Director General Police (DGP) Shesh Paul Vaid has defended the use of pellet guns while “tackling protesters” in Kashmir but said the police have reduced their use substantially. “Since I took charge earlier this year, it is now used only in places where we think people will get killed while controlling the situation. Short of killing, it is not a bad idea. It (pellets) is better than killing — at least the person lives when hit by pellets,” he told The Indian Express in an interview.
The use of pellet guns by government forces in Kashmir has drawn severe condemnation from rights groups including Amnesty International which have called for a complete ban on their use.
“Pellet-firing shotguns, which have been responsible for blinding, killing and traumatizing hundreds of people in Kashmir, must be immediately banned,” the human rights group said last month in a report ‘Losing Sight in Kashmir: The Impact of Pellet-Firing Shotguns’.
Vaid said that while at least 160 militants had been killed this year Kashmir needed a “political initiative” and the Government of India should take steps to prevent “jobless” youth from being “influenced by a lot of unwanted and dangerous stuff.”
“There is no doubt that there is a need for a political initiative. Whether there is one going to be taken soon, I am ignorant about it. But I think some progress is happening. Political initiative is the need of the hour,” said Vaid.
According to J&K’s top police officer, “there is a problem in the political narrative in Kashmir”.
“Mainstream parties do not talk about India, tell people how it benefits them to be a part of India. Look at what a senior leader has been saying — stone-pelters are freedom fighters. He has been a chief minister… The mainstream political leaders need to speak in favour of India here and that will help change the narrative on the ground. I don’t know why they hesitate,” said Vaid. He was apparently referring to a reported remark by NC president Farooq Abdullah.
Following the massive protests after the killing of militant leader Burhan Wani in an encounter last year, Vaid said his worry now is to prevent another “trigger” that will spark “strife on the streets again.”
”My worry is that there shouldn’t be a trigger like the one last year. We are constantly preventing a trigger that is planned from across. But we must also be aware and prevent sudden triggers created by controversies surrounding issues like Article 35 A. We can’t do much in such cases,’’ he said.
Identifying social media as a “major challenge” for police, Vaid said, “We are under attack in cyberspace in a major way and it can’t be blocked. We need to create a counter narrative — cyber jihad is a reality. We know that Jamaat-ud-Dawa has recruited thousands of men across Pakistan, telling them that you don’t need to go and fight in Kashmir, you can do that sitting inside your home — they call them cyber mujahids. This is the kind of attack we are facing from our neighbouring country. We need to do something about it.”
On the challenge posed by militancy, Vaid said that “south (Kashmir) remains the priority”.
”We have already killed 160 militants till now this year, most of them in the south. Remember what the situation was last year. Things have changed considerably there. In the south, Shopian (district) especially remains a concern. Tral is a concern, too,’’ he was quoted as saying.
”Though there aren’t exact figures of active militants available, there are around 70-80 in north, 90-odd in the south and 10-15 in central Kashmir. The total is less than 200 today,” Vaid was quoted as saying.
“As far as HM (Hizbul Mujahideen) and LeT (Lashkar-e-Toiba) are concerned, a majority of their commanders have been neutralised. There are only six-seven commanders who are left. This has led to a lot of improvement in the situation and helped in halting the recruitment.”
However, Vaid described the rise of Jaish-e-Mohammad as “a new phenomenon”.
“Three-four fresh groups of Jaish have been pushed. These groups are active in the Tral area, north Kashmir and the Pulwama-Anantnag area. We have had some successes, like we killed Khalid recently. He was a top commander of Jaish who was active for a long time. In Hajin, we killed two (militants) recently. One of them was local, who was extremely important. I have information that Mehmood, who is a Pakistani, was also injured in that operation. That is a big blow to them (militants),” he said.
Referring to Zakir Musa, who split from the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen to form his own group, Vaid said Musa“follows ISIS/Al-Qaida ideology which is dangerous”.
“Musa isn’t close to us or working with us at all. As far as I know, I don’t think he is close to any of our agencies. If he comes in front of us, we won’t spare him. For us, anybody who holds a gun and opens fire at us is a terrorist,” he was quoted as saying.
Referring to the recent investigations by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) against several Hurriyat leaders allegedly linked to funds for militancy, DGP Vaid said that “it is wrong to say the case registered by the NIA and subsequent raids on Hurriyat alone have helped improve the situation.”
”This is a wrong perception. Of course, the NIA (case) has been a complementary factor. But if we had not exerted consistent pressure, killed so many terrorists, this wouldn’t be possible. If we had not improved the situation, NIA raids wouldn’t have happened. Do you think they would have been able to go and conduct raids and searches here (in Kashmir) last year?” he said.
“We tell NIA that you have a mandate to deal with scheduled offences and you are investigating terror funding, please stay focused on that and please don’t try to spread out. We (J&K Police) are dealing with the situation efficiently and effectively.”