Army's skeletons

Six years after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh first promised zero tolerance towards custodial killings, the armed forces continue to be engaging in fake encounters and other human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir. The latest incident involves the killing of three youth from Rafiabad in Kupwara district in an alleged fake encounter. An investigation by the J&K police has revealed that a major and his subordinates abducted the three youths and killed them near the Line of Control. The Valley is in a state of ferment again. The army has promised a high-level probe into the encounter killings. But will this enquiry deter others in the security forces from engaging in extra-judicial killings and fake encounters? Unlikely it seems. It is well known that personnel who are found guilty of fake encounters in J&K or the Northeast are usually let off with a rap on their knuckles. They are simply shifted out of the area and then it is back to business as usual. If the army probe into the killings in Kupwara should lead to justice for the victims, it must lead to conviction of the army personnel for cold-blooded murder.

A probe into the Rafiabad killings alone will not do. Many such fake encounters are known to have taken place near the LoC and every one of these needs to be investigated. These encounters with so-called militants are staged with an eye on financial rewards given by the government. This practice has encouraged the armed forces to kill innocent civilians. Simply promising ‘zero tolerance’ will not end the fake encounters in our insurgency-wracked regions. Stern punishment of the guilty and a review of the practice of rewards-for-killings is essential.

India must understand that its tolerance of encounter killings and its reluctance to act against corrupt army officers, all in the name of not undermining the morale of the armed forces, is in fact eroding their image and credibility. There are many honest officers in the armed forces, who are doing excellent work for the country. Their morale is being undermined by the corrupt going scot-free. Counter-insurgency campaigns in J&K and the Northeast have weakened the militants. But the people remain alienated from the Indian state. Ensuring that zero tolerance of rights violations moves from being a pledge to being put into practice will be a giant step towards winning public confidence.

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