Early last month, three north Kashmir villagers were lured from their homes with promises of work and murdered by officers of an Indian Army unit who passed them off as jihadists trying to cross the Line of Control. Northern Army commander Lieutenant-General B.S. Jaswal has promised that the murderers would be prosecuted and punished. That isn't enough: the case has demonstrated, not for the first time, that there is a serious malaise both in the Indian Army's counter-insurgency formations and in the internal oversight mechanisms. Evidence gathered by the police leaves little doubt the Srinagar-based XV Corps ought to have known something had gone horribly wrong long before complaints were filed by the murdered villagers' relatives. Instead, top commanders proved clueless about what rogue units under their command were doing. Back in 2006, a police investigation found evidence that Rashtriya Rifles formations had been involved in the murders of several south Kashmir residents who were passed off as jihadists killed in combat. In 2004, an anonymous whistleblower in the Army revealed that four porters hired from Jammu and Punjab had been killed in a similiar fashion by the 18 Rashtriya Rifles. Not in one single case did the Army initiate action against the perpetrators. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has promised “zero tolerance” of human rights violations — but these words will remain a meaningless piety unless the Army evolves credible criminal justice systems.
Militaries around the world have to grapple with criminal acts by their troops, often of magnitudes worse than anything soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir are accused of. Earlier this month, troops from the United States army's 5 Stryker Brigade murdered several Afghan civilians in cold blood; the institutionalised torture of alleged terrorists in Iraq is too familiar to need recounting. However, in many of these cases, internal military investigators worked to build credible prosecutions conducted in the full light of day. Indian military commanders have, for the most part, reflexively glossed over wrongdoing. Between 1993 and 2007, the Army's Human Rights Cell investigated 1,321 allegations of human rights violations in J&K and the North-East. Just 54 cases, it claimed, were supported by fact; in consequence, 115 personnel were punished. But no data on either the investigations or the proceedings that followed has ever been made public. The argument that making such details public will erode military morale makes no sense whatsoever. After all, the actions of rogue military personnel demean the sacrifices of those who put their lives at risk in genuine counter-insurgency operations.