How targeted police killings reflect the changing nature of activism.

On the evening of March 26, two militants broke into the home of Ghulam Mohammad Dar in Budgam district, central Kashmir. The two-storey house sits on the edge of a railway line in the Chatta Bugh area of ​​Budgam. It is isolated from the rest of the village, which means that the Dars have no neighbors.

Two of Ghulam Muhammad Dar’s sons, Ishfaq Ahmad, 25, a special police constable, and Umar Jan, 22, a student who also owned a print shop, were at home at the time.

“It was time for evening prayers,” recalled a family member who did not want to be named. “I heard a noise in the hallway. When I came out of the room I was sitting in, I saw two men heckle Ishfaq and Umar. Then suddenly a man pulled out a gun and shot Ishfaq several times in the head.

After the gunshots, other family members tried to flee the house. Umar Jan did not survive. “They shot him as close to the main gate, at least four to five times,” the relative said. While Ishfaq Ahmed was pronounced dead in hospital, Umar Jan later died from his injuries.

According to the relative, when the militants entered their house, the two brothers were busy with work. “Ishfaq was preparing for the police sub-inspector’s exam scheduled for the next day. Umar was working on a print file on his laptop,” he recalls. “When we went to their room afterwards, their laptops were still open.”

As a special police officer, not yet regularized in the force, Ahmad entered service for only a few days a month, working as a gardener on police property. “He thought no one would hurt him since he was just a gardener in the police,” the relative explained.

Ghulam Muhammad Dar has two other sons. Both work for Jammu and Kashmir Police. They were not at home when the armed men burst in.

Ishfaq Ahmed is among eight police officers killed by militants in Kashmir this year. In five cases, police officers were targeted by militants armed with pistols while off duty. In at least two of these five targeted killings, militants also injured or killed relatives of police officers.

Police say the killings reflect the changing nature of militancy in Kashmir.

The funeral of the Budgam brothers. Photo: Faisal Bashir

Become a target

Police killings in Kashmir are not new. For decades, militants have launched guerrilla-style attacks on security forces, firing on patrols, throwing grenades at convoys and opening fire as they snatch rifles from on-duty personnel.

Police and other security personnel have also been known to be targeted when off duty. But overall, targeted killings have accelerated this year. Kashmir has seen at least 19 targeted killings this year, with victims including minorities and migrant workers in the valley.

As militant groups expand their list of targets, families of police officers have also become vulnerable to attack. While Ishfaq Ahmad’s brother was killed, an attack in Srinagar on May 26 killed policeman Saifullah Qadri and injured his nine-year-old daughter.

“Most of these killings were carried out by newly recruited terrorists armed with pistols or surface workers who are not trained in the handling of weapons,” said a senior Kashmir police official, who did not wish to be named. In traditional police parlance, surface workers are non-combatants tasked with helping militant groups with logistics. However, as the official suggested, they may also have been drawn into active attacks.

According to the official, the attacks were also aimed at demoralizing the police force. “Apart from the murder of a policeman, we also know that these murders are aimed at terrorizing their families. It affects the psyche of a policeman. We also read it as terrorists becoming emboldened.

Also, the official suggested, the militants may have chosen targeted assassinations because they had failed to carry out larger attacks. “The militants’ ability to attack a convoy or carry out a large attack has diminished due to rapid counter-militant operations in recent years,” he said. “That’s why they choose soft targets like off-duty police officers, members of minorities and unprotected panchayat representatives.”

In recent years, the police have come under increasing criticism, accounting for a growing proportion of victims of security forces. According to official data, in 2019, 11 police officers were killed, or 13% of the 83 victims of the security forces. This figure rose to 26% in 2020 – 16 of the 60 members of the security forces killed were police officers. Last year, half of the 42 security personnel killed in militancy-related incidents were police.

Police personnel can be the most vulnerable of the security forces. “About 60% of the police force belong to the same company as the activists,” said another police officer who also spoke on condition of anonymity. “A police officer is not a soldier who lives in a barracks or cantonment. He has a family, a house and relatives in the same society. That’s why he’s more vulnerable.

Srinagar shootings

As a new wave of grassroots activism swept across Kashmir over the past decade, police officers in rural areas, particularly in South Kashmir, avoided returning home for fear of being attacked while off duty. Now, police officers in Srinagar are also being targeted. Of the eight police officers killed this year, three died in Srinagar. Two of them were targeted assassinations.

On the morning of May 7, Ghulam Hassan Dar left on his motorbike for the police control room in Srinagar, where he was working as a driver for the Jammu and Kashmir Police Emergency Services. The 43-year-old constable was about two kilometers from his home when he was shot dead by militants. He was rushed to hospital, where he died that evening.

Ghulam Hassan Dar’s wife cannot imagine who would target her husband. She recalled how he went out of his way to help people, how he made sure all his neighbors had festive food for Eid.

Everyone in his neighborhood knew he worked for the police, but he seemed to be living an ordinary civilian life. “He was someone who left every morning with his lunch box and came back in the evening,” recalls Ghulam Muhammad Dar, his brother. “I never saw him in uniform or brandishing a gun.”

For Ghulam Hassan Dar, policing was just another job. Before becoming a special policeman, he worked as a day laborer to support his family. “His services were regularized in 2013,” said his nephew, Sameer Ahmad Dar, also a special police officer.

Other officers feared they would become targets because of their work, but Ghulam Hassan Dar didn’t seem worried. “He was just a driver. He had nothing to do with stone throwing or activism,” his brother said.

Ghulam Hassan Dar never worried about being targeted. Photo: Safwat Zargar

“He knew the dangers of his job”

Qadri, on the other hand, knew the dangers of his job. The 38-year-old policeman, who lived in Soura locality in Srinagar, was part of the police’s counter-insurgency unit, called Special Operations Group.

He always carried a gun and avoided going home at a fixed time. There were long absences from home, so his wife, Rabia Qadri, handled all the household chores herself, from buying supplies to making sure the children studied.

But on May 24, Qadri decided to drop off her nine-year-old daughter for school fees. “It was probably the first time in his life that he accompanied his daughter to the tutors,” Rabia Qadri said.

Qadri was shot just 100 meters from his home. Her daughter was also shot in the arm. “I didn’t hear any shots,” said Rabia Qadri. “My injured daughter rushed home to tell me. I thought maybe she had had an accident. I rushed to take her to the hospital. It was in the hospital that I saw my husband lying dead.

She remembers her husband often talking about such a death. “He was very brave – he said he hoped not to be attacked from behind but from in front,” she said. “He was sure he would finish them all on his own. But he was attacked from behind that day. Even though he had a gun on him, he couldn’t do anything.

After completing his studies, Qadri joined the police as a special police officer. In 2014, he became regularized under the police. He had served in troubled areas like Kulgam and Tral in southern Kashmir, Kupwara and Baramulla near the Line of Control in the north. He was also assigned to Kargil for almost 18 months.

“He was passionate about working in the police,” said Mohammad Shafi Qadri, his uncle. “Ever since he was a teenager, he always said that he should be saluted by everyone when he died and that he would receive a guard of honor.”

This prediction has tragically come true.

Saifullah Qadri’s coffin is carried by senior police officials. Photo: Umer Asif

Waiting for assistance

Qadri’s family is now wondering how to make ends meet. His injured daughter is slowly recovering, although her arm is fractured and a nerve damaged, Mohammad Shafi Qadri said.

On May 29, the Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Manoj Sinha, visited the family. A press release issued later assured “all help and assistance”.

But the family said they had not received much help or compensation from the government. “I only received Rs 1 lakh from the police, which was given to us immediately after his assassination, to perform his funeral and final rites,” Rabia Qadri said.

Ghulam Hassan Dar’s family said they had not received any assistance either apart from Rs 1.70,000 granted by the police. No one else in the family has a stable job. “His son works as an apprentice mason. But since his father was a government employee, it didn’t matter whether he earned Rs 400 or 500 a day,” Sameer Dar explained.

In March of last year, Dar was able to build a two-story house. “He took out a home loan and still owed Rs 15 lakh in the bank,” his wife, Fatima, said. “He had also raised Rs 3 lakh from a relative.”

The government has promised a job to a member of her family, but this is hardly comforting for Fatima. “The authorities told us that only her daughter is eligible for the government post because her son is married and only single parents are eligible for the post,” she said. “We want the job to be given to our son and not the daughter because the family will be left without any permanent source of income after marriage.”

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