Above: A 20-year-old footballer-turned-militant surrendering before security forces in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district/Photo: UNI
Though the J&K government has for the third time come up with a draft policy to encourage militants to join the mainstream, it is far from a remedy to win over secessionist elements
By Pushp Saraf
For the third time, the socio-economic surrender and rehabilitation policy for militants to return to normal life is being revised in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) after it was first launched by Governor General KV Krishna Rao on August 15, 1995. That explains its continuing relevance. But by no means is it a panacea. It does not have the political ingredients necessary to win over the main secessionist elements opposed to the state’s accession and the Constitutions of India and J&K, something which the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord had achieved in 1974.
Yet, it is recognised as an important part of an overall strategy to get rid of the scourge of militancy lock, stock and barrel. Its two essential components have all along been monetary relief and a training regime.
The present administrative dispensation headed by Governor Satya Pal Malik has said that the new policy would have a “fresh focus” on “socio-economic reintegration” of disillusioned youth. Evidently, this serious concern is caused by the swelling ranks of young educated persons who have taken up armed militancy. The contours of the new scheme are being finalised before being made public. An indication is that a militant giving up arms to join the mainstream would get a monthly stipend of Rs 6,000. That can only be one feature of a plan whose eventual aim is to enable people to acquire skills enough to earn their livelihood with the passage of time.
Those who have been in charge of the implementation of such measures in the past have noticed the surrenderees’ penchant for government jobs instead of acquiring skills for private enterprise. This is because they want a permanent job which ensures post-retirement pension to perpetually take care of their economic needs. This mindset needs to be changed as the state government is already overburdened. Writer-academician-bureaucrat Sudhir S Bloeria, a former chief secretary, told India Legal that it might help to expand training programmes with the involvement of efficient NGOs so that there is a large variety of skills to be taught.
The steps being taken now are in tune with the governor’s own assertion at the beginning of 2019: “Terrorism is not in the barrel of a gun, but it is in the brain. We want to cure that by offering them something in the form of rehabilitation so that they return to the mainstream. A policy for their rehabilitation is under consideration…I feel bad even if there is loss of a single life—even if it is that of a terrorist. We want all (local militants) to come back to the mainstream and (plan to) make a good rehabilitation offer.”
Call it allurement or an urgent necessity for a jobless person, the offer of money has been inbuilt in all rehabilitation policies. Governor Rao had begun with the incentive of a one-time fixed deposit of Rs 1.5 lakh, a monthly stipend of Rs 1,800 and vocational training for each militant to find his feet. The late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who had done extremely well as the founder-president of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), a regional party, rather than as a long-time leader of the Congress, would often say as a champion of the rehabilitation policy that it was better to let the people (former militants) come back through normal legal routes than via clandestine passages.
In keeping with his vision, his government’s rehabilitation policy, as enumerated on January 31, 2004, was addressed “to those terrorists who undergo a change of heart and eschew the path of violence and who also accept the integrity of India and Indian Constitution” in order “to encourage them to join the mainstream and lead a normal life and contribute towards prosperity and progress of the state as well as the nation”.
The relevant cabinet order in this regard identified two “categories of terrorists from amongst residents of Jammu and Kashmir” eligible for rehabilitation after surrender: “(a) known militants who surrender with weapon; and (b) hardcore militants even without weapons”. It was made abundantly clear, among other provisions: “The surrenderee involved in heinous crimes like murder, rape, abduction etc. will be entitled to benefits only when legal action has been completed, court cases decided and the person has been pronounced innocent.” The scheme raised the monthly stipend to Rs 2,000 and provided incentives for surrendered weapons as well—Rs 15,000 for each Kalashnikov rifle, for instance.
On November 23, 2010, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah initiated the third version of the rehabilitation policy for the homecoming of “those who have gone to PoK/Pakistan between 1.1.1989 and 31.12.2009 and their dependents”. It was intended to “facilitate the return of ex-militants who belong to J&K state and had crossed over to the PoK/ Pakistan for training in insurgency but have given up insurgent activities due to a change of heart and are willing to return to the State”. Parents or “close relatives (in case there are no parents)” were made eligible to apply on behalf of “prospective returnees”. The following routes were designated for the returnees: the Wagah-Attari international border in Punjab, Salamabad (Uri) in the Valley, the Chakan-da-bagh crossing in Poonch district on the Line of Control and the Indira Gandhi International Airport in the national capital.
All rehabilitation policies specified a detailed procedure involving almost all security agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the Army for detailed scrutiny of militants wanting to resume normal life. The reason for identifying routes for their return journey from Pakistan and the occupied territory (“Azad” Kashmir, as locally called) was to eliminate the possibility of infiltrators exploiting a goodwill gesture to gain entry via other places at the behest of forces inimical to the country; Nepal seemed to be a popular transit point.
Bhim Singh, a senior advocate and politician, in an article quoted a state government affidavit filed in the Supreme Court in August 2013 that 282 former militants had entered J&K via Nepal after the 2010 rehabilitation policy. Naturally, they had disqualified themselves for rehabilitation benefits for choosing a wrong passage. Some commentators argue that Nepal should be included among the designated routes. Their plea is that in the absence of proper documents, former militants and their families cannot take a sanctioned route from the occupied territory or Pakistan, thus implying that they were compelled to undertake an illegal journey via Nepal with the help of touts.
This may be a humanitarian perspective. What is, however, overlooked is that the 2010 policy has a set process under which the ministry of home affairs, on the completion of all screening, would forward “the details of permitted returnees to MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) which would in turn communicate the information to the concerned mission so that the action to facilitate the return can be taken. On application, the returnee will be issued an emergency certificate by the High Commission of India, Islamabad. The returnee may also apply for an entry permit as per the existing procedure in order to return by one of the notified entry points”.
There is a strong possibility that an unstated fear discourages a prospective returnee from undertaking a designated route: he may invite harm and probably death itself by disclosing his purpose of leaving militancy and returning home while being still in Pakistan or in the territory under its illegal occupation. After all, he had secured arms training from them, walking into their trap bewitched by the dream of “azadi” (freedom).
In 2000, while on a trip to Pakistan and “Azad” Kashmir with separatist leader Abdul Ghani Lone (who was later slain), this writer met many young people from the Valley who had travelled all the way without their original identity papers and did not get any official documents from Pakistan or the government in the occupied territory which remained suspicious of their loyalty. Such militants have landed in a piquant situation because of a momentary miscalculation because of which they deserted their home and hearth.
The rehabilitation policy at present has no flexibility such as throwing open all routes without designating them. Instead, it makes it incumbent upon a militant-applicant to establish his identity by sticking to fixed norms. It will be too much to expect the Union and J&K governments to make any deviation for their sake. The two governments have their hands more than full because of militant strikes in the state. Unless, of course, it turns out that the governor’s administration has something up its sleeve.