By Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.–Friedrich Nietzsche
Mary Shelley’s 19th century classic Frankenstein, about an eccentric scientist obsessed with the idea of power and success, creates a monster that he could find no way to rein in or destroy, may have been a pure work of fiction. But two centuries on, this piece of fiction is recreated in real life by men involved in wars, insurgency and counter insurgency operations across the globe. What began to be considered unethical practices in war in 16th century Europe, began to be a popular war strategy during the industrialization period with massive involvement of civilians in warfare – as victims or as willing or unwilling partners of militarization. The strategy has been perfected more in the last one century – from world war II to carpet bombings in Afghanistan, and nothing in between from UN resolutions to Geneva conventions has managed to put brakes on this trend. The trend of use and exploitation of civilians in warfare and conflict is universal, employed by non state combatants and by states whether they swear in the name of democracy or are pure totalitarian states. Jammu and Kashmir is no exception.
The latest news of some police recruits indulging in illegal sale of arms and arms smuggling in Rajouri is just another fragment of the larger picture of unaccounted powers bestowed on untrained men in uniform, empowered beyond their required capabilities, capacities and their sense of responsibility, in the name of decimating insurgency. The arrest of the two cops who were simple attendants at a police station with the designation of ‘followers’ begs a simple straightforward query: how is it that as simple attendants, they had the powers of managing smuggling of arms and their sale or making two men escape from prison. A top police officer in Rajouri personally keeping a watch on the case does not rule out the involvement of other officials which may indeed explain the basics of the modus operandi of these accused. However, a closer scrutiny might reveal much that is ailing with the system of policing and the policy of reckless militarisation and short sighted counter insurgency patterns not only within the police department but also in various wings of paramilitaries.
Lack of vision and inability of the powers that be to comprehend the perils of such policies has allowed for the co-option and willing or unwilling participation of civilians in counter insurgency forces either as informers, couriers, porters, sources or as ad-hoc recruits. The same has been true of non state combatants even though comparisons at one level are odious since the latter do not do so in the name of democracy.
The ad-hoc wings of counter insurgency grid have had by far the most dangerous consequences since they seek to dilute the system of accountability within the semi-trained recruits as well as the regular personnel with their focus on quantity and not quality. The risks involved are abundant including the vulnerability factor of those engaged and employed – as co-opted informers, porters, unwilling human shields and the gun empowered SPOs and village defense committee members. Much worse was the policy of giving back the surrendered arms to the surrendered militants, without any legal sanction, and making them part of the counter insurgency gang.
The notoriety of these surrendered ultras, known in common parlance as Ikhwanis, and the illegality of the trend did not culminate in abandoning the policy but in strengthening it by recruiting the surviving Ikhwanis into the regular force as members of territorial army, as SPOs and within the dreaded Special Operations Group of the police force. The multi-layered networks aided the course of military wipe-out of militancy in remote far flung areas where the government chose not to send regular forces but wage the battles through these vulnerable proxies.
Those who survived continue to play their roles, practiced to perfection, of using their might more to create reign of terror in the areas they operate and to settle their own personal scores or to pursue the petty interests of their patrons. The vicious cycle, feeding into monstrosity and confusion is incomplete without un-probed and unraveled mysteries of deserters, double agents and involvement of police men or other men in uniform in smuggling of arms or being parts of militants’ module. If at all, only small fishes are caught and nailed, the larger picture is further obfuscated by lies and denial, forbidding the faces of patrons to be umasked.
The overall consequences are disastrous forbidding sustainable peace, causing irreparable damage to democratic polity, humanity and to the social fabric at the ground level, with the added perils of communalisation and class or caste polarisations, which are exacerbated by petty electoral politics. The Frankenstein’s monsters were unleashed and created and continue to be present in various parts of the state and feed into the vicious cycle of lawlessness and terror. They were created in the name of bringing peace but have become the biggest challenge on the road to peace. The State, grappling with the near impossibility of reining in these monsters, has yet to even acknowledge the gravity and perils of and from the existence of these monsters that have the dangerous potential of destroying everything around them including the very Frankenstein that created them.
Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal is Executive Editor of Kashmir Times and an eminent commentator on Kashmir and South Asian affairs