Renegade Militants in Kashmir

On July 16, the DNA test by the Central Forensic Laboratory, Kolkata, has established[1] that the five persons killed by Indian security forces in an “encounter” in Panchalthan following the massacre of 35 Sikhs in Chattisinghpora in Kashmir Valley in March 2000, were in fact civilians and not “foreign militants” as claimed by the forces. In the light of the latest findings, it is worthwhile to re-examine the mystery of the Chattisinghpora massacre and the possible reasons behind the subterfuge by the Indian forces and the related phenomenon of renegade militants used by India as the secret army in Kashmir, thus placing in perspective the almost daily killings in Kashmir including communal killings which tend to generate paranoia. It will be argued that the series of unexplained killings by unidentified gunmen where no militant outfit has claimed responsibility, could very well have been engineered by India using renegades and that only an impartial inquiry into these killings can shed light on the true identity of the killers.

The set of events following the Sikh massacre[2] highlight the ruthlessness and possible subterfuge by the Indian forces.

  • In March 2000, around the time of US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India, 35 Sikh men were murdered in Chattisinghpora village in Kashmir by unidentified gunmen. India blamed Pakistan sponsored “foreign” militants, while many Kashmiris blamed Indian sponsored renegades. Renegades are former militants who have surrendered and changed sides to the Indian forces.

  • Subsequently, five “terrorists” were liquidated by the Indian forces and identified as “foreign militants” responsible for the massacre; The bodies were quickly buried without a post-mortem; Clothes and personal items were left burning near the burial site.

  • Curiously, around the same time, seventeen Muslims had strangely gone missing from the villages around Chattisinghpora, some of them kidnapped by armed men before witnesses; Soon, the relatives of the missing men identified the half-burnt personal items at Panchalthan as belonging to their relatives.

  • The relatives of the five murdered villagers held a series of demonstrations for public exhuming of the bodies; A crowd of five thousand unarmed civilians at Brakpora was fired upon by the police; Nine more men died; When the bodies were finally exhumed, they were discovered to have been burnt and defaced, but curiously dressed in brand new army fatigues. They were identified by the relatives as the local villagers who went missing. Initial attempts in DNA testing of the exhumed bodies were compromised by fudging of the DNA samples in a cover-up attempt by the authorities; The latest results indicate that the five persons killed by the Indian forces were indeed civilians and that Indian forces engaged in a deliberate subterfuge to portray them as “foreign” militants responsible for the Sikh massacre.

  • The Pandian Commission investigated the firing at Brakpora and pronounced that three police officers be tried for murder, however no action has been taken against them till date; No judicial inquiry into the Sikh massacre itself has been conducted till date despite repeated announcements.

Based on the above information, there is good reason to suspect that Indian forces may have had something to hide about the Chattisinghpora massacre and hence killed innocent villagers at Panchalthan and made them scapegoats; Chattisinghpora may very well have been engineered by the Indian forces using renegade militants for political gains during Clinton’s visit.

The phenomenon of renegade militants has been extensively documented by Human Rights Watch[3]. Since the 1989 insurgency in Kashmir, renegades have been used for extrajudicial executions of militants (besides human right activists, journalists and other civilians) and later conveniently dismissed as “intergroup rivalries”. In 1997, the Director General of Police Gurbachan Jagat acknowledged[4] that the continued services of the renegades had become counter-productive in view of their excesses; an estimated 5000 renegades were reportedly ‘rehabilitated’ as Special Police Officers (SPO) in the State police and many others were absorbed in the security forces. The present number of renegade militants continues to be significant and the estimates vary; In 1999, Gurbachan Jagat admitted that there were 1200 renegades in the payroll of the government[25]; According to a renegade representative Javed Shah, the number of renegades exceeded 2000; The 2001 US State Department Report on Human Rights in India estimates that there are about 3000 such renegades operating in Kashmir[5] who remain the most dreaded group and continue to engage in excesses.

The 1989 insurgency in the Valley arose as a result of genuine grievances among the people due to the denial of the promised plebiscite, erosion of autonomy promised under Article 370, consistently rigged elections since 1951 and unemployment; this insurgency started off as a popular one with hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris marching on the streets of Srinagar between January and May 1990. Following brutal repression by India, this popular insurgency turned massively militant with Pakistan providing arms and training to both indigenous and foreign militants in Kashmir, thus adding fuel to the smouldering fire of discontent in the Valley.[6]

It is well known that militants engage in human right violations- an officially estimated 6673 civilians killed by the militants as of 1998. However, human rights record of the Indian security forces has been equally appalling- grave violations such as arbitrary arrests, torture, rape and extrajudicial killings have been extensively documented by human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and PUCL(People’s Union for Civil Liberties).

Let us take a snapshot of this record. 2477 civilians had been killed by the Indian forces in the period 1990-1998[4][ PTI release, 13 September 1998 ], according to conservative estimates by official sources which mostly exclude thousands of custodial killings. In April 1997, the Minister of State for Home Affairs admitted that 454 persons were missing since 1990. In 1995, Amnesty International documented 706 cases of custodial killings in the period 1990-1994, nearly all after gruesome torture[7]; In its response to Amnesty, the Government of India(GOI) responded to 519 out of 706 cases[8] in an evasive manner, dismissing half of them as “encounter killings” without supporting evidence despite eye-witness reports to the contrary; The government indicated that there was prima facie evidence of human rights violations in 85 other cases which were said to be under investigation, however no one has been brought to justice till date. On 26 April 1993, The Kashmir Times run by Ved Bhasin carried a report of police records listing 132 persons to have been killed in custody in the preceding 33 days alone. Estimate of the number of custodial killings since 1990 by human rights organizations runs in several thousands, many of them are innocent civilians.

Hundreds of women have been raped with impunity and most of them go unreported given the social stigma and fear of retribution by the State; The government has been quick to deny and cover-up most of those cases which do get reported; The reported gang-rape of nine women at Shopian in October 1992 by an army unit was dismissed off-handedly after investigation by army and police, the very units charged with the crime, despite solid medical evidence to the contrary[9]; no independent investigation by an impartial agency was carried out. The reported mass rape of over 20 women at Konan Poshpura in February 1991 was also handled in a similar evasive manner; the complaint was not investigated in a timely manner by an impartial agency and the medical evidence was dismissed without good cause and Amnesty’s request for medical records were ignored; the women still remain unmarried or have been deserted by their husbands and one of the victims who was nine months pregnant during the incident delivered a baby with a fractured left arm[7]; Governor Girish Saxena who denied the incident admitted to mass rapes in the past by the indian forces however[10]. Rapes continue to be reported, an example being the April 17 gang-rape of a 17-year old girl in Pahalgam[11].

While the Government did take certain positive steps by taking action against a fraction of the human right violations and instituted a National Human Rights Commission(NHRC) to look into such violations, such actions have not been effective in improving the human rights record; For instance, the NHRC lacks the jurisdiction to investigate complaints of violations by the army and paramilitary forces. The Government continues to deny permission for various human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and UN Special Rapporteur of Torture, to visit Jammu and Kashmir and investigate the violations.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 and the Disturbed Areas Act of 1976 give police extraordinary powers of search and arrest without warrants and detention[12]. According to one NGO, there were 1,300 writs of habeas corpus pending in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in 1999 in such detention cases. The government is also known to abuse such powers, an example being the case of Yasin Malik, chairman of JKLF(political group since 1994). He was arrested under POTA on 23 March on charges of accepting illegal money, a charge which he refuted as a frame-up; Intriguingly the prosecution failed to present the mandatory challan within ninety days of his detention under POTA despite repeated directions by the court and the judge ordered his release on bail[13]; subsequently he was rearrested under the Public Safety Act(PSA). The events clearly show that the POTA case was indeed a frame-up.

According to Amnesty, the number of complaints of human right violations filed against the security forces is only a fraction of the actual number, since the government has issued secret and illegal orders to the police not to register complaints of human rights violations against the security forces in First Information Reports, a charge which the government did not deny in its response to Amnesty[8]. According to 2000 US State Department Report, between January 1990 and September 1998, only 295 members of security forces have been prosecuted and punished for any of these crimes, though they have committed thousands of human right violations[12]; the exact details of trials and punishments have not been made public. In addition the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act provides that unless approval is obtained from the central Government, no “prosecution, suit, or other legal proceeding shall be instituted…against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers of the act.” According to human rights groups, such provisions allow security forces to operate with virtual impunity.

The army-renegade nexus has been suspected in many other prominent killings before.

  • Jalil Andrabi, the human rights activist was abducted by the paramilitary and renegades in March 1996 in the presence of eye-witnesses and tortured to death in custody. Despite the Government’s initial denials of the army’s involvement, the Special Investigation Team identified Major Avtar Singh in April 1997 as the person responsible for the death; however the accused major was released with no punishment[12].
  • H.N. Wanchoo, the noted human rights activist had documented and filed writ petitions for hundreds of custodial deaths in 1992; Being a Pandit, his petitions were an embarrassment to the government. He was assassinated by unidentified gunmen in December 1992; Although the government claimed that the persons responsible belonged to the militant outfit Jamiat-ul Mujahidin, human rights activists who investigated the case have alleged that the militants of that group were released from jail on condition that they kill Wanchoo[14]. Following his death, none of the cases were heard in the court and lawyers attempting to get the cases listed have reportedly found that many of the files of these cases were now missing from the High Court premises.
  • Zafar Mehraj, a veteran Kashmiri journalist was shot and critically injured as he returned from an interview with Koko Parray, the head of the state-sponsored paramilitary group Ikhwan-ul Muslimoon. The evidence strongly suggests the involvement of state-sponsored militia forces.
  • Dr. Farooq Ahmad Ashai, chief of orthopaedics and a human rights activist who had spoken against the government was killed by gunshots from a CRPF bunker. The government stated that he had been killed in ‘crossfire’, despite evidence to the contrary. Dr. Abdul Ahad Guru, a surgeon who had treated torture victims was killed by unidentified gunmen.[15]
  • Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq and Abdul Ghani Lone, two Kashmiri activists were killed by unidentified gunmen on 21 May 1990 and 2002 respectively. In both cases, the government blamed militants while Kashmiris blamed Indian sponsored renegades.

Communal killings:

Though militancy is mainly concentrated in the Valley and is largely non-communal, some militant outfits operate in the Jammu region and wage a communal campaign. Since 1990, an officially estimated 19,866 people have been killed in J&K, half of them civilians, including 982 Hindus and Sikhs as of 1999[16]. In the communal killings in the Jammu region, 307 Hindus and 377 Muslims have been killed in the Doda and Rajouri districts as of 1998, according to official reports[17]; Hindu fundamentalism by the local armed Village Defence Committee (VDC) backed by the Army and terrorism by Muslim insurgents in defense of the Muslim community, have fed each other. While many of the communal killings have been perpetrated by the militants, the hand of the renegades cannot be ruled out in some of them. There is compelling reason to suspect the Indian sponsored renegades in the Chattisinghpora massacre, as we have already seen. In August 2000 killing of 35 civilians including 23 Amarnath pilgrims in Pahalgam, it has come to light that most of the people were killed in fact by the panic-stricken CRPF jawans who continued firing for another 20 minutes after the two suspected militants were killed[18]; a commission under Lt.Gen. Mukherjee found 17 police officers responsible. The hand of the renegades cannot be ruled out in the massacre of 23 Kashmiri Pandits in 1998 at Wandhama by unidentified gunmen; The All Party Hurriyat Conference condemned the massacre, called for investigation by Amnesty and observed a protest strike; subsequently Amnesty’s request for investigation was refused by the government.

In early 1990, a few prominent Kashmiri Pandits were killed by the JKLF for political reasons; Though the JKLF tried to explain that the killings of Pandits were not communal, the murders caused a scare among the minority Hindu community. The rise of new militant groups, some warnings in anonymous posters and some unexplained killings of innocent members of the community contributed to an atmosphere of insecurity for the Kashmiri Pandits, which led to the exodus of most of the 162,500 Hindus in the Valley, including the entire Kashmiri Pandit community in March. Some of the unexplained killings could very well have been due to renegades. Joint reconciliation efforts by members from both Muslim and Pandit communities were actively discouraged by Jagmohan[19]. There have been charges that this exodus was encouraged by Jagmohan[20], who has a reputation for having anti-Muslim sentiments[21], to enable India to have a “free hand” in dealing with the Muslims in the Valley, a charge which Jagmohan has denied. A thorough, independent enquiry alone can show if this exodus was entirely unavoidable. An estimated 36,000 Hindu families and 20,000 Muslim families (as of 1993) have fled the Valley and many of them still languish in the refugee camps in Jammu and Azad Kashmir, being displayed by India and Pakistan respectively for propaganda.

Given the well documented phenomenon of Indian sponsored renegades and given the subterfuge of the Indian forces in incidents such as Panchalthan and the killing of Andrabi, one can see a pattern of impunity on the part of Indian forces – extrajudicial executions, denial and dismissal of the killings as “encounter killings” or conveniently placing the blame on “foreign militants”. Only an impartial investigation by an independent agency can find the truth in such attacks by unidentified gunmen, where no militant outfit has claimed responsibility – whether separatist militants or renegades were involved.

Pakistan’s support for the insurgency has been well documented by Human Rights Watch[6]; The JKLF admitted in a press release in 1990 that ISI had financed the operations of the JKLF and the Hizb. In November 1995, a BBC documentary programme showed evidence of camps in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan, supported by the Jamaat-i-Islami (political wing of the Hizb), where fighters were trained and openly professed their intention of fighting in Kashmir[22]. Pakistan favours the pro-Pakistan militant group Hizbul Mujahedin and has played a role in decimating the JKLF, an indigenous and secular pro-independence group. However, there have also been instances when Indian accusations have proved false; For instance, in the Indian Defence Review of July 1989, one of India’s top defence specialists, K.Subrahmanyam, cited the existence of a secret Pakistani plan to start a Kashmiri uprising, code-named ‘Operation Topac’, that the late General Zia-ul-Haq reportedly set in motion. However, this plan was later shown to be false and concocted by Indian analysts as a hypothetical exercise, a fact Subrahmanyam later acknowledged[23]. Curiously, Operation Topac continues to be quoted by Indian officials including the Indian Embassy.

Kashmiris are alienated from both countries given brutal repression by India and violence by pro-Pakistan militants. In a recent poll by MORI [BBC News, 31 May], only 9% and 13% of people of Kashmir Valley, where the discontent and insurgency is concentrated, have preferred to join India and Pakistan respectively[24]. Caught in the crossfire between militants and Indian security forces, Kashmir continues to bleed.

If the sorry plight of the Kashmiris were not reason enough, the threat of a devastating nuclear war between India and Pakistan over this region offers an additional reason to start the process of solving the dispute through diplomatic and political means. It is imperative that India and Pakistan pull back their dangerous military buildup, put an end to all violence in Kashmir including Pakistan sponsored violence and militancy and Indian State sponsored violence and repression and engage in unconditional dialogues to resolve the Kashmir dispute, including Kashmiris in the process.


[1]The Hindu, `Security forces killed civilians’, 17 July 2002.

[2] Pankaj Mishra, Death in Kashmir


[4]Amnesty International, Disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir, 1999.

[5]US State Department Report , March 4, 2002.

[6] Human Rights Watch, India: Arms and Abuses in Indian Punjab and Kashmir, 1994.

[7]Amnesty International, Torture and Deaths in Custody in Jammu and Kashmir, 1995.

[8]Amnesty International, Analysis of the Government of India’s response to Amnesty International’s report on torture and deaths in custody in Jammu and Kashmir , 1995.

[9]Asia Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, The Human Rights Crisis in Kashmir: A Pattern of Impunity, 1993, pp.98-107.

[10]Tavleen Singh, Kashmir: A Tragedy of Errors, New Delhi 1995, p.177

[11]BBC News, Kashmir troops held after rape, april 19, 2002.

[12]US State Department Report , February 23, 2001.

[13] Kashmir Times Editorial, Ugly Face of Democracy, July 21, 2002.

[14]Human Rights Watch, Behind the Kashmir Conflict, 1999.


[16]Indian Ministry of Home Affairs,Attacks on Minorities – Migration from the Valley.

[17]Praveen Swami, The Kargil War, New Delhi 1999, pp.71-2.

[18] Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Report On human rights violations in Kashmir.

[19]Balraj Puri, Kashmir: Towards Insurgency, New Delhi 1993, pp.64-67.

[20]Kuldip Nayar, Kashmiri Pandits: Political games worsen their plight , Times of India, 18 April 97

[21] Jagmohan, Current. 26 May – 1 June 1990, as quoted in PHRO Report, 1990.: “Every Muslim in Kashmir is a militant today. All of them are for secession from India. I am scuttling Srinagar Doordarshan’s programmes because every one there is a militant…..The bullet is the only solution for Kashmir. Unless the militants are fully wiped out, normalcy can’t return to the Valley.”

[22] Victoria Schofield, Kashmir in Conflict, New York 2000, p.177.

[23] Kargil Review Committee Report , 2000.

[24]BBC News, Kashmiris speak out for peace,31 May, 2002.

[25]Indian Express, J&K’s friendly ultras say pay more, or else…,4 May, 1999.

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