Thursday, 25 July 2013
Setbacks From Within in Struggle to End Kashmir’s Violence
THATHRI, Kashmir — This tiny mountain town in Kashmir, once the site of bloody battles between militants, has returned to a quieter life, surviving on apples, walnuts and government handouts. Terraced fields are carved out of mountainsides, and locals use donkeys to help carry their loads.
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The New York Times
So when an unexploded grenade was found on April 28 in a pile of broken bricks outside the fortified police station here, a shudder ran through the ranks of Kashmir’s top officials.
Two years had passed since the last militant attack in the surrounding area, and officials had begun to hope that the cycle of massacres, assassinations and revenge killings that had made this corner of Indian-controlled Kashmir one of the most dangerous in the region’s long, dirty war had finally burned itself out.
Some even hoped tourists might soon be willing to brave the hair-raising switchbacks to travel here to experience its breathtaking valleys.
In the end, the police arrested one of their own, a decorated officer. And while that allayed concerns about militant-led attacks, it exacerbated fears that some people would be unable to move past the region’s violence. In this case, the officer was charged with attempted murder, accused of staging the unsuccessful grenade attack in what several officials called an effort to raise enough worries about continuing violence to win him a promotion to inspector.
Attacks in Kashmir have plunged in recent years, with the top leaders of India and Pakistan again promising better relations in the contested region. While many Kashmiris still resent India’s dominance, far fewer are willing to fight it anymore — although sporadic assaults, including a recent attack that killed eight soldiers, continue.
India has responded to the relative quiet by withdrawing the army from Srinagar — the summer capital of the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir — and some larger towns, but a vast police and paramilitary presence remains. Paramilitary killings of civilians last weekduring protests over a reported desecration of the Koran led to demonstrations across Kashmir. Nearly 100,000 police officers, meanwhile, were assigned to preventing insurgent attacks.
“Unfortunately, there is a vested interest in certain quarters to keep the conflict alive,” Omar Abdullah, Jammu and Kashmir’s chief minister, said in an interview at his official residence in Srinagar. “One of the challenges we face as the level of violence goes down is figuring out how to deal with those people who have benefited from violence, whose career prospects have been determined by violence and who used to make money from violence.”
Shiv Kumar Sharma, the arrested officer, would seem to fit that description. He rapidly moved through the ranks and earned thousands of dollars in bonuses because his bosses considered him unusually good at finding and killing militants. Former colleagues say he loved gold chains, dark sunglasses, fine clothing and the fame that his many operations brought him.
But Rashish Gupta, Officer Sharma’s lawyer, said that his client’s successes had made him vulnerable to jealous rivals on the police force and that they were framing him, a charge the police denied. “He got a name for himself and so much fame because of his good work in such a short time that many officers were jealous of him,” Mr. Gupta said.
The break in the grenade case came when an officer reported that he had seen a former militant wandering suspiciously around the police station on the morning of the attack, according to Mohammad Arif Rishu, the area’s police superintendent.
The former militant, Abdul Rashid, known as Abdullah, is one of hundreds of men who trained at militant camps in Pakistan and sneaked back into India, but instead of attacking, they surrendered themselves and their weapons. Mr. Rishu ordered the former militant’s arrest.
When the police found Mr. Rashid, he admitted that he had helped plan the grenade attack and had recruited another man to carry it out, according to Mr. Rishu and Rauf Ahmed Khan, the chief of the Thathri police. The authorities soon arrested three other members of the group who they believe were involved and said they had recovered an assault rifle, a pistol, ammunition and high-powered walkie-talkies.
The group’s efforts to create mayhem, the police said, were almost comically unsuccessful. Their initial plan was for Rafi, a 19-year-old who goes by one name, to assassinate several prominent officials, the police said. Rafi stalked his prey but was unable to pull the trigger.
“He told me, ‘I went to the places I was told to go, and I was near the people I was told to kill, but I couldn’t do it,’ ” Mr. Rishu said. “He became chicken-hearted.”
Mr. Rishu and Chief Khan said that led Mr. Rashid to recruit a second 19-year-old, who also uses one name, Altaf, to toss a grenade into the Thathri police station, a sagging two-story adobe building ringed by corrugated metal sheets and barbed wire. Altaf could not bring himself to approach the station, so he climbed to the roof of a nearby hotel and tossed the grenade from afar, but it failed to explode, the police said.
Mr. Rashid, Rafi and Altaf were charged with attempted murder, possession of illegal arms and other offenses, and they remained in custody.
But the group’s most surprising claim — according to Mr. Rishu, Chief Khan and a third top police official — was that their leader had been Officer Sharma. The two 19-year-olds said they had participated because they were each promised 50,000 rupees, or more than $800, a princely sum here.
To Mr. Rishu, the confessions appeared to be part of a larger story. He said Officer Sharma had been desperate for a promotion to inspector, which had been under consideration for some time. “He used to come to my office and ask about it,” Mr. Rishu said.
At the same time, Officer Sharma was issuing increasingly urgent warnings of militant movements in the area. Mr. Rishu said believes that Officer Sharma intended to manufacture his own militancy so his promotion would go through.
During their investigation, the police also retrieved cellphone records that Chief Khan said showed a web of connections between Officer Sharma and Mr. Rashid, the former militant.
“Sometimes they spoke for 47 minutes, sometimes 10 minutes and sometimes 5, but there were a lot of calls,” Chief Khan said.
Still, Officer Sharma’s lawyer said that proved nothing. His client, he said, was expected to keep in touch with such men because they might provide leads about active militants.
When arrested, Officer Sharma said he was being targeted by the very militant elements he had spent his career fighting, the police said.
Chief Khan quoted him as saying, “I have done a lot of things, and they’re trying to get me.”
Local representatives of the Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist group, have defended Officer Sharma, saying he was the victim of a conspiracy that included the ruling Indian National Congress Party.
“On the directions of their political masters, local police officers have hatched a conspiracy to implicate Shiv Kumar Sharma,” a party official, Nirmal Singh, said, according to local news media. The police said they had acted independently, and Mr. Abdullah, the region’s chief minister and part of a coalition with the Congress Party, said the arrest had been appropriate.
“There has been an industrialization of violence here,” Chief Khan said. “Those who have made their careers out of violence are worried now that it is gone.”