Army’s timing to own up to blunders raises eyebrows

Machil verdict, Budgam response came ahead of PM visit

Army’s timing to own up to blunders raises eyebrowsIt may be a coincidence, but the Army’s timing of announcing exemplary punishment to its officers and soldiers involved in the Machil fake encounter case of 2010 and its course of action in the Budgam mistaken identity shootout of 2014, both ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Jammu and Kashmir, has raised several eyebrows.

Modi is scheduled to address a rally in Srinagar on November 7. While the Army’s timing in announcing the Machil encounter verdict in the midst of Assembly elections may have conveyed a different message, it also reaffirmed the Army’s resolve of zero tolerance towards human rights abuse, said defence sources.

Like the Machil fake encounter, the Army is likely to take tough action against its men involved in the Budgam shootout who used excessive force, opening fire on five innocent youth, that led to the killing of two of them, they added.

“The Army has taken a tough posture on human rights abuse by its men to basically connect with the people of Kashmir,” they said.

On December 25, 2013, the Army ordered court martial proceedings against six Army personnel, including two officers, in the Machil fake encounter case. They shot dead three civilians — Mohammed Shafi, Shehzad Ahmed and Riyaz Ahmed, all residents of Nadihal in Baramulla district — on April 29, 2010. They were allegedly lured to a border area and shot dead for rewards.

On November 13, 2014, the Army awarded life sentence to six of its personnel, including two officers. The same day, then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah called the verdict “a watershed moment”.

Court martial proceedings ended on September 7 this year when the Northern Command chief, Lt Gen DS Hooda, confirmed the sentence. On December 8, 2014, Modi addressed an election rally in Srinagar for the five-phase Assembly elections.

In a bid to strike an emotional chord with the people, he referred to Machil encounter saying, “It is the first time that the Army owned up to the mistake of gunning down innocent youth and action has been taken against those who opened fire. This had not happened in the last 30 years. Ye Modi sarkar ka kamaal hai. Ye mere nek iradon ka saboot hai. Aisa pehle kabhi hua hai kya? (This is an achievement of Modi government. It is proof of my honest intentions. Has it happened before?)?”

While the Army indicated exemplary punishment for four soldiers for the killings on the first anniversary of Budgam shootout today, it might appear to many a deliberate attempt on the eve of Modi’s rally in Srinagar on November 7, the sources said.

On November 3, 2014, a patrol party of the 53 Rashtriya Rifles opened fire on a white Maruti car in Budgam after it allegedly sped away from two check points. The patrol party had misconstrued the occupants as terrorists. Five days after the shootout, Lt Gen Hooda admitted that the killing of two youths was a mistake. He assured the highest standard of transparency in the probe to determine how the mistake took place.

The Army had announced Rs 10 lakh compensation to the next of kin of each of the deceased and Rs 5 lakh each for the injured. Two youths — Faisal Yusuf Bhat and Mehrajuddin Dar — were killed while two others — Shaker Bhat and Zahid Naqash — were injured in Chattergam village, 20 km from Srinagar.

Senior Army sources appreciated Lt Gen Hooda for “quickly” admitting the “mistake” in Budgam and delivering justice in Machil. It showed the Northern Command chief’s resolve to zero tolerance towards human rights abuse.

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