The Army has sentenced two officers and three soldiers to life imprisonment for gunning down three unemployed Kashmiri youths and then trying to pass them off as Pakistani militants in a stage-managed encounter in Machil sector along the Line of Control in April 2010.
The general court martial also held that Colonel Dinesh Pathania, Captain Upendra Singh, Havildar Devinder and Lance Naiks Lakhmi and Arun Kumar should be cashiered from service -stripped of their ranks and all pension benefits
While this rare instance of such a court martial verdict will have to be confirmed by Northern Army Command chief Lt-General D S Hooda to complete the military legal process, state political parties and human rights outfits hailed it as “a welcome step“ and “turning point“ to restore faith in institutions.
J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted:This is a watershed moment. No one in Kashmir ever believed that justice would be done in such cases. Faith in institutions had disappeared,“
Hooda had apologized and promised a transparent probe into the killing of two youngsters by soldiers manning mobile vehicle check-posts in Budgam district this November 3.
The Army's clear message was that “trigger happy behaviour“ or even mistakes in the line of duty will not be condoned, even though it has created some disquiet in its ranks.
The Machil fake encounter is of a different category altogether -a stark reminder of the earlier years in the terrorism-hit state when the performance of Army battalions was primarily decided on the number of “militant kills“ they could brandish.
Militancy since then has steeply declined due to relentless pressure of the Army’s counter-insurgency operations and other factors.
Incidentally, the Army earlier this year had “closed” another similar case against four officers and a soldier accused of killing five civilians at Pathribal in Anantnag district in 2000, due to what it said was “lack of evidence”.
The CBI had chargesheeted the five accused, which included an officer who retired as a majorgeneral, for “cold-blooded murder” in the case.