The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi fears violence spiral

New Delhi, Oct. 10: With the curtains finally coming down on the Kashmir elections, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government is satisfied that it has delivered on its promise to hold credible elections in the state.

Though the BJP has been wiped out, New Delhi has proved its credentials to the world and could use the successful conduct of the polls to counter Pakistan’s propaganda internationally. Nearly one in two voters exercised their franchise in the state.

However, North Block, which deals with internal security, foresees a rise in militant violence over the next six months as the Centre’s focus after the fractured verdict will be on smooth and quick transfer of power to the new regime. Kashmir cannot be left in limbo for long.

Security agencies say much of the credit for fighting militancy in Kashmir rests with the elite police force — handpicked men who constitute the Special Operations Group of the state government. This force is known for its brutality and ruthlessness and is hated by the local population.

As residents of Kashmir, these men know the terrain as well as the militants. Much like K.P.S. Gill’s boys during the height of the Punjab insurgency, they too have had an unfettered run in the state.

Before the group came on the scene, the militants only had disdain for the state police. There have been numerous encounters in which policemen have been killed and their armouries raided. All this changed with the advent of the elite force.

Intelligence agencies in Delhi say the group was the most effective among all security forces in dealing with militants. Most of the group’s recruits are fiercely loyal to the National Conference and have been pampered by the Farooq Abdullah administration. They were protected by the state and, despite widespread human rights violations, very few were actually punished.

Now, with the defeat of the National Conference, the Special Operations Group has lost its chief patron. The new government, if it wants to take populist steps, will rein it in. The elite force, too, will be looking for political direction under the new regime. The situation, security agencies fear, could be exploited by militants to increase and expand their activities.

“Till the new government finds its feet, the terrorists will get a free run,” one official said.

“However, in the long run, perhaps this elite and brutal force may be brought in line and serve the state well.”

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