The Army court's confirmation of the life imprisonment handed down through a general court martial to six soldiers for the Machil encounter of 2010 has come at a vital juncture. For the past one year, the Pakistan army has repeatedly violated the Line of Control, and now the Pakistan army chief, General Raheel Sharif, has gone back to their hobby horse: Kashmir is an "unfinished business of Partition". Now that justice has been done in the fake encounter case, Pakistan's theory of 'Indian oppression' in Kashmir will have one of its props missing. It is also remarkable that the general court martial order in November last year had come just after some Rashtriya Rifles jawans had mistakenly killed two young persons in Budgam, inviting considerable flak and causing huge embarrassment to the army.
For the first time, army men have been given life imprisonment through a court martial. The manner in which uniformed people killed three persons after promising them jobs points as much to their desperation for want of livelihood as to the murky goings-on in the troubled state. It is alarming that counter-insurgency operatives were used to stage-manage the exercise. The question is, what led to the killings and whether those involved were acting as cogs in a wider wheel of a system of gratification. Now this verdict can act as a prelude and precursor for probes into similar incidents, such as the one of Pathribal in 2000.
This conviction will also hopefully curb the immunity that the armed forces have under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa). In fact, the guilty in the Machil case had tried to take cover under this law saying that those killed were 'militants'. However, all paramilitary forces and the state police must bear the responsibility when things go out of hand, as they did in 2010. The armed forces certainly deserve support in their fight against militancy, but they should strictly observe the standard operating procedures. That way the Army will be able to build on the goodwill it has won in the Machil case and also win the confidence of the people of the state.