Separatist guerrillas in Jammu and Kashmir now have new soft targets—policemen.
Although Jammu and Kashmir policemen have been on the hit list of terrorists along with other security personnel since the late 1990s, they have become the focused targets for the first time.
"The men in khaki deployed on the road and at busy market places for regulatory duties are obviously the softest targets the terrorists can think of. Carrying out hit-and-run attacks in crowded places appears to come handy for them. They are able to inflict maximum damage with least casualties to themselves," said an intelligence officer in Srinagar.
In the past fortnight alone, over a dozen Kashmiri policemen have been killed in attacks across the troubled Kashmir Valley.
"Of course the presence of our boys and officers on the roads and at other vulnerable places is larger than any other security organisation in the state," said Farooq Ahmed, deputy inspector general of police (central Kashmir).
"Most of these men and officers are on routine duties that are not connected with anti-militancy operations", Ahmed said.
Ironically, members of the Special Operations Group (SOG) of the police who are exclusively deployed to battle terrorists have suffered far less casualties compared to other policemen doing routine work.
"It is mostly the unsuspecting policeman doing routine policing who now faces the highest risk," said another officer in Srinagar.
Undoubtedly the objective of the guerrillas in attacking the police force is to dissuade them from associating themselves with anti-militancy duties.
"The risk for the local policemen is manifold. Besides endangering personal security they have to care for the security of their families in unprotected villages and towns," said another police officer in Srinagar.
Despite increasing attacks on them, the morale of the local police force is high and senior officers believe the guerrillas are playing a self-defeating game.
"We have a hundred thousand strong organisation. We have more trained men than any other armed group in Kashmir and our presence is everywhere. You never kill a cop without earning the enmity of the entire force. If that is a challenge, we must face it," said a visibly angry officer whose colleague was recently killed by guerrillas in a busy market in Srinagar.
Officers point out that despite grave provocations the policemen have been maintaining their professional cool.
"There hasn't been a single incident of panic firing by our men even when they saw their colleagues being shot at. This is an example of professional competence," said Farooq Ahmed.
Without doubt, the nearly two-decades-long discharge of duties in extremely hostile conditions appears to have crafted the Jammu and Kashmir police into one of the best in India.
"Compare us to the best disciplined police anywhere. We have had casualties but have ensured that the civilian doesn't become a victim of collateral damage," said Javaid Makhdoomi, inspector general of police at the police headquarters.