Indian police officer suspected of aiding Kashmir rebels arrested

Davinder Singh's arrest along with rebels rattles Indian security apparatus and raises questions about his activities.

    It was not immediately clear how or why Singh came to be travelling with suspected rebels [File: Farooq Khan/EPA]
    It was not immediately clear how or why Singh came to be travelling with suspected rebels [File: Farooq Khan/EPA]

    A senior police officer has been arrested in Indian-administered Kashmir and accused of aiding rebels after he was found driving two rebels towards Jammu city, the region's chief of police told reporters.

    Deputy Superintendent of Police Davinder Singh, a long-serving officer in the disputed region, was arrested after police intercepted a fast-moving car in southern Kashmir on Saturday night, police chief Vijay Kumar said.

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    Kumar called the arrests a "big operation" and named one of those Singh was arrested with as Naveed Mushtaq Baba, calling him a top commander of Kashmir's largest rebel group, Hizbul Mujahideen.

    "We have registered a case against [Singh] under the arms, explosives and unlawful activities acts," Kumar said. "It is a sensitive case and we don't want any loopholes."

    He added that Singh would be treated as a rebel and jointly interrogated by all the intelligence agencies.

    Mushtaq, who was arrested with Singh, was also a member of the Jammu and Kashmir police until 2017, two senior police officers told Reuters on Sunday.

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    Police officers said they believe Mushtaq was involved in the killing of 11 apple traders, drivers and labourers last year.

    Reuters news agency said it was unable to contact Singh, Mushtaq or their representatives for comment. Hizbul Mujahideen has not publicly commented and could not be reached.

    Who is Davinder Singh?

    It was not immediately clear how or why Singh came to be travelling with the suspected rebels.

    The case has rattled the Indian security apparatus that administers the tense region, where rebels have waged an armed campaign for decades demanding independence or a merger with neighbouring Pakistan, which administers a part of Kashmir.

    Singh has long served in the police's Special Operations Group, a dreaded counterinsurgency unit that has been accused by Kashmiris and human rights groups of summary executions, torture and rape to holding suspects as well as civilians for ransom.

    Indian media reports said Afzal Guru - hanged in 2013 for planning a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament - had claimed that Singh had asked him to accompany one of the attackers to New Delhi and arrange his stay there.

    Singh was once injured in a police operation and was given the Indian president’s gallantry award in 2019.

    He was most recently working at the anti-hijacking unit at Srinagar's airport, one of the most fortified and heavily guarded airports in India.

    Last week, he was among the officers who received New Delhi-based foreign envoys of 15 countries who came to visit the region, which is under a communications and security lockdown.

    Not the first time

    While it is unusual for a serving police officer to be accused of involvement in Indian-administered Kashmir's 30-year rebellion, it is not the first time Indian officers have been implicated in rebel activities in one of the most militarised zones in the world.

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    In 2012, Indian police arrested two intelligence officials and two low-ranking police officers for ties with the rebels in the region.

    In 2006, three Indian soldiers and two police officers were detained for alleged links with a rebel group. The police force removed the two officers from service, without revealing if they were charged with any crime, while the army has remained quiet about the status and fate of the detained soldiers.

    In 1992, two policemen and a paramilitary soldier were arrested for allegedly helping rebels bomb Srinagar's police headquarters in an attack that killed one officer and injured several others.

    The tensions Kashmiri police face in their work have existed since the late 1940s, when India and Pakistan won independence from the British empire and began fighting over rival claims to the Muslim-majority region.

    Many Kashmiris on the Indian side see local police as tools of an Indian government bent on suppressing a widespread public demand for the region's independence or a merger with neighbouring Pakistan.

    When the latest armed rebellion erupted in 1989, police initially fought against it. Within a few years, as rebels began targeting their families, many abandoned the task and stayed at their posts and barracks.

    Some also began sympathising with and supporting the rebel demands as the campaign morphed into a fully fledged rebellion backed by massive public support. Dozens even joined the rebel ranks, rising to become rebel commanders.

    Indian police officers take cover during clashes with Kashmiri demonstrators during a protest against the killing of Zakir Rashid Bhat also known as Zakir Musa, the leader of an al Qaeda affiliated mi
    Indian police officers take cover during clashes with Kashmiri demonstrators during a protest against killing of Zakir Rashid Bhat last year [File: Danish Ismail/Reuters]

    Tense region

    In a separate incident, three members of the Hizbul Mujahideen group, including their top commander, Hamad Khan, were killed in a gun battle in Kashmir on Sunday, Kumar said.

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    "On specific information about presence of militants in the village, we cordoned off the area and asked them to surrender. They refused ... and fired on troops, leading to a gun battle in which they were killed," said Kumar, adding that the incident took place in southern Kashmir's Tral area.

    About 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian crackdown since 1989.

    The Himalayan region, claimed by both India and Pakistan, has been in turmoil since New Delhi in August stripped the Muslim-majority territory of its long-held autonomy and statehood.

    Arguing that special provisions for the region had hindered its development and fuelled separatism, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government separated the former state of Jammu and Kashmir into two federally-controlled territories at the end of October.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies