“Iwill open my mouth,” Major Avtar Singh had told the journalist, Hartosh Singh Bal, last year. “I will not keep quiet.'' This weekend, Singh, facing extradition proceedings for his alleged role in the brutal 1996 murder of Kashmiri human rights activist and lawyer Jalil Andrabi, shot himself, his wife, and their two young children, at their home in Selma, California. In weeks to come, theories about what led Singh to engage in his savage act will likely proliferate. There is only one fact, though, that we can be certain of: no one will ever now know what he might have told a judge about the murder of Andrabi. The basic facts about the Andrabi case, though, are well known. In 1996, Jammu and Kashmir Police investigators established during a High Court-mandated inquiry that Andrabi was kidnapped from his home by a unit of former terrorists working with the Indian Army. The lawyer had been involved in documenting instances of human rights abuses by the security forces. Days later, his mutilated body was found floating in the Jhelum. The five men alleged to have killed Andrabi also turned up dead days later. From the custodial testimony of Muhammad Ashraf Khan, part of the covert unit working with Major Singh, police learned that the officer had executed Mr. Andrabi. For his part, Singh sought to discredit Mr. Khan's testimony, saying it was implausible that he would have made a murder confession to a man who was not his friend.
Even if Singh will now never be brought to trial, there are questions the Indian government needs to answer about the Andrabi case. Major Ashok ‘Bulbul' Clifton, Singh's superior at the time of the murder, has never been formally questioned. It has also never been explained how Major Singh succeeded in leaving the country, and why the government repeatedly stalled judicial efforts to locate him. These questions, among others, are important not just in and of themselves, but also because of what they mean for the future of Jammu and Kashmir. Last year, former Orissa High Court Chief Justice Bilal Nazki, who had earlier ordered the investigation into Andrabi's death, said the case symbolised “what is wrong with Delhi's approach to Kashmir.” “There is demand for a solution to Kashmir outside the ambit of the Constitution,” Justice Nazki said, “but if the government gives people all the rights enshrined in the Constitution and puts in place effective systems, this place will change.” He is right. For many, this appeal might seem utopian — but making sure the truth about Jalil Andrabi's murder doesn't die with the killings in Selma will be a small step in that direction.