That justice has been done to the deceased in the Machil killing case is reassuring considering the fact that the Kashmir Valley has been relatively quiet for some time and the elections to the assembly are just round the corner.
This is the first time that army men have been handed life imprisonment through a court martial in Kashmir. The manner in which people in uniform killed three persons after promising them jobs was gruesome, to say the very least.
Equally disturbing is the manner in which counter-insurgency operatives were used to orchestrate the whole exercise. Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah, who is openly opposed to the continuance of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (Afspa) in the state, has described the incident as a “watershed” moment. The Machil verdict can set the stage for a fuller investigation of similar incidents such as the one in Pathribal in 2000, in which also the Supreme Court had ordered a trial.
The main thing this decree has done is to dent the immunity that the armed forces have been getting under the Afspa. It can be nobody’s case that it is the Army that is alone responsible for such killings in Kashmir.
In 2010, the worst year in Kashmir, it was the CRPF that was responsible for most of the violence in which about 120 people, a large number of them young, lost their lives. The security forces as a group enjoy immunity under the Afspa, which gives them the right to shoot at suspected offenders.
A lot of misuse of the law has taken place in the name of preserving peace in Kashmir, the latest instance of which was in Budgam and which the Army admitted was a mistake. While the armed forces do deserve support in their fight against militancy, they should strictly observe standard operating procedures.
While several parties welcomed the Army order under which court martial started in the Machil case, no one except the National Conference has taken a stand on the Afspa. And since this is a matter that is intrinsically related to the country’s security, it is desirable that a consensus is forged on it.
After the elections the Centre should take a good hard look at it.