Yet again the forces supposed to uphold and restore peace have breached it, this time at Zainakote on the outskirts of Srinagar. The aberration (an expression highly favoured by be-medaled generals) occurred when seven civilians were killed in a collision between an army truck and a private taxi. Public protests that followed were showered with bullets, by the same army that, according to the Government of India, was welcomed by people when it landed in Kashmir on October 26, 1947, to rid the then-paradise on earth of raiders. It was a peace keeping force supposed to pave the way for a referendum to ascertain the wishes of the people. On the contrary, it has behaved like an `occupying’ force.
Such words are bound to raise eyebrows at army headquarters, but let the top brass ponder, and set the system right. It knows bullets have not tamed Kashmiris for the past six decades. The sentiment the army has been fighting since 1947 has not only survived but grown stronger. The strategy has to change now. Goodwill acts of the army should not remain confined to holding veterinary and medical camps in remote areas, but move on to tangibles, particularly since the force is so conscious of its image. But, as often happens after every such episode, by Wednesday evening, the defence spokesman in Srinagar will have come out with a statement defending the indefensible.
A peace-keeping force must behave within the ambit of its mandate. It cannot go about killing the very people it is supposed to protect.
The state government will once again order a probe into the collision – the 250th official inquiry instituted into incidents of similar nature over the past 25 years. And once again, the army will refuse to cooperate, and after a couple of years, the police will close the case as ‘untraced.’
The army has done much damage to its image by shielding personnel involved in serious crimes. Let it come forward this time and cooperate with the police in investigating the horrific collision and fixing responsibility. The army is in dire need to demonstrate that it is ready to submit to the will and majesty of the law.