Rehabilitating Surrendered Militants in J&K: Lessons from Past Experiences

09 Mar, 2020    ·   5657

Shivangi Seth explores the experiences of three previous policies aimed at rehabilitating surrendered ex-militants in J&K to identify insights that might be useful for formulating a new one.

In 2018, New Delhi directed the then Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Governor, Satya Pal Malik, to formulate a new surrender and rehabilitation policy for ex-militants to J&K, a draft of which was floated in 2019. Post the state’s reorganisation in 2019, such policies will fall directly under the centre’s purview. This commentary traces the experiences of previous such policies implemented in J&K to identify insights that might be useful for formulating a new one.

The Three Previous Policies
The 1995 Surrender Policy was the first one, and it entailed monetary incentives to surrendered militants—including INR 1,50,000/- as fixed deposit (FD); INR 1,800/- as monthly stipend; cash for surrendering weapons; and vocational training. However, although 1317 militants surrendered in the first two years (and an estimated 2200 surrendered in total), this policy had a myopic focus on monetary incentives and many returnees claimed that neither those, nor vocational training materialised.

The 2004 Rehabilitation Policy intended to offer “facility to those terrorists who undergo a change of heart and eschew the path of violence” and “accept the integrity of India and Indian Constitution.” It reflected the 1995 policy’s approach of cash for surrendered weapons and vocational training initiatives; promised surrendered militants INR 1,50,000/- in FD payable three years after surrender, contingent upon good behaviour; and a monthly stipend of INR 2,000/-. As of 2015 (over a decade since the policy’s introduction), 432 ex-militants had availed this policy’s monetary incentives. Much like the 1995 policy, the 2004 policy too had limited focus on socio-economic and psychological reintegration of militants.

The 2010 Policy on the Return of Ex-Militants to the State had a framework broader than those of its predecessors. It sought to “facilitate the return of ex-militants who belong to J&K state and had crossed over the PoK/Pakistan for training in insurgency but have given up insurgent activities due to a change of heart and are willing to return to the State.” It demarcated four entry-points for returnees—Wagah-Attari, Salamabad, Chakan-da-bagh and New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA). Since some of these returnees had settled in Pakistan, their Pakistani wives, children, and other dependents were also to be considered for entry as per existing laws. This policy, too, however, was largely ineffective. As of 2016, only 489 of the 4,587 militants who had crossed the border to train had returned. Moreover, they mostly returned through the Indo-Nepal border instead of the four designated routes, thereby becoming ineligible to avail the scheme’s benefits. Furthermore, the returnees’ Pakistani wives faced trouble in acquiring identity cards and basic documentation in India. Notably, the 2010 policy was the first to consider psychological rehabilitation by establishing counselling centres for returnees and their families, but those centres were never set up.

Lessons for the Future
In addition to systematic implementation of the policy, any policy for rehabilitating ex-militants in J&K must: a) address barriers that the context of rehabilitation pose, including security threats, social stigma, and recidivism; b) be designed to reverse the psychological components of radicalisation; and c) be able to offset the influence Pakistan might have vis-à-vis ex-militants’ ability to return.

Ex-militants are vulnerable to various stigmas, security threats and vices when attempting rehabilitation into the very context in which they had taken up arms. In conflicts like Kashmir, a small portion of the local population views militants as ‘freedom fighters’, whereas other locals view them as ‘traitors’, a state-of-affairs that  hampers reintegration prospects. This is exacerbated in the case of the returnees’ Pakistani family members. Furthermore, ‘surrendered’ militants are also vulnerable to security threats from their former ‘colleagues’, especially in contexts like J&K where the insurgency is ongoing. Additionally, whether ex-militants can fully adapt to non-violent and law-bound frameworks of civilian life in India’s context needs further examination. For instance, some ex-militants who worked as Special Police Officers under the 1995 policy and eventually constituted the Ikhwan force were accused of committing gruesome human rights violations against civilians. Where the militants should be rehabilitated—for reasons of stigma and security—and what professions they might be fit to enter, are questions that merit deeper analysis based on context-specific factors.

Given how the insurgency is still ongoing, there is also a risk of the rehabilitation policy ending up as a revolving door for militants. Psychological rehabilitation is crucial to reduce the odds of recidivism. Previous reintegration policies in J&K neglected its significance. Surrender presents an opportunity for psychological rehabilitation, on which future policies must capitalise. In this regard, relying on a simplistic understanding of ‘radicalisation’ could be counter-productive. Combining material incentives with structured and sustained psychological support will help create a holistic rehabilitation policy.

Additionally, given how returnees’ use of routes such as Wagah and IGIA allows India to prove Pakistan’s involvement in the J&K insurgency, the possibility of Pakistan threatening the safety of potential returnees cannot be ruled out. This potentially explains why many returnees chose the India-Nepal route. These realities must be addressed.

Comprehensively addressing all such relevant aspects is crucial for any policy aimed at reintegration of ex-militants to J&K to be effective and sustainable.

Shivangi Seth is a Research Intern with the Centre for Internal and Regional Security at IPCS.