In a Shopian village in specially-disturbed southern Kashmir, the Army fired back on Saturday when a small unit of soldiers driving by was attacked by a stone-pelting mob. Two young men were killed. The local police named the major in charge of the unit in the FIR it registered, although the Army denies the officer was present. A magisterial inquiry has been ordered.
When social and political conditions are as disturbed as they are in Kashmir for the past two years, the outcome of such an inquiry is likely to be contested. However, going by news reports, neither side disputes that the Army fired after the stone-pelting, in which some soldiers were badly injured, commenced.
This alone is sufficient to justify the Army’s action, specially when the AFSPA is in force. It may have been justifiable even in the absence of the special powers, though evidence would then be needed that the force did not behave in a trigger-happy manner.
It should also be considered that the Army has punished its soldiers as well as officers in several cases in Kashmir of late, though not in all, in spite of AFSPA. This signals that the security forces have tended to be responsible on the whole — even when civilians have stood in their way to shield terrorists during anti-terrorist operations.
In the latter half of 2016, when pellet injuries caused serious injuries to civilians, blinding dozens, when the Army confronted violent stone-pelting mobs stage-managed by agents provocateur, a large number of soldiers sustained serious injuries.
The day after the Shopian firing, the extremists, separatists and Pakistan-backed agents, operating these days under the rubric of “Joint Resistance Leadership”, gave a call to shut down the Valley. This enjoyed considerable success. This suggests that the mood of political confrontation remains strong from the side of the separatists, fuelled by Pakistani machinations.
The bandh call was the first one of the new year, and may be seen as a barometer for the rest of the year. It is quite clear that the security situation is likely to remain fragile. This is only to be expected when the Centre has taken no credible step over the last four years to revive a congenial political atmosphere in spite of repeated calls to do so even by the Army.
In the state Assembly, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti strongly defended the action of the police to name the Army major in charge of the unit that fired on the stone-throwers, eliciting a sharp response from her coalition partner, the BJP. She has courted hostility from the populace by aligning with the BJP and may see in her present move a chance to politically rehabilitate herself. What Kashmir desperately needs, however, at this point is political cooling.