Unmasking Kashmir’s conflict industry

| Updated: 28 September, 2023 4:24 pm IST

The arrest of Sheikh Adil Mushtaq, a DSP in Jammu and Kashmir Police on in Srinagar came as a shock this month. He has been charged with corruption and destroying evidence. His arrest followed a dramatic incident in which he attempted to escape from his house by jumping out of a window and after allegedly formatting his two mobile phones to destroy evidence related to his involvement in a terror-linked corruption case. Prior to his arrest, the police had already established his links to a LeT terror operative through disclosures made by the detained terror operatives and Over-ground workers (OGWs).

READ MORE: SENSATIONAL: J&K Police arrest celebrated cop Sheikh Aadil over corruption; hobnobbed with media daily

This arrest comes three years after the arrest of DSP Davinder Singh, who was also embroiled in alleged terror links; an unfortunate manifestation of the dark side of the counter-terrorism apparatus set up for decades in the Kashmir Valley since the armed insurgency, backed by Pakistan, broke out in the 1990s. We were still reeling with grief after DySP Humayun Bhat who laid down his life during an encounter with terrorists in Anantnag. He was among the three security force officers who were killed in the gunfight. The other two officers were Colonel Manpreet Singh and Major Aashish Dhonchak from the 19th Rashtriya Rifles. The news of their martyrdom received widespread attention and tributes were paid to them for their bravery and sacrifice in the line of duty.

The fate of the two DySPs of the J&K Police shows the two faces of the Pakistan-ISI sponsored proxy war, where a robust conflict economy developed – nurturing corruption, nepotism, extortion rackets and extrajudicial killings. On the other hand, the counter-insurgency apparatus started distilling martial qualities in the pastorally inclined Kashmiris who weren’t used to armed forces – an expected paradox of war. The police are mostly in the news for aiding armed forces in search and cordon operations, in convincing the terrorists caught at encounter sites to surrender, and in creating bridges between the administration and civil society while maintaining law and order.

They face horrendous situations of being the target of local stone-pelters, hooligans and even terrorists; their families threatened by the various terror groups operating with the help of the Islamic Jihad machinery of Islamabad.

The J&K Police has, not doubt, become an exemplary, quite professional force, with remarkable display of valour and sacrifice over the decades. But counterinsurgency apparatus, especially of the size that exists in the J&K today, is also susceptible to becoming a conflict industry – a complex network that thrives on instability, war, and crises, as demonstrated elaborately by journalist, author, analyst and Kashmir expert David Devdas in his 2018 book ‘The Generation of Rage in Kashmir’.

READ MORE: Terrorist, 5 associates arrested in North Kashmir, arms seized

In his Chapter ‘Conflict Industry’, David has painstakingly described how these various components of the counter-terrorism apparatus interacted, interplayed, and often perpetuated cycles of violence and unrest.

The conflict industry is not new to us. Our generation have borne the brunt of the armed jihad, with the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits and secular Muslims, through a terror pogrom by Pakistan-backed terrorists. A conflict economy generated through this ‘Shadow War’, was multifaceted and included a range of state and non-state actors, counter-insurgency groups formed from surrendered militants (SOG or Ikhwanis), foreign-funded anti-India NGOs, OGWs or collaborators on the payroll of ISI (OWGs) and the lopsided Kashmiri media outlets operating from the Press Enclave, Residency Road.

The armed conflict in Kashmir was exacerbated by cross-border narco-terrorism, the close connection between Islamic terrorist organizations and the illicit drug trade via the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Kashmir route. ISI-backed terrorist groups funded their activities of planning and carrying out attacks, procuring weapons, or sustaining their infrastructure, through the production, trafficking, and sale of narcotics. This convergence of terrorism and drug trafficking has posed significant challenges to India’s national security.

This industry also aggravated the violent and unstable conditions in the Valley through increasing corruption levels where cops would casually talk about bumping off suspects, irrespective of whether they were terrorists or had terror links. David Devdas, in his recorded interviews with several top cops, has described how the conflict had desensitised many police officers towards the common people.

DsyP Sheikh Aadil is just a manifestation of such a crop of officers, constables, beat inspectors and rookies involved in benefitting out of the unaccountable and unaudited funds at their disposal. He was popular on social media for his ‘Wall of Kindness’ initiative, and his techno-savvy ability to negotiate with mainstream media. Hence, his complicity in tampering with evidence of a terror case came as a shock to all of us.

The recent arrest of DSP Sheikh Adil Mushtaq and the tragic loss of DySP Humayun Bhat are stark reminders of the two faces of the ongoing conflict in J&K. The emergence of a conflict industry in this troubled landscape has further complicated the pursuit of peace and stability; characterized by corruption, nepotism, and a complex network of interests. It’s a system where both state and non-state actors benefit from instability, and it often erodes the moral and ethical values of those involved, questioning India’s will to bring lasting peace and stability to the Valley.

The J&K Police, once considered a symbol of professionalism and valour, has also been influenced by the conflict industry’s dynamics. While many officers and personnel have shown remarkable dedication and sacrifice in their line of duty, the infiltration of corruption and the erosion of moral standards, as exemplified by cases like Sheikh Adil Mushtaq, underscores the corrosive influence of this industry.

To achieve lasting peace and stability in J&K, it is imperative to redouble the efforts to address the root causes that sustain this industry. It involves not only speeding up the dismantling of corrupt networks and ensuring accountability but also addressing the socio-economic and political grievances that still fuel the cycle of violence.

It requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders, to break free from the grip of the conflict industry and pave the way for a more peaceful and prosperous future for the people. Only then can genuine reconciliation, development, and lasting peace become achievable goals.

 

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