The appointment of the retired IPS officer, Farooq Khan, as the 5th Advisor to the Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik on Saturday, 13 July, is an extraordinary political development for a variety of reasons.
It bears yet another tough message for the Valley’s militants and separatists who have spurned all the offers of reconciliation and dialogue from New Delhi in the last many years.
Among the five Advisors to the Governor, Farooq Khan alone wears the distinction of having been a member of the ruling BJP at the Centre.
A year after his retirement as an officer of the rank of Inspector General of Police, Khan had joined the BJP at the then Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s massive rally at Hiranagar, in Jammu’s Kathua district on 26 March 2014.
Amit Shah Seen As Crucial To Farooq Khan’s Transfer to J&K
In the 1940s, Khan’s grandfather, Col Peer Mohammad, became the first President of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh in Jammu and Kashmir, after retiring from the Maharaja’s Army. The family’s unparalleled links to the BJP’s ideological fountainhead earned Farooq Khan remarkable respect within the party’s top brass. He was appointed as national secretary with special responsibilities in the Northeast, besides being the national in-charge of BJP’s Minority Morcha. On 13 July 2016, the President of India appointed him as the Administrator for Lakshadweep.
While handling crucial political missions for the BJP, Khan became the party president, Amit Shah’s, confidante.
Inducted as the Union Home Minister in the Modi 2.0 cabinet, Amit Shah is perceived to be instrumental in Khan’s transfer from Lakshadweep to his home state of Jammu and Kashmir. His order of appointment was approved and issued on a holiday, as nobody in New Delhi listened to the reservations of a section of the bureaucracy. On the evening of Tuesday, 16 July, Khan joined as Advisor to the Governor.
J&K Governor’s ‘Non-Political’ Advisors
With no political background, the other four Advisors to the Governor are either retired IPS or retired IAS officers.
Khursheed Ahmad Ganai, a permanent resident of Kashmir, is a 1982 batch IAS officer of the J&K cadre, who is in his second stint as Advisor to the Governor. Former CM Mehbooba Mufti’s then PDP-BJP government had appointed him as J&K’s Chief Information Commissioner. However, NN Vohra got him back as Advisor, after the Governor’s Rule was imposed following the BJP’s withdrawal of support to Mufti in June 2018.
Kewal Krishen Sharma, a permanent resident of Jammu, is a 1983 batch IAS officer of AGMUT cadre. He was inducted as an Advisor by Governor Satya Pal Malik in November 2018, weeks before his Advisor BB Vyas was appointed as a member of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
K Skandan is a 1982 batch IAS officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre. Before his retirement, he served as Joint Secretary (J&K) in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs for two years. Later, as an Additional Secretary in the MHA, Skandan remained associated with J&K for about three years.
K Vijay Kumar: “Bold Officer Who Killed Veerappan”
K Vijay Kumar, a 1975 batch IPS officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre, is the senior-most, and holds the highest profile among the Advisors. On more than one occasion, Governor Malik has introduced him as “the bold officer who killed Veerappan”. After holding crucial positions, including the chief of Tamil Nadu’s Special Task Force, Kumar has to his credit the elimination of legendary forest brigand, Veerappan, who operated his huge sandalwood smuggling racket for 36 years in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka.
Kumar’s Special Force team eliminated Veerappan in the meticulously-planned Operation Cocoon at Papparapatti village in Dramrampuri district of Tamil Nadu on 18 October 2004.
Kumar has also held a stint as IG Border Security Force in Kashmir in 1998-2000.
Farooq Khan – ‘The KPS Gill Of J&K’
Farooq Khan has been an officer of the Jammu and Kashmir Police service, who was inducted into the IPS with his year of allotment fixed as 1994. But his distinctions on the counter-terrorism front are unparalleled.
“What KPS Gill was to Punjab, Farooq Khan is to J&K,” said a retired police officer.
In 1994-95, Khan volunteered to launch J&K Police’s first counter-terrorism wing, Special Task Force (STF), when MN Sabherwal was the Director General of Police, and Gen KV Krishna Rao was Governor during the long spell of President’s rule.
It was under Khan’s leadership, in close coordination with the Army, that hundreds of militants were transformed into a counter-insurgent militia called Ikhwanul Muslimoon, which launched a massive crackdown on the pro-Pakistan guerrillas and their supporters.
More than 2,000 militants are believed to have been killed by the STF and the Army, with the help of the Ikhwanul Muslimoon of Kukka Parray, and Muslim Mujahideen of Azad Nabi in 1994-96. Even as the pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen retaliated and eliminated hundreds of the Ikhwan and MM cadre, including all of the two militias’ top commanders, it was Khan’s STF and the Army that made the first post-1990 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections possible in 1996.
Over a hundred of the top militant commanders were killed in the successful operations planned and executed under Khan’s leadership. They included Hilal Beg of the J&K Students Liberation Front, who had subsequently launched the J&K Islamic Front. Beg was involved in high-profile killings and kidnappings, including that of the Kashmir University Vice Chancellor, Professor Mushirul Haq.
Gradually, STF spread to the entire Valley, with SPs or Dy SPs functioning independently in all the districts declared as “disturbed”.
Allegations Of Extrajudicial Killings, Human Rights Abuse Against Farooq Khan
Notwithstanding his spectacular successes, many of Farooq Khan’s operations turned controversial, as separatists, human rights activists and the media accused him of blatant abuse of human rights, extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances. For some time, he was either given insignificant positions or placed under suspension.
Khan endured the worst period of his career during his posting as Senior Superintendent of Police in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district.
On 20 March 2000, unidentified gunmen massacred 36 members of the minority Sikh community at Chittisinghpura. The Army allegedly lifted five civilians out of their residences in the periphery of Anantnag district headquarters. While the civilians remained untraced, the Rashtriya Rifles 7th battalion, on 25 March 2000, claimed to have killed “five foreign terrorists involved in the Chittisinghpura massacre” near Pathribal village.
April 2000: Firing On A Peaceful Civilian Protest
On 3 April 2000, a procession of civilian demonstrators passed through the district headquarters of Anantnag, alleging that the five civilians lifted by the troops had been killed in a ‘fake encounter’ and falsely shown as ‘foreign terrorists’. Men from SOG’s camp at Brakpora, on Anantnag outskirts, opened fire on the procession. Eight demonstrators were killed, and over a dozen others were injured.
On 15 March 2000, Farooq Abdullah’s government set up a commission of inquiry, comprising Justice GA Kuchai, retired judge of J&K High Court, to identify and prosecute the personnel and officers responsible for unwarranted firing on the peaceful demonstrators. In December 2002, the Kuchai Commission submitted its report. It held SSP, Anantnag, Farooq Khan guilty.
Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah assigned the cases of the Brakpora firing, the Chittisinghpura massacre, and the Pathribal ‘fake encounter’ for a thorough investigation to Justice SR Pandian, a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India.
The commission held three men of the SOG, and four of the CRPF, responsible for opening fire on the peaceful demonstrators, but gave a clean chit to Khan whose involvement in any manner was not established.
It recommended the prosecution of the seven personnel, besides the termination of their services.
Pandian Commission’s & CBI’s Clean Chits to Farooq Khan
Amid a huge controversy, Abdullah’s government handed over the case to the CBI for a thorough criminal investigation. The CBI started its investigation on 14 February 2003. On 12 May 2006, it filed a charge sheet in the court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Srinagar, while holding seven officers and soldiers of the RR 7th battalion responsible for the ‘cold-blooded murder’ of the five innocent civilians, in the fake encounter at Pathribal.
Much like the Pandian Commission, the CBI too gave a clean chit to Khan, claiming that his involvement was not established either in the shootout at Brakpora, or the killing of five civilians at Pathribal, or in the fudging of the DNA samples of the civilians whose bodies had been exhumed under magisterial supervision.
Army’s Institutional Defence to CBI’s Accused
On 9 September 2007, the Army got the trial proceedings in the CBI’s Srinagar court stayed. The CBI and the Army, which provided institutional defence to the officers and the soldiers found guilty by the investigating agency, fought a pitched battle in the Supreme Court of India. With the advantage of clean chits from Pandian Commission and CBI, Farooq Khan completed his service in the Police, even as nobody has been established as guilty, or punished by any court in the three incidents.
Years later, Barry Bearak reported in New York Times that a detainee in Pakistan, Suhail Malik, reportedly Hafiz Sayeed’s nephew, had revealed during questioning in some matter, that the militants of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba had planned and executed the massacre of Sikhs at Chittisinghpura.
In another development, the American accused in the terror strike of November 2008 in Mumbai, David Headley, told his NIA interrogators that the massacre had been executed by LeT. Yet, the predominant perception in the Valley is that it was the handiwork of some Indian agency to smear the militants at a time when the US President Bill Clinton was on a visit to New Delhi.
(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)