SRINAGAR: Ever since it came to power in 2015, the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has been repeatedly claiming that it has dissolved the Special Operations Group (SOG) in Kashmir.
However, the police and the army have been consistently using the acronym ‘SOG’ in their handouts, signifying that the police’s special group exists and is vigorously involved in anti-insurgency operations in Kashmir. So, has the SOG been disbanded?
“This SOG is not the same as it was. The whole law and order context has changed since then,” PDP chief spokesperson Mehboob Beg said.
“We have to make a distinction with today’s SOG. Earlier, it was the task force, which was not accountable. The force was a law unto itself. When the PDP came to power in 2002, it remodelled the task force, which was undisciplined, had no accountability, and had complaints galore against it,” Beigh said.
He said that the oft-repeated statements of PDP leaders, claiming that the SOG had been disbanded, actually meant that the task force was not part of the police.
On the PDP’s foundation day this year, July 30, party vice president Sartaj Madni told PDP workers that disbanding the SOG was the party’s landmark decision – a statement read as tacit indication that the force was involved in gross human rights violations.
The SOG was formed in 1994 to fight the insurgency in Kashmir. No force has been as effective in countering militancy in the state as the SOG, whose cadres were drawn from police and mainly comprised locals. However, it became a dreaded force and was blamed by human rights organisations for committing severe rights violations.
The fact of the matter is that the words ‘SOG’ and ‘task force’ had the same meaning and the two were never treated as different.
In official files, the task force was called ‘SOG’, and the then National Conference (NC) government had, in the year 2000, laid down via a home department order, dated 23 May 2000, that the SOG in each district would function under the control of the Superintendent of Police (Operations), who in turn was accountable to a Deputy Inspector General of Police of the range and then the Inspector General of Police.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has time and again taken credit for disbanding the SOG and assimilating it into normal policing. In 2016, PDP legislative council member Khurshid Alam even claimed that the SOG was disbanded and assimilated into the police force in 2003 by the then PDP government.
“The internal arrangement of the police force to carry out anti-militancy operations, often referred to as the SOG, came to be assimilated in the regular police force in the year 2003,” Alam said.
A senior police official, who has worked in the SOG till recently, said that the SOG and the task force were synonymous.
“There is no distinction between the two forces. Both are the names of the special police force when it became operational in the mid-1990s,” he said.
“Now, neither SOG nor task force exists in official parlance. This special force is now called ‘police component’. This name does not create an image of dread or fear associated with the words SOG and task force,” the official added.
He said the army and police handouts were wrongly mentioning the SOG in their handouts. “In official language, we now have police components in each district. The infrastructure is intact, and they carry out the anti-insurgency operations as they were doing earlier,” the official said.