When MLAs of the BJP and the Panthers Party slammed the National Conference government on Monday for disarming the policemen deployed in militancy-infested areas, the chief minister averred: "To say that we have not given them arms is wrong, we have given them both weapons as well as batons and shields as well."
He ignored the fact that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is quite volatile. Two incidents in the past four weeks have clearly shown that it is not enough if policemen wield non-lethal weapons in the state.
On Mar 2, militants targeted a Indian Reserve Police batallion near the bus stand in Handwara town that is situated around 75 kms from here. Two of the constables succumbed to bullet injuries.
On Mar 13, five Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans who had just lathis in their hands were killed by militants near their camp in Bemina. A senior CRPF officer told The Sunday Guardian later that the jawans were only carrying pepper grenades and tear gas shells besides the lathis.
"About 50 of our jawans with lathis and riot gear belonging to the 73rd Battalion were waiting for a truck which was supposed to take them to a Srinagar locality to chase away the protesters. They were waiting when the militants started firing on them and lobbed grenades," the officer recounted.
Another officer pointed out that "The two terrorists, who managed to kill our jawans before being eliminated, were shot dead by the jawans who had access to guns."
Around 350 CRPF jawans have been reportedly injured in separate attacks ever since the hanging of Afzal Guru sparked protests in the Kashmir Valley. The Parliament attack convict was hanged at Delhi's Tihar Jail on Feb 9.
The paramilitary force personnel could not even handle the protesters properly because they have been hampered by the standard operating procedure (SoP) that allows only a third of a CRPF battalion's total number of jawans to carry guns.
Despite this, the Jammu and Kashmir government has been insisting that CRPF sticks to the SoP at all times. On Monday, the chief minister told the Legislative Assembly that he rejects "the impression being created that police personnel have been deprived of necessary arms and ammunition."
He claimed that the policemen "are operating under a mutually agreed upon SoP and always remain equipped with the necessary required ammunition when on law and order duty."