Davinder Singh, Adil Sheikh And Stolen Rifles: J&K Police's Big Question

Over the past 4 years nearly 200 rifles - mostly AK-47s - have been stolen by J&K cops and Army soldiers who deserted their forces to join terrorist groups

Former Special Police Officer Adil Bashir Sheikh was killed in an encounter with terrorists

Srinagar:

The arrest of Davinder Singh, a senior Jammu and Kashmir police officer caught transporting arms and Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists to Delhi, earlier this month forced authorities to confront the question of rogue cops aiding terrorist efforts. That point was driven home this week after an encounter in Shopian district saw three Hizbul terrorists killed. One was another former cop - Adil Bashir Sheikh, a SPO (special police officer), who made headlines in October 2018 after an image of him posing with Hizbul terrorists went viral.

Only a few days before that photograph was taken Adil Bashir Sheikh fled while on duty guarding the residence of a former PDP MLA in Srinagar; he took with seven AK-47 rifles. His defection is part of a dangerous trend in Kashmir that sees cops deserting with weapons.

Over the past four years nearly 200 rifles - mostly AK-47s and SLRs - have gone missing, with many stolen by cops who deserted the force. In that same period 13 J&K police personnel and two Army personnel quit (or deserted) to join the ranks of terrorist outfits and train local youth.

In the four years prior there was only instance of a cop deserting the force; in 2012 Police Constable Abdul Rashid Shigan was arrested for running a terrorist module in Srinagar.

So why are members of Jammu and Kashmir Police crossing over now?

At Adil Bashir Sheikh's residence, in Shopian district's Zainpora village, we meet a family in shock. They say he quit the police force because he was angered by the brutality of the security forces.

"Because of our poverty he joined police as SPO... but he could not bear atrocities for long. We had never thought he would take such a step," Bashir Ahmad Sheikh, his father said.

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A highly-decorated Jammu & Kashmir cop, Davinder Singh was arrested travelling with Hizbul terrorists

The operation in which Adil Bashir Sheikh was killed followed the arrest of Davinder Singh which gave police many leads to carry out operations against terrorist and terrorist hideouts in the region.

Davinder Singh was caught ferrying three terrorists, including Hizbul commander Naveed Babu, who was also a police deserter; in 2017 he'd run off with four AK-47 rifles from a police post he was supposed to be guarding.

Top police officials say they have no regrets in tough action against deserters; after his arrest, a senior J&K cop confirmed Davinder Singh would be dealt with as a "terrorist".

"I don't think it is painful to sort out such people... those who commit such actions have to meet their fate. We can't be lenient to those who go against law," Dilbag Singh, Director-General of J&K Police, said.

This, however, doesn't answer the big question facing J&K Police - a force that has lost nearly 1,700 officers in the fight against terrorism - why are their men crossing over?

Over 2017 and 2018 dozens of SPOs were forced to resign due to terrorist threats.

"I would say the overall environment, where there are certain pressures, affects people... nobody is fallible and it varies from person to person. But I am proud a large force is fighting with grit and confidence... an odd incident doesn't mean this isn't true," the DGP added.

Unfortunately, the reality may be more complex.

In Pulwama district's Kareemabad we visit the home of Naseer Pandit, a former police constable who deserted five years ago while on guard duty to then minister Altaf Bukhari.

Pandit's father calls his son a crusader against the local drug mafia, who was beaten by his former colleagues because they were in league with the smugglers.

"When protectors of law behaved in such a way... what is the option? Perhaps he was carried away by his emotions but police beat him up," Ghulam Rasool Pandit said, admitting his son motivated a large number of young men to enlist and also trained them.

In the past four years more than 500 young men have joined terrorist outfits and most were trained by people like Pandit and other deserters.

Officials claim that with the arrest of Naveed Babu and the killing of Adil Bashir Sheikh, all deserters, except maybe two, have been either killed or captured.

Deserters like Sheikh or rogue cops like Davinder Singh may not define the J&K Police, but they are defining a dark phase in Kashmir's long-running battle against terrorism.

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