New Delhi (Sputnik) — Police in India's restive south Kashmir have registered a complaint against the Indian Army after two civilians were killed and one was seriously injured when the forces allegedly opened fire at them on Saturday in Shopian district. The grave charges include those of murder and attempted murder.
Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, on whose behest the police complaint was filed, said it had become necessary to take such action as erroneous elements within the Indian Army were behaving recklessly.
"The Army is an institution and has done a wonderful job. But a black sheep can be anywhere… Among judges, there can be black sheep, but we can't paint everyone with the same brush," Mufti said in the state assembly of Jammu & Kashmir.
Mufti called on Union defense minister Nirmala Sitharaman and expressed her displeasure over the incident. She said that civilian killings must stop as such incidents derail the political process jointly undertaken by the center and the state administration to reform youths who have been veering towards militancy.
"Every civilian killing, notwithstanding how erroneously made, impairs the political process in the state which has been put on track after hard work by all political parties," Mufti said in an official press statement after the meeting with Sitharaman.
Meanwhile, the Indian Army claimed that the troops opened fire in self-defense after their convoy came under heavy stone pelting. It also alleged that stone-pelters tried to lynch one of the officers and set a vehicle on fire. However, the state administration claimed that the army had been warned in advance not to take the route as the area was already tensed after one of its residents, a militant, was recently killed in an encounter with the Indian Army.
"The police asked the Army to not pass through the village as one of the militants killed in a recent encounter was its resident. The Army, because of some compulsion, took the route but their vehicles came under stone pelting resulting in the killing of two civilians in the firing," Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said.
Mufti reiterated that security forces should resort to aerial firing instead of direct firing.
"We are asking the Army and other security forces to maintain utmost restraint but it is also a fact that unlike in the past when villages used to get deserted if there was an encounter, or even a fake encounter, now hundreds indulge in stone pelting on security forces when an encounter breaks out," she said.
Mehbooba Mufti who is leading a coalition government with the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been facing severe criticism from the opposition and civil society for her inability to stop civilian deaths during anti-militancy operations.
Since 1990, the Indian army after killing civilians in Kashmir uses the argument that civilians attacked army & in retaliation army had to kill. With consistent killings, the lies too are consistent. Today 3 civilians have been killed in Shopian & the lies are no different.— Khurram Parvez (@KhurramParvez) January 27, 2018
Coalition partner BJP that leads the federal government at the center and largely controls the central armed forces indicated its displeasure over Mufti's decision to charge the Army with murder. BJP legislator RS Pathania said "serious charges" had been leveled against the army which appeared had been "done under pressure."
In 2017, security forces gunned down a total of 218 militants which was the highest in the past seven years; however, it came at a cost. 45 civilians were also killed in the encounters, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SAPT). 83 security personnel lost their lives while fighting the militants.
Militancy in Kashmir is mainly a conflict between various separatist groups and the government of India. While some militant groups support the idea of Kashmir's accession to Pakistan, others seek complete freedom as a separate country. The insurgency in Kashmir has taken on a new dimension in the past few years with stone pelting by unknown resistance activists on security forces becoming a day to day phenomenon, sometimes resulting in bloody clashes. In March 2017, a leading Indian media house India Today conducted an investigation and reported that some stone-pelters were paid for protesting by the separatist forces.