'Militants weakened, so choosing soft targets'
The abduction and killing of a Special Police Officer (SPO) in Shopian district on Friday has brought into focus the 35,000 personnel who are not on the rolls of J&K Police but form an important part of their counter-insurgency operations.
The number of policemen and SPOs killed in the Valley this year is now 36. Eight of them were killed in Shopian.
Recruited to assist the regular police, SPOs have become targets at their homes and on duty. Officials in the security establishment said that the escalation in violence against the lowest ranks of the force emanates from the reduced capabilities of militants to carry out bigger attacks.
“Today, they are the most visible symbols of government and most vulnerable because they come from the same society. The capability of armed groups to carry out high-profile attacks has gone down significantly, therefore they are choosing these soft targets,” a senior official told The Indian Express.
The strength of J&K Police is 90,000. The 35,000 SPOs are foot soldiers of the force. They function as additional manpower and serve on the frontline across the state, with an honorarium of
Rs 6,000 and a uniform and no weapon. SPOs are normally recruited through Superintendents of Police with the approval of the zonal Deputy Inspector General.
A senior police officer told The Indian Express that the primary reason for their recruitment is “intelligence collection, however, they are now involved in counter-insurgency also”. In 2010, a committee headed by Deputy Commissioners in all districts of J&K conducted these recruitments.
There is another point of view within the government on why SPOs are being targeted. “An SPO’s promotion depends on his SP’s or SSP’s citation. After an operation, an SP makes recommendations, based on which an SPO is promoted,” a senior government official said. This makes involvement in anti-militancy operations a key factor in their promotions.
The official language will state “exemplary contribution” even if an SPO is just part of a team that has gone to an encounter site. “Militants have learnt these intricacies of policing, so even if an SPO is sent for training as a constable, he becomes a target,” the official said.
An SPO who has been working with the police for 13 years told The Indian Express, “I hope to make this a permanent job. I was recruited from Srinagar along with 60 others. I am 33 years old and have a family to support. It is better than having no income at all.”
SPOs have been targeted particularly after the police and security forces intensified the ‘Operation All Out’ against militants in South Kashmir.