Reflections on the Machil Fake Encounter Case

Ever since details of the Machil fake encounter came to light in 2010, the separatist camp has been up in arms demanding that the guilty be punished. And even when the army admitted that there was prima fascie evidence to suggest that the encounter was ‘staged’ and announced that it was in the process of investigating the case; the separatists seemed unimpressed and remained skeptical that the culprits would ever be brought to book. However, instead of welcoming the army’s decision to court martial its delinquent personnel, the separatist camp has found more reason to trivialise this decision by talking about other past cases of alleged human right violations by army men. 

There is certainly nothing wrong in the Hurriyat pillorying the army for tardy progress on other human right violation cases as they are the vox populi of Kashmiris. However, they do not seem to realise that in this case, by heaping scorn, they are only conveying the erroneous impression that they are not very happy with the army’s decision to hold a court martial in Machil false encounter case. And this would certainly be music to the ears of their detractors, who are bound to have a field day as it reinforces their claim  that the Hurriyat is upset as this decision of the army demolishes the myth so painstakingly created by the separatists that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) legitimises the killing of innocents by army men! 

The separatist conglomerate may have an axe to grind with the security forces, but by just finding faults in everything that the army does, it runs the risk of being perceived as a prejudiced organisation and thus losing its credibility. For example, the separatist leadership has been repeatedly blaming the army for indulging in ‘cultural aggression’ and promoting ‘waywardness’ amongst the youth through ‘Sadbhavana’ programmes and by establishing Army Goodwill Schools in Kashmir. Unfortunately, despite the fact that some separatist leaders have gone as far as publically appealing to the public not to patronise the same, both these initiatives appear to be well subscribed to by the locals and in the process all the separatists are achieving is only loss of face!  

Every organisation has some ‘bad sheep’ and therefore, some unpleasant incidents are bound to occur. However, by trying to conceal internal shortcomings, an organisation only loses its credibility. The hallmark of any responsible organisation lies in the maturity that it exhibits in its outlook and its unconditional commitment to truth. It is not to suggest that the Hurriyat is not following these principles, as a good example of this can be found in the frank admission by former Hurriyat Conference chairman, Abdul Gani Bhat that “Lone sahib, Mirwaiz (Mohammad) Farooq, and Professor Wani were not killed by the army or the police. They were targeted by our own people. The story is a long one, but we have to tell the truth.” 

However, when Bhat made this revelation in 2011, there was great commotion in the separatist camp with many baying for his blood. Yet, in retrospect, everyone would agree that what Bhat did was actually a big favour to the Hurriyat as it helped clear the air of the lingering suspicion that these killings had an ‘official’ sanction. Accepting mistakes by separatist organisations is nothing new. In August 2000, the separatist National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak- Muhivah) faction or NSCN(IM) chairman Isak Chishi Swu voluntarily reached out to the harassed locals by making a public announcement that, “I on behalf of my comrades-in-common cause and my own behalf humbly apologise to the people for the excesses committed by NSCN cadres.” No wonder that the NSCN, despite being a separatist organisation has been selected as a member of the “Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation” (UNPO) formed in The Hague (Netherlands), as an international democratic organisation that facilitates the voices of unrepresented and marginalised nations and peoples worldwide.

Even proscribed separatist groups, with no official international recognition, like the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), has in admitting excesses committed by its members managed to earn international respect. During the Independence Day celebrations in 2004, a bomb exploded during a school function in the Dhemaji district of Assam, killing 13 people which included 10 schoolchildren. The ULFA ‘commander-in-chief’ Paresh Barua promptly denied the role of his outfit in this incident and instead blamed Indian security agencies for orchestrating the blast to malign the ULFA. However, in 2009, the ULFA Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa admitted the role of his outfit in this incident and apologised for the same, with Barua following suit. Again, in June 2011, Rajkhowa personally tendered a public apology for the kidnapping and killing of a social activist named Sanjoy Ghose by his cadres. 

The Hurriyat needs to remember that it is not a ‘mohalla committee’ where indulging in petty politics, relying on emotive semantics or adopting a ‘confrontist’ policy counts. It is a conglomerate leading a nation whose people are seeking their legitimate ‘right to self determination’ guaranteed by UN, which is the apex adjudicating body and thus, they cannot afford to behave irresponsibly. While there is no need to unduly laud the establishment or its security apparatus, giving credit to the adversary where it is due and accepting mistakes is not a sign of weakness but an act of graciousness which earns respect of the international community. By its actions, the Hurriyat has to demonstrate to the world that even though it is seeking its ‘right to self determination’ which has been denied to it by New Delhi, it bears no malice towards the people of India.

With the defence spokesperson stating that, “the Army has ordered court martial proceedings to take the legal process to a logical conclusion highlighting the Army’s resolve of ensuring justice with speed,” the ball is now squarely in the army’s court. Therefore, instead of expressing spontaneous and premature skepticism as regards the outcome of the Machil fake encounter court martial, let us wait and see if the army lives up to its resolve “of ensuring justice with speed” and really means business! 

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