February 7, 2001


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    The Rediff Interview/J&K Inspector General of Police Dr Ashok Bhan

    After armed killers slaughtered six Sikhs in Srinagar's Mehjoor Nagar, Kashmir Inspector General of Police Dr Ashok Bhan is under fire from the minority community.

    The Sikhs accuse him of negligence. They say that despite conveying their insecurity and apprehensions to him in writing, he refused to take preventive measures.

    Dr Bhan, they allege, made a controversial statement soon after the incident: If Sikhs want to live in Kashmir, they should be ready for sacrifices.

    The IGP has also been criticised by other Kashmiris. His force, especially counterinsurgents of the Special Operations Group, is accused of some 20 custodial killings.

    In this exclusive interview to Assistant Editor Chindu Sreedharan, Dr Bhan defends himself and his men, dismissing the allegations mostly as a figment of the media's imagination.

    How would you assess the law and order situation in the Valley after the Mehjoor Nagar incident?

    The situation is fully under control. As you know, today [Tuesday] we had curfew only under four police station areas. Even in these areas, it has been relaxed from 1 pm [to 3 pm].

    And in the rest of the Valley?

    In the whole valley the situation is under control. Everything is normal. The incident has definitely caused insecurity and we are trying to reach out to the Sikhs in all parts. Our officers have visited them. The help of the army, BSF and CRPF have been sought to provide area dominance in Sikh villages.

    Police pickets already exist in many villages after Chattisinghpora. In addition, there are certain villages where the army, BSF or CRPF is located. They have been advised to guard these villages. Wherever there wasn't such protection available, we have established police pickets.

    How many additional police pickets and men have been deployed after Saturday?

    There are 19 police pickets in the valley exclusively for the protection of Sikhs since Chattisinghpora.

    And now?

    We have advised the BSF, army and CRPF. But manpower is a limited resource. So whatever is available it has been put to use in those villages.

    How much more manpower do you require to make sure that Sikhs are protected?

    That's difficult to answer. I would not like to venture into a number game. The general idea is to provide a sense of security in a particular village -- and that we do by area dominance. Wherever there are no forces, there we have established police pickets.

    So how safe would you say Sikhs are in the Valley now?

    Can you tell me how safe a Hindu is in Delhi?

    I would say he is much safer than a Sikh is in the Valley.

    But you cannot quantify it. It is a proxy war sponsored by a foreign country. Whenever they desire to do such acts, soft targets are always available. Now you are talking of villages. Villages are guarded. But people go for jobs. Can we guard all roads, can we guard their places of work?

    So, we have to provide general security. Improve the security situation on the scene. By providing that, things will automatically look up.

    Can you give us more details about the killers at Mehjoor Nagar? What progress has been made to track them down?

    There were four to five of them, in two groups. Two of them have been identified. One belongs to the Laskhkar-e-Tayiba. The other is a terrorist who has been active in Srinagar, but does not belong to the Laskhar. He keeps changing his loyalties.

    You have come in for a lot of criticism from the community. They say you stated that Sikhs should be ready for sacrifices if they want to live here.

    I didn't say that. What I said was if Sikhs or anyone has to remain in Kashmir they have to fight it out. Unko ladna padega. Jisko bhi Kashmir me rehna hai usko in cheeson ka mukabla karna padega. Yeh yudh hai. Is Yudh me police ke saath-saath mukabala karna padega. (This is a war. The people have to fight alongside the police). Those were my words.

    Residents of Mehjoor Nagar also say they had let you know of their apprehensions in writing, but you did not take any action.

    Nobody came to me. Nobody gave me anything in writing. No question of giving it in writing.

    But isn't it a fact that after autorickshaw driver Bilal Ahmad Khan's murder there was a lot of antagonism against the Sikhs. What measures had you taken in view of that?

    Yes. The media tried to play it up. And when the media wants something to be done, it is very difficult to counter them. They are their own masters. So I would request the media to exercise restrain when they publish unsubstantiated reports. [Media reports had said that two SOG personnel who were Sikhs had picked up Khan.]

    The auto-drivers were on strike for some time and we had made adequate arrangements to deal with the law and order situation.

    Incidents of stone pelting and violence against Muslims by Sikhs have been reported after Saturday. Do you see this blowing up into a communal clash?

    I am not aware of such incidents. It is total falsehood.

    Members of both communities have come together and a number of meetings have been held in Anantnag, Baramulla and such rural areas. People of the majority community, the leadership of all political parties, even of the Hurriyat, they have shown solidarity towards Sikhs. And with all the measures we have taken, I am confident that the situation will pass off and normalcy will soon come back.

    Your force, especially the SOG, is accused of not respecting the cease-fire, indulging in custodial killings. Your comment.

    Our force is doing a wonderful job, including the SOG. We are working under pressure, because more responsibilities have come on the police after the cease-fire. As combat operations are not initiated, we have to go for pinpoint information to track down cases, to track down criminals.

    The burden on the police force has increased and it is demonstrated by the fact that in January, 40 militants were killed of which 21 were foreigners. The bulk of them were killed by the J&K police.

    Does that mean the police are on the offensive? Isn't that against the spirit of the cease-fire?

    I won't say offensive. We have to maintain law and order. The cease-fire is a different thing. It means you don't initiate combat operations, you don't put people to harassment. You don't cordon and search villages.

    Whenever a force gets the upper hand it is always accused of human rights violations. This is natural. Earlier, the accusations were against the CRPF and the BSF. Now that it is we who are active, it is against us.

    You had spoken about pinpoint information and tracking down cases. Suppose you know that militants are in a particular house. Would you initiate an operation?

    I will put it the other way. If militants are hiding to strike at the airport, I will definitely go and attack, kill or arrest them, whatever is possible. I cannot wait for the airport, or a protected place or a protected person or an innocent civilian to be killed.

    Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah had made a widely reported statement that, as there is no place in the state jails he has asked the police to shoot down militants. How has your force received it? What precisely are your orders?

    Dr Abdullah never made that statement. We never heard such a statement. This is the figment of the imagination of the press.

    Bilal Ahmad Khan's murder is said to be what sparked the Mehjoor Nagar incident. What progress has been made on that case? Why do you think he was killed?

    He was a released militant. But that incident and his association with militancy are two different things.

    At the moment there are inter-group clashes going on between militants. One good example happened about 10 days ago in Srinagar. A Hizbul Mujahideen militant who had shifted his loyalty to Jaish-e-Mohammad, he was killed by a militant called Shakeel. Luckily after two days Shakeel was killed in an encounter with the police.

    Similar group clashes are continuing. We believe that Khan's killing was part of some clash between two groups. We are clear in that no policeman picked him up. We had no reason to.

    Design: Lynette Menezes

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