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Mounting political pressure, Omar's insistence makes army expedite Machil inquiry

india Updated: Dec 26, 2013 21:11 IST
Peerzada Ashiq
Peerzada Ashiq
Hindustan Times

As justice continues to elude the victims of the year 2000 Pathribal fake encounter through a court martial, the army's decision to expedite inquiry in the Machil encounter and court martial six soldiers is widely believed to be an outcome of mounting political pressure since 2010.

Unlike the killings of five civilians in a stage-managed encounter in Pathribal - which came in the backdrop of killing of 35 sikhs by gunmen - the Machil encounter, for first time since the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was invoked in 1990, triggered the debate of its revocation.

In October 2011, chief minister Omar Abdullah used the Machil encounter as a case to revoke the AFSPA saying "the Act will go in my tenure only". The CM, though, faced a tough resistance from the army.

The CM and his several ministers have publicly blamed the Machil encounter for the five-month long agitations, which left more than 110 protesters dead. However, it was the killing of protesters that prolonged the violent protests.

It is reliably learnt that the CM raised the issue of the Machil encounter and the army's reluctance to deliver justice with the three-member group of interlocutors headed by Dilip Padgoankar, nominated by the prime minister in the aftermath of the 2010 agitation.

The interlocutors vehemently raised the issue with the army and the defence ministry. The army, however, set a precondition to deliver justice, which would help the beleaguered CM, who witnessed two incidents of the army allegedly killing civilians during operations in north Kashmir's Bandipora district during his tenure.

The army asked the government not to file objections to the army's plea to transfer the case to the army court. It invoked the Army Act to seek transfer of the Machil fake encounter case from criminal court to court martial on grounds that the accused army personnel were on active duty. The government resisted from filing any objection, thereby throwing the ball in the army's court.

The Machil encounter also became a rallying point for all mainstream parties to pitch for revocation of the AFSPA. The court martial, which was announced on Tuesday, shows the army's willingness to indict the accused soldiers without any impunity cover otherwise offered by the AFSPA.

Compared to Machil encounter, it took the army 12 years to start court martial proceedings in the Pathribal encounter.

It was in June 2012 that a Srinagar court allowed general court martial proceedings against the five army officers charged in Pathribal killings. The court directions came after the Supreme Court on May 1, 2012, asked the army to opt for an option, "either to prosecute the five soldiers in a military court or a civil court within two months".

The five army men, identified by the CBI for having a role in the killings, were Brigadier Ajay Saxena, Lt Col Brajendra Pratap Singh, Major Sourabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxena and Subedar Idrees Khan.

The CBI had charge-sheeted the army men in 2006 for "killing five civilians and later dubbing them as foreign militants".

However, the families of the victims are not being able to travel 300 km to Nagrota Cantonment where the army has set up court martial. Despite several summons, the families have grown reluctant to travel to Jammu and demand that the case should be shifted to Srinagar instead.

Timeline of pathribal case

1) March 20, 2000: On the eve of former US president Bill Clinton's visit to India in March 2000, 35 Sikhs were massacred by unknown gunmen.

2) March 25, 2000: Army claims killing seven foreign LeT militants in Pathribal involved in the incident.

3) April 3, 2000: Security forces open firing on local protesters, killing seven at Brakpora, while demanding exhumation of the bodies and whereabouts of five missing youth from Pathribal.

4) October 31, 2000: Justice Pandian committee was asked to investigate Pathribal and Barkpora killings.

5) April 6, 2002: DNA profiling confirms the killed persons were civilians.

6) In 2007, the SC stayed high court proceedings on an army plea that it can't prosecute without permission from the Centre.

7) March 2012: The CBI told the SC it was a cold-blooded murder and no sanction was required to prosecute the army personnel.

8) May 1, 2012: Supreme Court asks the army either to opt for civil court prosecution or try the accused in the army court.