The arrest of three policemen, reportedly for their links with separatist guerrillas, has come as an embarrassment for the Jammu and Kashmir Police and the intelligence agencies.
In a surprise development, the state police issued on Saturday a statement which said three local police personnel had been arrested for their "anti-national links and at least two more are likely to be questioned in this regard".
Sources here said the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have sought access to the detained policemen for custodial interrogation.
Police and the intelligence top brass are tight-lipped about the development. "Yes, they have been detained for questioning. The investigation is going on and things will be revealed to the media at the right time," said a senior police officer here.
If sources are to be believed, the policemen had been detailed for "infiltrating into the guerrilla ranks to bust them from inside in a highly confidential operation".
At least one of the arrested policemen is a former militant and was absorbed into the state police after he surrendered and did "some useful work" for the special operations group of the state police.
If reports about the arrested policemen playing double on their own bosses are true, then the extent of their betrayal needs to be thoroughly probed.
Sources in the state police say the arrested policemen had been involved in the recent attack on a surrendered militant in Srinagar city and some more separatist strikes. It is also believed that while they gave "peanuts worth of information about the militants to the officers in the state intelligence and the state police force, their loyalties had been bought by the separatists".
If the state police force had gone by the age-old maxim of setting a thief to catch a thief, then the strategy has definitely boomeranged.
The unearthing of some men inside the security grid of the state acting as eyes and ears for the separatists has not happened for the first time.
An officer of a paramilitary force was arrested in 1992 for planting a bomb inside the state police headquarters which went off, injuring almost the entire top brass of the state police force who were busy in a security meeting when the explosion occurred.
Yet, when it is generally believed that the security forces in the state are now dealing with "residual militancy" with just around 250 guerrillas still active in the Valley, it is a matter of serious concern that the separatists still retain the capacity to penetrate into the state intelligence and the state police force.
What needs to be now found out is whether the arrested policemen had been acting in isolation or had other accomplices in uniform who are still at large.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be reached at email@example.com)