The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mufti lines up volunteer force

Srinagar, Jan. 23: Chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has taken a leaf out of history to reorient the Special Operations Group into the new Jammu and Kashmir Voluntary Force.

The force will accommodate most of the special police officers (SPOs) who are now part of the operations group. “We will raise the force from the existing 22,000 SPOs and VDC (village defence committee) members,” a senior police officer said.

“The objective of the new scheme is to create a voluntary force of citizens who are committed and motivated to fight militants and are also trained and well equipped,” the officer said.

The idea is not new. Mufti appears to have followed the example of the late Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, the prime minister of the state in the 1950s.

Bakshi’s voluntary force was called the Peace Brigade but, a local editor said, it earned “notoriety for political misadventure and use of muscle against adversaries”. Although Bakshi’s development work earned him fame, his opponents were said to be kept on a tight leash by his brigade.

Mufti has also acknowledged Bakshi’s strategy by moving into his old home on the former Residency Road.

According to the editor, the difference between the two forces would be that “Bakshi’s Peace Brigade had no rifles, they had batons.... The voluntary force would wield automatic weapons”.

Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party had promised in its manifesto to disband the operations group. He has, however, stepped back now and decided to reorient the operations group of the state police instead of disbanding it.

Unlike the special police officers, the new force members would get a higher remuneration and a crash elite commando course to tackle militancy in Jammu and Kashmir.

A special police officer gets a monthly compensation of Rs 1,500. “Each member of the JKVF, in addition to his normal honorarium as SPO or VDC member, would be given an additional honorarium of Rs 1,000 a month on successful completion of his three-month special training, focusing on jungle warfare,” the police officer said. The state government’s expenditure in maintaining the new counter-insurgent force would be reimbursed from security-related expenditure funds.

The state has also envisaged revitalisation of the defence committees formed during the National Conference government’s tenure.

The defence committees were set up in the Jammu region to protect its remote villages in the troubled hilly districts. According to sources, Mufti intends to extend the committees’ reach to the Valley as well.

Both the operations group and the defence committees have been widely accused of extortion, murder and rape. “Converting them (the group and the committees) into the voluntary force would be nothing short of selling old wine in a new bottle,” said a political analyst here.

When Mufti and his party were in the Opposition, they never spared an opportunity to attack the Farooq Abdullah government for “letting loose SOG on innocent Kashmiris”.

Now that the new force would be called a “voluntary force”, senior police officers believe the change in nomenclature would blunt “some of the deadly sting in the name under which these people operated till now”.

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