Tackling stone-pelting by using weapons has shown itself to be utterly ineffective.
Saturday’s firing of live ammunition on a stone-pelting mob in Pulwama in southern Kashmir by men of the Rashtriya Rifles, a horrific incident in which seven civilians — including schoolkids — were killed and many injured, is a blot on the record of the Indian Army in the Kashmir Valley.
The Army’s record in Kashmir has been a fair one on the whole, all things considered. While shaming incidents have occurred, there has been a price to pay for those found guilty. Even senior officers have not been spared. It is to be hoped that the gory Pulwama incident will be probed with dispatch and with complete fairness, and the guilty men penalised.
The Army’s job is not an easy one when civilian crowds turn up at encounter sites to hamper the security forces’ work as they engage terrorists. This phenomenon has been seen on a regular basis for about two and a half years as emotions are running high among ordinary people. A bleak situation like this can only be remedied through meaningful political intervention by the Centre, but the present government has been oblivious to repeated urgings — including by top military officers serving in the Valley — to initiate a process of political dialogue.
By overlooking the very idea of political conversations with the people of Kashmir, those in authority today are ignoring the beneficial lessons gained from the tenure of Prime Ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. It has been amply clear for some time that in the absence of political engagement that inspires public confidence, stone-throwing becomes the sole way available to an angry populace to let off steam.
Tackling stone-pelting by using weapons has shown itself to be utterly ineffective. In the first instance, pellet guns were tried. This led to the blinding of not only those who aimed stones at the security forces but also innocent people in the vicinity. Some people sitting in the safety of their homes were also hit by pellets and suffered grievous eye injuries, to the extent of losing their eyesight.
Obviously the use of live ammunition cannot be a substitute for pellet guns. It is self-evident that talks can be the only way forward in Kashmir. If the Narendra Modi government continues to disregard sane counsel in this matter, there will continue to be a heavy political price to pay.
As a reaction to the killing of civilians through the Army’s irresponsible and brutal act, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq gave a call to the people to march on the Srinagar headquarters of the Army’s 15 Corps at Badami Bagh. Such exhortations are likely to make the situation more brittle, sharpening the contradiction between the people and the government. In such a situation, Pakistan will be the only beneficiary.