Learning no lessons from experience seems to have become de rigueur for the army in Jammu and Kashmir. After being accused, rightly so, of staging several fake encounters with so-called militants, the army has gone and done it once again. Relying on the false evidence of a territorial army jawan and a special police officer, both driven by venal motives, the army has shot dead a mentally challenged Hindu civilian in the apparent belief that he was Abu Usmaan, a top Lashkar-e-Taiba commander.
Even as chief minister Omar Abdullah struggles to handle this latest embarrassment comes news that one of the three interlocutors for Kashmir, Radha Kumar, has resigned following charges from a fellow interlocutor that she attended a seminar allegedly funded by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence. The other interlocutor Dileep Padgaonkar faces similar charges, though he has decided to stick it out.
With this, the government’s efforts to effect some kind of peace and reconciliation in the state seems to be unravelling. But, if Mr Abdullah plays his cards right, he can still contain the damage. His failing in the past has been that in earlier fake encounters like Maachil and Pathribal, he could not push to get a single armyman punished despite investigations by the CBI which showed the army’s involvement.
In the latest case too, an elaborate story was concocted on how the ‘dreaded terrorist’ and his accomplices were challenged and after a prolonged and violent gun battle he was killed while the others escaped. Compromising evidence was also allegedly seized from the site. Now we find that all the army did was shoot an unarmed civilian who just happened to be in the wrong place and was an easy target for the two who framed him.
Mr Abdullah must act and act decisively in bringing those involved to book. It is simply not good enough to talk about stringent action against wrongdoers being a dampener on troop morale. While the army is needed to keep the peace in the volatile state, it can’t assume it has licence to be above the law. The interlocutors’ report is due later this year. It would be appropriate if the government, which appointed this panel, stepped in to soothe ruffled feathers and ensured that the panel presents a picture of unanimity when it presents its report.
Otherwise, it will have no effect as similar reports in the past. This time around, there was some hope that the three independent persons would come up with a workable framework for peace. If this falls through, we could well see a return to the cycle of violence which for a brief and exhilarating moment seemed to have been broken this summer.