Machil Conviction is Welcome, but the Army Needs to Raise the Bar

The Indian Army has a daunting task ahead in ensuring internal security and maintaining professional standards.

3 min read
Soldiers pose next to the bodies of suspected militants in Machil in 2006. Image used for representational purpose only. (Photo: Reuters)

In an unprecedented initiative, the Indian Army’s Northern command issued a statement on Monday (September 7) awarding life-sentence to six Army personnel – including a Colonel – for killing three Kashmiri youth in April 2010, in what has been described as a fake encounter.

The verdict was based on an in-house court martial constituted in December 2013, whose findings were kept under internal review and finally confirmed this week. This is a welcome decision by the Army – to constitute a court-martial, arrive at relatively swift closure and subsequently announce the decision, in order to assuage a predictably outraged local and national sentiment.


The Machil Encounter

  • Six Army men sentenced to life in the 2010 Machil fake encounter case
  • But indicted army personnel can seek higher judicial review
  • Machil, in the context of the long drawn-out proxy war in J&K, is not an isolated event
  • The Army needs to review most objectively, and raise the bar to ensure that there never is such a repetition

Guardians Turn Predators

(Photo: Reuters)
(Photo: Reuters)

This infamous encounter pertains to an incident that took place in late April 2010 in the Machil sector of the Kupwara district in J&K, wherein three young men from the area were wrongly identified as foreign militants by the local police and handed over to the Army. The latter, in turn, killed the three in a fake encounter, thereby tainting the Indian Army in a deplorable manner.

The families of the deceased sought justice and to their credit, they have ensured that the Army instituted its own inquiry, culminating in the court-martial and the awarding of life sentences to six personnel, including officers.

This may not be the end of the Machil case, for the indicted army personnel can seek higher judicial review and there have precedents where such sentences have been overturned. However, at this stage, the resolve of the Army leadership is to be acknowledged for ensuring that such transgression is swiftly dealt with. But as those familiar with the long drawn-out proxy war in J&K – Machil, shameful as it is – is not an isolated event.

The Pathribal killing by security forces that occurred in early 2000 after the massacre of Sikhs in Chittisingpora involved the J&K police, the CRPF and the Army. This case continues to trigger outrage and dismay, and went through a long investigative and judicial process that included the CBI, and finally the Army personnel were acquitted.

Local sentiment about Pathribal is inflamed and it is averred that in the final analysis, the Army shielded its personnel and thereby denied justice to the victims. In short, Pathribal has become synonymous with what is perceived as the extreme transgression by the Indian state and security forces wherein the guardian turns predator. My own conversations with Kashmiri youth over the years confirm this bitter sentiment.

Thus, the Machil conviction may assuage to some extent – the accumulated trauma and pain that has suffused the people of Kashmir over the years – ever since the scourge of cross border terrorism has afflicted the region. However, it is an internal standard that the Indian Army will have to review most objectively and rigorously and raise the bar to ensure that there never is such a repetition.


Daunting Tasks Ahead

No professional army wants to be drawn in into internal security duties or be deployed against its own citizens for any extended length of time. This is a cross that the Indian Army has borne in stoic manner since the early 1990s. India’s LIC-IS (low intensity conflict-internal security) challenge is complex and daunting.

Contradictory compulsions are at play and the Indian Army has a daunting task in having to ensure both internal security and maintain its highest professional standards.

 Machil Conviction is Welcome, but the Army Needs to Raise the Bar

The Indian Army has a proud track record of dedicated professionalism over the last seven decades. While there have been instances wherein professional rectitude has been compromised – Machil being an example – they should serve as the anomalous occurrence that must compel an internal review whereby such transgression never takes place again. Zero error is the Holy Grail.

(Commodore Bhaskar is Director, Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi. Twitter @theUdayB)

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