Civilian killings in the recent Hyderpora shootout saw police sending out conflicting statements revolving around the “hybrid militant” and “militant associate”.
Amid the uproar over the demand of bodies, many asserted that the new terminology has almost blurred the distinction between combatants and civilians in Kashmir.
In a swiftly-addressed presser, Kashmir Police Chief, Inspector General of Police (IGP), Vijay Kumar gave the official description of what happened at Hyderpora in the evening of November 15.
But in the ensuing events, the deafening silence prevailed over the new insurgent tags and labels in Kashmir.
Ten days after the shootout, with Special Investigation Team (SIT) and Magisterial enquiry yet to make their probes public, DGP Dilbag Singh said that those killed in Hyderpora were not “innocents”.
The statement has once again made the Srinagar shootout an intriguing incident.
In the backdrop of the new police statement and the recent shootout, IGP Kumar in an exclusive interview with The Himalayan Post talks about the unfolding security situation in Kashmir.
Here are edited excerpts from the interview.
Officer, the pitch for judicial probe is still shrilling in the valley amidst the magisterial probe and SIT in Hyderpora shootout. Is police open to it?
Well, that’s up to the government to decide. As a responsible police force, we formed SIT [Special Investigation Team] without anyone even compelling us to do so.
But then, the demand is driven by the contradictory police statements on the civilian killings in Hyderpora shootout.
We did initially call Mohammad Altaf Bhat an OGW because we thought the foreign militant is on his property.
But later when we knew that Dr. Mudasir Gul has rented rooms in the building, we informed the media that it is Mudasir who is an associate, while Altaf was killed in the crossfire.
That is our stand on what happened at Hyderpora, rest family can claim anything. It’s up to the investigation agencies to decide now.
Any crucial findings by the SIT so far?
The investigation is still in process. But whatever we said during the Hyderpora encounter will be proved with shreds of evidence. We will make the picture clear. Digital evidence will be shared with the media soon.
If investigation proved that civilian Altaf was involved in anything or was aware of the presence of Pakistani militant in the building, we won’t give him a clean chit.
But why deny bodies of civilians killed in the shootout?
We didn’t hand over the bodies because of the law and order situation. We assumed the situation may turn violent. People could’ve gathered and raised anti-India slogans.
But as the family approached us personally and ensured that no pro-Pakistani slogans will be raised, we provided the bodies.
But then concern is growing over the rampant use of the terms like militant associates or hybrid militants. Many believe that these terms only complicated the Hyderpora case.
See, OGWs [over ground workers] and militants used to be the two different things, but the current situation is different.
Now, we have included new terminologies like militant associate and hybrid militants because it’s a new challenge for us in Kashmir militancy.
But then, officer, people would still argue that if hybrid militant or militant associate are the so-called sleeper cells, then how does that make them different from an OGW?
Look, an OGW and a militant associate are almost the same, so are active and hybrid militant.
But unlike OGWs, these hybrid militants get online training in pistol and hand-grenade use.
Then a task is assigned to them.
Once they carry out attacks, they live a normal life with their families and inside society.
But how did these hybrid militants suddenly surface in Kashmir?
For that to understand, we need to go back to December 2020, when Pakistan planned to use people who are not on the police radar.
So they choose vulnerable people, directly and indirectly, associated with collateral damage and get them radicalized online.
As such, there is no physical contact between a hybrid and an active militant.
So you are saying that hybrid militants and active militants stand on the same page now?
Yes, we will treat them equally in an encounter because these hybrids do carry attacks. The killings of Babar Qadri, Krishna Dhaba owner and Sandeep Mawa’s salesman are recent examples of hybrid militancy.
When Babar Qadri and Krishna Dhaba killings happened, we were challenged to identify the culprit because the accused did not have any criminal background. We solved the case by checking the CCTV footage. If we didn’t have that CCTV evidence, no one would have believed us, not even the culprit’s parents.
Also, it was a 17-year-old boy who killed Sandeep Mawa’s a salesman Ibrahim in Bohri Kadal area of Srinagar. He confessed the crime when his parents were called. Who can expect that such a young boy can do a recce for three days before pulling the trigger!
So can we say that the militancy has now become more challenging for the security grid?
It is challenging because earlier when OGWs used to get arrested, the whole module would be busted.
But now, as hybrid militants have no physical contact with active militants and coordinate online, it’s very difficult for us to trace the module.
But how prone to death is an OGW or a hybrid militant during an encounter?
We always try to save a life, but a civilian, an OGW or a hybrid militant is prone to death, as active militant, police or army man present on the ground is.
But if a civilian has offered space like a house/office to a militant, he will be considered a militant associate and will be responsible if a bullet hits him in the crossfire.
What about this sudden security spike in the valley?
Well, it is the normalized situation that seems to be a clear target.
Two years and six months have passed since August 5, 2019, and Indian Judges, Home Minister, Cabinet ministers visited the normalised valley. We handled the situation well, even when people had thought that hundreds will die following Syed Ali Geelani’s death.
Since we didn’t let that happen, this doesn’t suit warmongers. So they use soft targets to make the situation worse in Kashmir.
But then, we also see a military pendulum shift in Srinagar with the troop buildup. Do you think the city is at the center-stage now?
No, the troop buildup is not the military pendulum shift but the need of the hour.
For instance, when the two non-Muslim teachers were shot dead in Eidgah area of Srinagar, we realized that the whole area towards backside of Soura and Anchar had no police presence.
In these areas, militants used to come, attack and leave. To plug those loopholes, the presence of security forces was increased in the city.