Army’s Shopian Encounter Probe Addresses ‘Perceived Injustice’

Indian Army’s acknowledgment of injustice denies militancy more recruits through propaganda around military excesses

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Opinion
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Indian Army has acknowledged mistake in
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On 18 September, the Defence PRO at Srinagar acknowledged that

“…evidence collected by the inquiry has prima-facie indicated the three unidentified persons killed in the Amshipora operation [18 July] were Imtiyaz Ahmed, Abrar Ahmed and Mohd Ibrar, who hailed from Rajouri … the Indian Army personnel violated powers vested under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1990, as also contravened the ‘Do’s and Don’ts of the Chief of Army Staff as approved by the Hon’ble Supreme Court; ..…competent disciplinary authority has directed to initiate disciplinary proceedings under the Army Act against those found prima-facie answerable …Indian Army is committed to ethical conduct of operations." The statement strangely also added -“their involvement with terrorism or related activities is under investigation by the police."

Snapshot
  • Defence PRO at Srinagar has acknowledged that “the Indian Army personnel violated powers vested under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1990” in Shopian encounter (18 July) case.
  • Indian Army has often moved to address excesses and punish people like “Colonel Ketchup”, as also admit mistakes.
  • The ideological direction in which fence-sitters finally move in a conflict zone is often determined by the behaviour—or excesses—of either side, the terrorists, or security forces.
  • Indian Army’s move to inquire into this incident, therefore, seems wise—it seeks to address “perceived injustice”, and thereby, deny militancy more recruits.

Acknowledgment of Excesses in Combat Zones

Excesses and fake encounters do happen in combat zones. A UN Report of February 2020 outlines that more than 10,000 civilians were killed or injured in armed conflict in Afghanistan in 2019, and put total casualties in the past decade over 100,000. In Iraq, about 1,16,000 civilians were killed between 2003 and 2011. Most of these are blandly dismissed as ‘collateral damage” by a country that preaches human rights to the world.

In contrast, the Indian Army has often moved to address excesses and punish people like “Colonel Ketchup”, as also admit mistakes. 

In 2012, the GOC of Srinagar-based 15 Corps had apologised for the "accidental" killing of a youth in Baramulla district by the Army.

In 2014, former Northern Army commander Lt General DS Hooda admitted a mistake in the killing of “two youth in a white car” and offered compensation. In sum: the current inquiry conforms to the traditional values espoused by the Indian Army, although one-two recent incidents have cast a shadow on those values.

Why Shopian Encounter Got Probed

On 18 July, a Rashtriya Rifles battalion of the Indian Army killed “three unidentified militants who had fired at soldiers” in Amshipora, a village near Shopian, and “... the bodies were buried based on established protocols”.

Days later, three families in Dhar Sakri village in Rajouri (Jammu division) complained that those killed were innocent three cousins—Imtiyaz Ahmad (26), Ibrar Ahmad (18) and Mohd Ibrar (21)—who had travelled to Shopian to work as labourers in orchards.

According to the families, Imtiyaz Ahmad was already working in Shopian as a labourer and had called the other two, saying there is work available. The latter left Rajouri on 16 July, reached Shopian district and rented a room. On 18 July, the families reportedly lost contact with all three, but presumed they may have been quarantined on account of inter-district travel.

On 09 August, after failing to establish contact even with Imtiyaz, the families filed a missing persons complaint with a police station in Rajouri, as also handed over pictures of the three. Reportedly, a relative was informed by a friend in Shopian that the missing men resembled those killed in the 18 July encounter, after which the relative recognised them.

The families claim they or their kin have no affiliation with any militant group, and demanded an investigation into the killing, and a return of the bodies. In the wake of this outrage, the Defence PRO stated (11 August) that the Army will investigate the matter.

Meanwhile, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions submitted a plea to the National Human Rights Commission for an investigation. On 13 August, the police collected DNA samples from the next-of-kin of those killed to compare with the “suspected militants”.

Indian Army’s Wise Decision to Check Surge of Militancy in Kashmir

In a region affected by terrorism, the “war” is not only kinetic but also ideological - roughly 90% of the people are fence-sitters caught between terrorists and the security forces. The ideological direction in which these fence-sitters finally move is often determined by the behaviour—or excesses—of either side, the terrorists, or security forces.

American academic Nafees Hamid of Artis International Research, in his seminal project to discover the roots of radicalization, outlines, inter alia, two aspects which might cause someone to fight or die—or kill—for his beliefs:

  • Sacred values – there is profound willingness to fight and die for them;
  • The perception of injustice – this seemed a key factor in driving a person to embark upon an extremist path. In other words, moral concerns have a remarkably powerful influence on the human psyche and determining his actions.

Indian Army’s move to inquire into this incident, therefore, seems wise—it seeks to address “perceived injustice”, and thereby, deny militancy more recruits.

Importantly, the inquiry comes at a time of heightened military tensions with China, apprehensions of a two-front threat, and an underlying awareness that acts that are perceived as unjust will only give Pakistani narratives more “space” in the minds of Kashmiris.

Kashmir’s Problems Go Way Beyond the Military’s Charter of Duties

Nevertheless, the military is a blunt tool to address the issues in Kashmir – it can only bring down violence to threshold levels, after which there must be a coherent political process. Two pivotal studies by the RAND Corp. entitled “How Terrorist Groups End” and “How Insurgencies End”, hold stark lessons for us:

  • Anocracies (i.e. governments that are good at neither democracy nor autocracy) often do not succeed against insurgents / terrorists. Brute, broad-based suppression also doesn’t work; in fact, it breeds simmering resentment and thus prolongs the process.
  • Terrorist groups end on account of two main reasons; (i) its members transitioned to a political process – 43% cases; (ii) local law-enforcement agencies arrested / killed key members of the group through precise, intelligence-led operations – 40%.
  • Military force has seldom been the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups (just 07%).
  • Lasting terrorism/insurgency endings are shaped not by military action, but by social, economic, and political change.

(Kuldip Singh is a retired Brigadier of the Indian Army. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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