Challenging times

Attitudinal change is an evolutionary process and it started many winters ago even before the stone throwers appeared on J&K's streets.

The inevitable response of many to the title of this piece should be – “when have times in J&K not been challenging”.

However, it is not easy to read and understand J&K from the comfort of distance.
Events come together and create a mosaic; a segmented examination never gives answers and now is such a time.

Much has happened in the last few weeks and unless one has the measure of understanding of psyche of the people, the threats from across the LoC and international border (IB), the internal security dimension and the racing events on the national front, conclusions may well be faulty.

However, two events are being grossly misread without the benefit of detailed information, limited memory and an expected indifference towards the dynamics of conflict management. First, the leaked verdict of the General Court Martial (GCM) relating to the Machil case, an unfortunate event which was perpetrated by some officers and soldiers of 4 Rajput (Not 4 RAJ RIF as is being often reported).

Second, is the inquiry report of the recent Chhatergam incident involving the alleged mistaken identity firing by 53 RR leading to the death of two innocent young men near Budgam. It is being generally deduced that these signal a change in attitude towards dealing with human rights, as the first holds five army personnel guilty of the killing of three innocent civilian youth in 2010 and the second indicts an undefined number of soldiers (unconfirmed - nine) for facing due process of military law.

Anyone who knows anything about J&K would confirm that these are unrelated events which only indicate the Army’s ever present resolve to respect human rights and correct mistakes made by its rank and file. The Machil case occurred in April, 2010; the Army fought a legal battle with the J&K government to take over the case and having secured the right to do so followed procedure as per military law. The
GCM convened in January, 2014 and arrived at its verdict and sentence in September, 2014.

If, anything it was the decision in 2010 by the then Corps Commander Lt Gen Naresh Marwah to prosecute on the basis of the court of inquiry which was the ‘major decision’ and not the verdict of the GCM which was bound by evidence and procedures that are foolproof and liable to legal scrutiny. There is unnecessary speculation that the Army inordinately delayed the prosecution.

A careful examination of the facts and the chain of events will clearly establish that the delay occurred due to the dispute with the state government on the jurisdiction of the prosecution which was then settled in court.  Institutional and public memory is weak because the decision to prosecute its own or issue regrets for mistakes has been a practice of the Army in the past too.

Unfortunately, commentators cite with obsessive regularity the Pathribal (2000) and Kunan Poshpura (1991) cases and the Army’s refusal to prosecute in these cases. These are being compared to the Machil and Chhatergam incidents with the deduction that the Army’s attitude has changed and hoping that prosecution will similarly be initiated in the two earlier cases. Without detailed insight into all these cases, it is impossible to make informed deductions.

Firstly, it is the Army’s opinion for long, as per rules, that under the rule
of law it cannot ever initiate court martial proceedings unless the summary of evidence points to the feasibility of a prosecution. Insufficient knowledge of military legal procedures leads many to rush to conclusions; in the instant Chhatergam case, some are imagining that a court martial is imminent not realising that only the court of inquiry has been submitted, which has not even been as yet processed.

Rule of law

Army personnel, like all other citizens are subject to rule of law and without evidence, prosecution cannot be taken to the court martial stage. It would be futile to imagine that a so-called change of heart of the Army would lead to initiation of GCM against alleged accused in the Kunan Poshpura and Pathribal cases. Even the accused have not all been identified, let alone any evidence found.

The Army will stick to its time tested procedures and act in the best interest of justice and will surely not initiate prosecution to please any segment of opinion or stakeholders.

Sadly, the tendency to paint all such cases with the same brush is leading to premature deductions about the security environment and conflict management. The more important thing to observe here is that for quite some time, without pegging a date, the Army has fully recognised the need for transition in conflict management from the conflict stabilisation to the conflict resolution stage; the dynamics of each are different.

With a lower terrorist presence on the Valley floor, notwithstanding the continuing terrorist related incidents, it realised that Army’s employment of hard power in the early and middle stages of the sponsored internal conflict had alienated the population and it was necessary to regain its confidence through a deliberate restoration of dignity and esteem.

Negative incidents tend to take the strategy back a few notches, while their positive handling tends to retrieve the situation and progress the transition towards conflict resolution.

When individual events in J&K are seen with in the backdrop of professional conflict management, it makes far more sense than the knee jerk deductions drawn by taking events only in their isolated context. Attitudinal change is an evolutionary process and evolution consciously started many winters ago even before the stone throwers appeared on J&K’s crowded streets.

(The writer is a former Corps Commander of Srinagar-based 15 Corps and a Senior fellow at Delhi Policy Group)

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