently under consideration by the Union Ministry of Defence and the Union Ministry of Home Affairs.
The sources told The Quint that the surrender-rehabilitation policy of the union government for the militants, who shun the ‘path of violence’, is in the final stage.
“The Army and J&K police have sent recommendations regarding the policy to the Centre, and the new surrender policy may be rolled out soon.”
An earlier policy from 2010 focused on ensuring the return of former militants from the state, who had taken up arms between January 1989 and December 2009 but later given up insurgent activities “due to a change of heart and were willing to return to the state.”
Army’s Appeal To Militants
More than 200 militants have been killed in the last 11 months of 2020, even as anti-militancy operations continue in the nooks and corners of the Valley.
A senior police officer told The Quint that security forces, during the initial stage of any encounter, give a chance to a trapped militant to surrender. “Our focus was never to kill any militant but to make him surrender. But yes, recently, we have done a strategic shift. Earlier, the orientation was only with regard to the militants, but now it is far-reaching – right till the roots of militancy. We are keenly focusing on and investigating who it is that is motivating these boys to join militancy. We are now analysing the situation and process which leads them down this path,” he added.
Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police (DGP), Dilbagh Singh, called the surrender of militants a welcome development. “We want the youth, who have been lured into taking the wrong path, to return. There is still time, they can return, and we will help them in every way,” he said.
The DGP added that all those who picked up arms should return to the mainstream, assuring them of support in every way.
IGP, Kashmir, Kumar declared in October 2020, that eight militants had actually surrendered during different encounters in Kashmir in 2020, and five in October alone.
“I once again urge the youth who have picked up arms to return to the mainstream and live with their families,” he had said in his appeal.
(Irfan Amin Malik is a journalist based in Kashmir and he tweets @irfanaminmalik. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)