SRINAGAR, INDIA // Many of India's military successes against Muslim separatists in Kashmir are attributable to former militants who broke ranks and joined security forces at a time when New Delhi's authority over the disputed Himalayan region had almost collapsed. But now India's secret militia is being depleted in part because its members are being murdered by their former comrades. Latief Ahmed joined what is known at the Territorial Army (TA), a counterinsurgency force made up mostly of former militants, such as himself, that is active in Jammu and Kashmir. A few months ago his former comrades tracked him down, raided his ancestral house and shot him dead.
Other members of the TA have been killed in similar fashion in recent months. A couple of days before Ahmed was killed, police found the skeleton of another TA member, Manzoor Ahmed Khan, in a remote village of neighbouring Baramulla district days after he had been kidnapped at gunpoint. For some time, Indian security forces used what is essentially an illegal army composed of captured or surrendered former militants commonly known as Ikhwanis in their battle against Kashmiri rebels. But officials acknowledge that many of these groups or individuals had been responsible for human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture, rape and illegal detention as well as extortion.
It was also widely believed that sections of the security forces have also subcontracted some of their own abusive tactics to groups with no official accountability. The extrajudicial killings, abductions and assaults committed by these groups against suspected militants or their overground supporters and, in some cases, even families and friends were instead described as resulting from "inter-group rivalries". But civilians also have fallen victims to their notorious actions, as the renegades and other militia groups chose to single out journalists, human rights activists and medical workers for hits. Human Rights Watch in Asia reported in May 1996: "In some cases, the groups appear to operate on their own, within broadly defined limits to their discretionary powers and the full expectation on the part of the security forces that they will use their discretion to take initiatives within the overall counterinsurgency strategy of fighting terror with terror." The report added that "their actions are taken with the knowledge and complicity of official security forces. When arrested by local police, members of these groups have been released on orders of the security forces. Not one has been prosecuted for human rights abuses." Before being voted to power in the 2002 elections, leader of the (now opposition) Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP), Mehbooba Mufti, had alleged that the renegades "have become ruthless and are law unto them." One of the "achievements" of the government headed by her father, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, on which the PDP leader would seek votes during the recently held elections for local parliament was "getting rid" of the renegades. Though it failed to win enough seats to form a government, Ms Mehbooba maintains, "We changed the situation altogether. Most of the renegades who had become a nuisance were disarmed, or we ensured they work strictly under the guidance of the security forces which were firmly told that any breach of law will be followed by severe punishment."
Her party colleagues, including Tariq Hameed Karra, a former law and finance minister, claim it was at the behest of the PDP-led coalition government that many of the renegades were absorbed by official groups, such as the TA, so that they could not escape accountability. But that did not stop former renegades from being targeted. Official statistics indicate that more than 3,000 of them have been killed either deliberately by their former comrades or during action alongside the security forces, so far. Among the slain Ikhwanis were about 350 commanders, including Kuka Parray, also a member of local parliament, who was killed in an ambush in his hometown Hajjan a few years ago. The bloody situation continues as the recent incidents demonstrate. During an uprising triggered by local government's decision to divert about 40 hectares of forestland to a Hindu consortium last year, the security forces tried to reactivate the Ikhwanis in select areas, but had to abandon the plan because of public resentment and the potential backlash from human-rights groups. Additionally, a recent observation by India's Supreme Court makes it illegal for any government to create militias in the name of combating militancy. Pervez Imroz, a Kashmiri lawyer and human rights activist, points out that international law also does not approve of the existence of such militias. He said, "These are illegitimate groups as per the international law and under the constitution [of India] as well." firstname.lastname@example.org