Staged killings by police protested

Five civilians in Kashmir were slain by rogue officers, authorities say.

Published February 7, 2007

SRINAGAR, India - The story, as security forces told it, was simple: They had killed a Pakistani militant during a gunbattle in a Himalayan town late last year. The dead man was a member of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, a Pakistan-based group feared across India.

But Abdur Rahman Padder was actually a 35-year-old Indian carpenter and father of five. He died, authorities now say, as part of a plot by rogue police who were killing innocent villagers to claim rewards and government honors.

The revelation of his death, and the exhumation of his body and the bodies of at least four other civilians believed to have died in similar circumstances, has deeply shaken Kashmir. It has set off days of protests and strikes and deepened the cynicism of Kashmiris, who have complained for years that innocent people were being killed by security forces.

"Tyrants leave Kashmir!" hundreds of stone-throwing protesters chanted Tuesday as they marched through Srinagar, Kashmir's main city. "We want freedom!"

Police used tear gas and bamboo batons to battle the demonstrators, eventually detaining 12, said Ahmed Khan, a senior police officer.

Authorities have promised an inquiry, but few Kashmiris are satisfied.

"Killers can't be judges. How can the police investigate the killings when they are themselves involved in these deaths?" said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.

Kashmiris make little secret of their fury at the Indian military. Kashmir is India's only state with a Muslim majority, and most people favor independence from mainly Hindu India or a merger with predominantly Muslim Pakistan.

Padder disappeared Dec. 8, days after paying his life's savings - 75,000 rupees, or about $1,700 - to his cousin, a police official, to secure a government job.

Over the following weeks, police investigators trying to track him down traced his mobile phone to members of the police anti-insurgency squad - and began unraveling the plot. Authorities now believe he was killed the night he disappeared during a staged gunbattle.

Investigators say Padder's cousin, Farooq Ahmed, organized the five killings, and last weekend he and three other police officers, including two senior officers, were arrested in connection with the killings.

Despite years of accusations, analysts say the array of security forces operating in Kashmir - police, military and paramilitary - are almost never punished for crimes against civilians.

Heightening the problem: Promotions are often handed out based on the number of militants someone kills.