It is now becoming clearer that what happened in Bandipore last week was not a ‘genuine encounter’ or another case of ‘mistaken identity’, as the locally based 27 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) would like us to believe, but it was gory action-replay of ‘Machhil’. The script is nauseatingly all too familiar: Armed forces personnel becoming accomplices in greed-driven murder plotted by one of their protected species and enacted at the expense of innocent human lives. The frequency and ease with which this dastardly plot is being staged proves that its occasional public exposure is anything but a deterrent. In this particular case a local young man, Hilal Ahmed Dar, is spotted and enticed by the army-protected informer, Mohammad Ramzan Lone and motivated to drag in another innocent person, Nazir Ahmed Bhat. The plot is cooked in the 27RR pot with reward-hungry soldiers and officers becoming willing accomplices. Army’s version of the incident defies professional ethics as much as it lacks credibility on points of known fact.
The Bandipore incident shows that the military authorities in Kashmir have failed to learn any lesson from their past experience in such cases. This attitude amounts to professional incompetence and unacceptable intransigence. The script has been enacted so many times that even a genuine encounter with genuine militants is looked upon with suspicion. This negative impression lingers on for all the right reasons. From Pathribal incident in 2000 to Bandipore incident in 2012 the army has stonewalled legal course and blocked prosecution of the accused identified by the government’s own agencies. Court orders are being ignored with contempt. On the one hand this licentious mindset continues to snuff out innocent civilian lives and, on the other, it reflects very poorly on the conduct and professionalism of armed forces. The dreadful frequency of such incidents provides ready ammunition for mass anger, more so in the absence of any remedial action by the military authorities or the civilian establishment.
Anger and unrest get accentuated as even the so-called popular state government are rendered impotent whenever such incidents take place. Successive governments in this state have been tamely surrendering over such issues instead of living upto their commitment to protect ‘life and honour’ of ordinary citizens. Chief minister Omar Abdullah, in his earlier days in power, used to expend all his eloquence in support of the public demand to punish the guilty men in uniform. But the years in office have taught him the ‘right’ political lesson: Shut up and put up or find your way.
The least that was expected of him and the government he happened to be heading was to not relent on ending this murderous culture of immunity and unaccountability. He has exposed his disability by meekly submitting to fait accompli over the issue of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and over withdrawal of soldiers and bunkers from populated areas. On the first question the military has told him bluntly to ‘back off’ and that is exactly what he has done. On the re-deployment issue he has been quietened down with a couple of lollypops by way of token removal of a handful of bunkers out of hundreds dotting the capital city.
The boldness with which the military command openly stands up to the chief minister and, invariably, has its way over crucial issues touching lives of people is stunning. On each and every issue, Omar has had to stand down; without murmur.
Bandipore incident is yet another eye opener: The surface calm in Kashmir can no longer sustain if the military refuses to mend its ways in dealing with such incidents and the civilian establishment continues to capitulate tamely. It is a historical fact that one of the main reasons for alienation in Kashmir is that Kashmiris have for too long been enduring gross discrimination in matters like those involving ‘Bandipore-like’ incidents. Their shrieks and cries over injustice get lost in wilderness, contrary to how similar incidents in rest of the country are humanely responded to by New Delhi which is synonymous with ‘India’ in this part of the country. Defence minister AK Antony’s deafening silence on this issue during his 2-day visit here says it all and so loudly.