Shopian Encounter

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OVER twenty days after the security forces claimed to have killed three alleged militants in an encounter at Amshipora area of Shopian, the reports have surfaced that they were actually civilians who had come from Rajouri  looking for work as labourers in the district. This has triggered a sense of de javu among people. The incidents like these bring back the memories of the similar encounters in the past. The Army, on its part, has taken the cognisance of the matter and is reportedly mulling  a probe into the gunfight that led to killings. But the history of such probes in the past has  made people deeply cynical about them. There is little expectation that the outcome will end up differently this time. And there is a reason for this: the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that has been in force in J&K over the past three decades and that has been a subject of deep contention in the former state.

The AFSPA, as is well known, gives the security forces immunity against prosecution following a complaint against them for being involved in human rights violations.  The security personnel who have been accused of staged encounters and even those against whom the cases were proved  have never had to go through a proper punishment for their acts. This is true for the atrocities right from the Pathribal fake encounter of five innocent Kashmiris blamed for the massacre of 36 Sikhs at Chittisinghpora to the use of a Kashmiri Farooq Ahmad Dar as a human shield in 2017. Human rights excesses like these together with the lingering separatist struggle has made Kashmiris inherently distrustful of the state. Naturally thus any human rights violation by the state forces triggers a strong public reaction.

It is true there has been a long-standing demand from various quarters in J&K and the Northeast to withdraw the Act but with the Army consistently resisting the move, the people have largely resigned to the law. More so, in Kashmir where the lingering militancy has fortified security establishment’s position on the issue. The army’s contention has been that revoking AFSPA would substantially curtail its scope for effectively conducting anti-insurgency operations in the state. Deprived of immunity against prosecution, the security personnel will have their hands tied to the back in their fight against militancy, so goes the argument. This has made the withdrawal of AFSPA impossible in the foreseeable future. However, what would ideally matter is the accountability of the personnel responsible for gross excesses, not the revocation of law per se. Best way out is the willingness among the security agencies to act fairly and speedily in case of rights violations. This is the only pragmatic solution under the circumstances.

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