Once almost every two days, a Kashmiri terrorist appears at the Line of Control (LoC) — sometimes with a Pakistani wife and children — requesting the army for permission to return to the Indian side of Kashmir, years after he sneaked across to join the terrorist movement.
It is a trend that began last year, and has put security officials in a dilemma over how to deal with them, leaving the police and army deeply divided on what action to take.
Army officials want to encourage such surrenders and rehabilitate them, since they feel it is a bloodless way of reducing the number of terrorists fighting Indian security forces.
They are handed over to the state’s police force, which believes that if they are not prosecuted it will amount to violation of the law, besides also creating a possible dormant source of recruits.
Almost 180 surrenders took place last year at different places along the LoC that divides Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Up to 55 men have surrendered so far this year.
A security official, on condition anonymity, said: “Many of them got married and had children in PoK. It is a peculiar problem – the wife is a Pakistani, children are Pakistani, but the men are Indian citizens."
The official said although it was a security issue, there was also a human problem associated with such surrenders, especially since it was difficult to separate the militants from their families.
Two laws apply to such surrenders: the Foreigners’ Act, with tough bail provisions and sentences that could range up to five years; and the other is the state’s own law, the Egress and Ingress Movement Control Ordinance, dating back to the days of Jammu and Kashmir’s Maharajahs. Its modern version requires that anyone entering Jammu and Kashmir from the Pakistani side will first need a permit. Under this law while militants will be charged under state law, their Pakistani families are liable to be prosecuted under this as well as the Foreigners’ Act.
“Because infiltration has gone down after fencing the border, these large-scale surrenders might also be a way of sneaking in men, who can resume activities after lying low for some time,” a police official said. Two former terrorist, who had surrendered, were arrested in Bandipore town, where they were allegedly helping plan an attack on Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s rally. On humanitarian grounds, many of those allowed in are already staying with their families.
But that, technically, is a violation of the law. “The government needs to frame a policy on LoC surrenders otherwise it makes even the army and police — who allow such surrenders in violation of the law — abettors,” another official said.