A long trek ahead for Indian Army in J&K

Machil verdict: 
SRINAGAR, Nov 14: The Army in J&K has done a significant favour to its professional reputation by punishing the guilty involved in the 4-year old Machil fake encounter case, shortly after announcing an ‘honest’ inquiry into the recent killings at Chattergam.

Three innocent Kashmiris were killed in the Machil case while two local youths were gunned down in the other incident and two more were injured.

To be honest, the probe into the Chattergam killings, over which the Army has also expressed regret, was being taken here with a pinch of salt because of two main reasons: one, that during the last decades the defence authorities had adopted an arrogant attitude in such matters, either refusing to probe wrong doings or going through the motion of inquiry to hoodwink the public opinion and two, that it became habitual of relishing blanket immunity under the AFSPA in this conflict-ridden state.

Indications of a change in the mindset at the command level began to emerge in the wake of the recent floods in Kashmir. Both, Lt Gen D S Hooda, GOC-in-C Northern Command and Lt Gen Subrata Shah, GOC Chinar Corps took centre stage in the massive rescue and relief phase and bent over backwards to make it plain that theirs was purely a humanitarian endeavour. Their intentions became obvious more clearly when they maintained a dignified distance from the ‘invading’ media-persons from Delhi who sought to distort the military’s rescue mission to buttress their own misplaced ‘patriotism’.

Lt Gen Hooda put it across with a typical soldier’s frankness: ‘Floods just cannot wash out 5-decade long accumulated mistrust’. A senior IAF officer engaged in the rescue of stranded families reinforced the assertion: “do you expect a person stranded hopelessly with his family for days together to behave normally? What is so surprising if some of them threw stones (at helicopters) in frustration?” he counter questioned a TV reporter from Delhi.

There is no recent precedent of high ranking locally-based military officers stepping forward to make their position so very clear. Their conduct provided a refreshing contrast to the haughty tone and tenor of the media persons from the union capital. More importantly, it marked a welcome change (to only a certain extent though) towards respecting the local sentiment that has been badly bruised over the past two decades.

That is why the GCM verdict convicting and sentencing the guilty in the Machil fake encounter case and an inquiry into the Chattergam killings would seem no less than a whiff of fresh air in the chocked atmosphere.

It is an undeniable fact that a significant chunk of the local populations across towns and villages of the Valley has been making use of medical and educational facilities provided by the army, notwithstanding what some others might have to say about it. A good number of flood-affected families also acknowledge the rescue and relief provided to them by the men in uniform.

But all this was getting lost in the anger over the army’s obstinate refusal to enforce professional accountability within its ranks. Emotional trauma of wrongful killings is deeply entrenched to make way for reciprocating sentiment of goodwill. The army has miles to go before hoping for a breakthrough.

I am certainly not reckoning with the general political hostility resulting from the happenings over the past six decades. Nor, for that matter, can the army alone sort that mess out. Political attitudes on both sides of the emotional divide have become too complicated with too many stake holders jumping into the fray here as well as to the south and north of the Valley.

The Army owes it to itself to restore public confidence in its professional conduct. By and large, the common people are intelligent enough to differentiate between motivated hostility and a legitimate grievance. They intuitively react at wrong doing. 

Perhaps, it is in recognition of this imperative that Lt Gen Hooda and Lt Gen Saha walked the proverbial extra mile to announce honest probe into Chhatergam killings. The announcement of the court martial verdict in the Machil case has added to the credibility of their position.

Honesty demands that it be acknowledged that the Army’s task is made more difficult by the shortcomings in the state’s political leadership. It becomes an aggravating factor, apart from its other damaging emotional effects.