People were left aghast, didn’t know how to react.Army killing four youth at Pahnoo Shopian shocked the entire Kashmir. Soon after the killings army declared the slain civilians as over ground workers and said that they were accompanying the militants. Initially army said that a militant and three OGWs were killed in Pahnoo shootout. The next day a body of one more civilian was found just 250 meters away from the shootout site and the body of another militant was recovered from an orchard nearly seven kilometers away from the place where the exchange of fire had taken place. The army claimed that all these killings were a part of the shootout which took place at Pahnoo Shopian.
Six killings in one day rattled Kashmir and triggered outrage across the Valley. People were left grieved and shocked. They didn’t know how to react.
After issuing the initial statement the Army on next day took a U-turn and said that slain persons were “no doubt civilians” and police are investigating their links with the militants. It retracted from its statement about the slain men being OGWs and put the ball in the court of J&K Police.
From Jan 27 to March 3 this year eight civilians were killed in the army firing in Shopian district. Many people are of the opinion that Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) being in force in Jammu and Kashmir allows the central forces operating in Kashmir to fire at will. The army and other central forces operating in J&K enjoy impunity due to them being covered under Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). No legal action can be taken against them.
The J&K government while condemning the killings didn’t use the word OGW. It expressed deep sorrow and grief over the civilian killings and expressed solidarity with the bereaved families. This time around the state government did not order any probe neither did it ask Jammu and Kashmir police to register an FIR.
On January 27, when army killed four civilians at Ganawapora Shopian, the Jammu and Kashmir government quickly ordered a probe and asked the J&K police to investigate after registering an FIR. The FIR registered by the J&K Police was challenged by the father of Major Adiyta against whose unit (10-Gharwal) the FIR was lodged in Ganawpora firing incident. The Apex court stayed the proceedings into the FIR and asked J&K Police not to investigate. The intervention of the Apex Court into the matter put the J&K government into a tight spot. Since the day Supreme Court has stayed the proceedings in the case the Opposition has been repeatedly ridiculing the CM’s assertion about taking the investigations in the Ganawpora case to the logical conclusion.
Leaving politics aside as a Kashmiri ones heart goes out for the families of the youth killed in both the firing incidents within just one month. Locals in both the incidents dismissed the army version that soldiers fired in self defence. Locals alleged that at Pahnoo Shopian army dragged the youth out from their cars and killed them ten minutes after shooting the militant. However, army maintained that militants travelling in two cars attacked the mobile vehicle patrol unit of the army and tried to inflict casualties and the youth were killed in the retaliatory action.
The former chief minister and National Conference working president Omar Abdullah recently said that the versions of army and the government are contradictory. “People at the helm should clear the confusion so that masses come to know the truth,” Omar said.
People who have been observing Kashmir since 1990 are of the opinion that AFSPA has always saved the skin of the soldiers as it provides them with a legal cover. In the past 27 years Ministry of Home Affairs has allowed the state government to investigate only a few cases against the central armed forces. In most cases the permission was not granted.
The recent killings have once again brought the AFSPA into the limelight and the need to revisit its application in Jammu and Kashmir. The voices to get AFSPA revoked have become shriller. Kashmir based politicians believe till AFSPA is there such killings would continue and no one would be held accountable. Even in the Apex Court the advocate representing the Government of India in a case related to Major Aditya made it explicitly clear that it’s the GoI which has to give the permission for the prosecution of the army soldiers operating in J&K and state government cannot do anything without Centre’s permission.
Army statement over Shopian killings has many ifs and buts, but the fact is that army would easily get away with it as AFSPA is there to protect the soldiers. Till date all the Kashmir based politicians have made desperate attempts to get the AFSPA revoked but every time Centre has prevailed and has said “big no.”
This time the J&K government has played safe and to avoid embarrassment it has left the inquiry part alone. It looks like that J&K government wants to stay away from the controversies so that its relation with New Delhi doesn’t turn bitter. It (the J&K government) has drawn the line by just offering condolence and not going beyond a certain point.
(Javaid Malik is Senior Editor Greater Kashmir)