Step up confidence-building measures in J&K

Step up confidence-building measures in J&K

The inexplicable killing of two young boys by the men in uniform in Srinagar suburb last week has created ripples across Kashmir and beyond with people in unison throughout the country condemning this barbaric act.

The army personnel shot the two boys dead from point blank range when it could well have shot at the windows or tyres, if the aim was to stop the vehicle, they were travelling in. There is no denying the fact that the bullets that pierced the tender bodies of the two children were intended to kill.

The army apart from killing 14-year old Faisal Bhat and 20-year-old Mehraj Dar, also critically injured two of their friends travelling with them in the ill fated car. The dreadful act  is a feature of an ongoing cycle of violence people of Kashmir are facing with a feeling of nemesis descending on a population already bruised from September devastating floods.

The killings are a glaring example how unsafe life of a Kashmiri is and it has once again put the question mark on the claims of army that it is the saviour of people of Jammu and Kashmir. In the latest incident, the conduct of the army was no better than that of an occupying force. For the people of Kashmir, the reality of the army being in their face and often trigger-happy, has not changed. The injured boys have clearly stated they were not warned or asked to surrender before the troops pumped bullets into the car.

Unfortunately, army as an institution has always tried to justify the acts of ‘rouge’ individuals when innocents were gunned down in Kashmir. If the institution tries to defend or justify the act of violence, the whole process becomes institutionalised. Even after nearly 15 years, the army personnel involved in Pathribal fake encounter are yet to be punished despite the fact CBI investigation finding the officials guilty but the army’s own investigation gave them a clean chit.

Though in the latest incident, the army, for a change, has admitted its mistake and its Northern Commander, based in Udhampur in Jammu specially flew to Srinagar to accept the mistake before the media, it is to be seen whether the promise he made that the inquiry will be completed in 10 days was aimed at calming tempers or the Government of India means business at least this time.

People in Kashmir have a reason to doubt the outcome of inquiries ordered by the authorities after every such incident. They treat it as a joke and don’t believe in the results of such probes. The state government and the armed forces have ordered 63 inquiries since January 2009, to look into the circumstances leading to different incidents of human rights violations and killings by armed forces. However, only one probe was taken to a logical conclusion, which led to the arrest of a few BSF men for killing Zahid Farooq, a teenage Srinagar youth, on February 5, 2010.

Buying time?

There is a general feeling in Kashmir that probes and inquiries are only meant to pacify the public anger and to buy time. Even if a culprit is identified, the state authorities have to seek clearance from New Delhi to prosecute him. The sanction seldom comes as army every time takes shield under controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). It appears that ordering the probe has become an end in itself.

AFSPA is like an all-season attire for those who kill, torture and can make anyone disappear on the basis of mere suspicion in Kashmir.

Civil rights activists in Kashmir say there is zero per cent conviction in human rights violations by the forces in Kashmir. Even mainstream politicians have questioned the outcome of investigations ordered after every such killing. They say the inaction on the part of the government to act on the findings of these probes has eroded its credibility.

During the Mufti Mohammad Syed-led PDP government (2002-2005), about 80 probes were ordered in different incidents. When Ghulam Nabi Azad of Congress replaced Mufti as CM, 11 probes were ordered in 2006. In 2007, 12 probe committees were set up, while in 2008, during the Amarnath land row agitation that left more than 60 protesters dead, eight probes were ordered.

From 1996 to 2002 when National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah was CM, more than 40 probes were ordered into custodial killings, disappearances, rapes and other human rights abuses by the armed forces. The fate of the most of these probes is unknown till date.

Kashmiris say this is time new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, known for standing up with people in distress and agony, can assert his power and do justice to the people of the Valley. What better a chance can he get than to get the culprits of latest murders and sentence them? That will not only serve justice and uphold the democratic stature of India but also lay out a path for better relations between the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union of India.

The relative peace prevailing in Kashmir in the last few years cannot be taken for granted. The killing of the boys is perhaps an occasion for the Modi government to review the role of the army in the state. As five-phase assembly election is due to start in two weeks’ time, the Centre has to exercise great vigil to ensure that people are not forced to come on streets again like they did in 2010.

Because of elections, the state is very sensitive now and any such incident may impact the poll process. Election should be an occasion to step up confidence-building measures. Otherwise, the situation could snowball into an uncontrollable crisis.

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