Decorated Indian officer arrested for Kashmir rebel ties

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Police in Indian-controlled Kashmir have arrested a long-serving counterinsurgency officer for allegedly having ties with rebels fighting against Indian rule in the disputed region, officials said Sunday.

Police intercepted a fast-moving car in southern Kashmir on Saturday night and arrested police deputy superintendent Davinder Singh along with two militants and their civilian aide, Inspector General Vijay Kumar told reporters in Srinagar, the region’s main city.

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 neighboring Pakistan, which administers a part of Kashmir.

Kumar called the arrests a “big operation” and said one of the arrested militants is a top commander of Kashmir’s largest rebel group, Hizbul Mujahideen, who had deserted police ranks in 2017 with four weapons. He said the militant commander, Naveed Baba, was “second in command” in Hizbul Mujahideen.

Some weapons and ammunition were recovered from the arrested men, Kumar said.

“The issue is very sensitive, and all intelligence agencies and police are jointly interrogating the officer,” he said. “Given the circumstances, this is a heinous crime.”

It was not immediately clear whether Singh had an attorney.

Singh has long served in the police’s Special Operations Group, a dreaded counterinsurgency unit that has been widely accused by Kashmiris and human rights groups of some of the worst violations reported during the last three decades of conflict, from summary executions, torture and rape to holding suspects as well as civilians for ransom.

Singh was currently 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 for the first time after India stripped Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and imposed a communications and security lockdown in August.

He was once injured in an anti-militant operation and was later given the Indian president’s gallantry award.

As a counterinsurgency officer, Singh was widely accused of torturing suspects, including, in 2000, a 19-year-old student from Srinagar he allegedly abducted and later killed, according to a report by the Jammu-Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society.

Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri man who was secretly hanged inside a New Delhi jail in 2013 while in custody on charges of involvement in a 2001 attack on India's Parliament, accused Singh of torturing him. Guru's hanging led to weeks of violent anti-India protests in Kashmir.

In a 2006 interview, Singh acknowledged torturing Guru.

This is not the first time Indian law enforcement officers have been implicated in rebel activities in Kashmir, one of the most militarized zones in the world.

The 2015 report named 972 members of Indian military, paramilitary and police for their alleged involvement in human rights violation in the region.

In 2012, Indian police arrested two intelligence officials and two low-ranking police officers for ties with militants 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 discomfort Kashmiri police face in their work has existed to some extent 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 India-controlled side see local police as tools of an Indian government bent on suppressing a widespread public demand for the region's independence or merger with neighboring Pakistan.

When the latest armed insurgency 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 sympathizing with and supporting the rebel demands as the campaign morphed into a full-fledged rebellion backed by massive public support. Dozens even joined the rebel ranks, rising to become militant commanders.

India and Pakistan each claim the divided Himalayan territory of Kashmir in its entirety.

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