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Indian Army and Police Tied to Kashmir Killings-NYT
SRINAGAR, Kashmir, Feb. 3 — Amid a grove of poplar trees in a village just north of here, a grave was unearthed Thursday afternoon. Out came the body of a man, shot dead nearly two months ago, whom the Indian police described at the time as an anti-Indian militant from Pakistan.
An elderly man, who had been searching for his missing son for nearly two months, was summoned for the exhumation. He stared at the horror dug out of the ground and told the police what he had refused to believe all this time. “He is my son,” he said. Then he sat on the bare ground and shook.
As it turned out, the dead man, Abdul Rehman Paddar, was not a Pakistani at all, nor a militant. He was a Kashmiri carpenter from a village south of here.
The Indian police are now investigating whether he was killed by some of their own men, for motives that could range from personal revenge to greed. A suspected militant’s body, after all, comes with a handsome cash reward. By Saturday, four police officers were under arrest in connection with Mr. Paddar’s killing.
S. M. Sahai, the chief of police for Kashmir, said his investigators were looking into whether at least two other bodies were part of the same ring; setups like the killing of Mr. Paddar are known here as “encounter killings.” Each of the victims had been killed in operations conducted jointly by the police and either an Indian Army unit or a paramilitary force that operates under army command, he said.
By the end of the day on Saturday, as the investigation snowballed, a total of five bodies had been exhumed, all in the area surrounding Sumbal, and their identities were being checked.
The exhumations have not only unearthed a deep well of resentment among the people of Indian-administered Kashmir, but have also forced the Indian government to face anew long-simmering charges of abuse by Indian soldiers and the police.
Kashmiris have long accused the Indian authorities of disappearances and extrajudicial killings; one local human rights group estimates that 10,000 people have disappeared since the anti-Indian insurgency began here in 1989.
Nor have civilians been immune to the savagery of militants; beheadings are among their favored tactics.
India blames its rival and neighbor, Pakistan, for aiding and arming the insurgents. Pakistan denies the charge, and does not recognize India’s claim to Kashmir. Claimed by both countries, Kashmir has been a center of strife for nearly 60 years.
While the violence has calmed considerably since a 2004 peace deal between India and Pakistan, it has hardly ended the bloodshed or diminished the presence of Indian troops here. India says troop reduction can begin only when the militants lay down their weapons.
Those troops have been blamed repeatedly for human rights abuses here, most recently by a 156-page report released last October by Human Rights Watch, which detailed dozens of cases in which, it said, the state had failed to hold its security forces accountable for suspected abductions, killings and detentions.
Among the most infamous of those cases were the March 2000 killings in the southern village of Pathirabal of five men, whom the army identified as foreign terrorists responsible for a massacre of Sikh civilians. The men, whose bodies had been burned and badly mutilated, turned out to be civilians abducted by the army, according to relatives and a subsequent federal investigation.
In a rare instance of prosecution, five Indian soldiers were charged with the killings, but the case remains stuck in the courts nearly seven years later, and the accused remain on the job. The army insists that they be tried by an internal court martial, and not a civilian court.
Human Rights Watch blamed the Indian government for what it called its “lack of commitment” to accountability and a series of Indian laws that shield soldiers in conflict zones like Kashmir. “This has led to a serious climate of impunity,” the report concluded.
Indian officials have explicitly sought to use the latest cases of encounter killings to rebut accusations of impunity, pointing out that they have taken the lead in investigating army and police officials linked to what they call isolated abuses of power.
“This is an aberration,” Mr. Sahai, the police chief, said in an interview in his office here in the summer capital of Indian-run Kashmir. “This is not the rule. We have not tried to suppress anything. Whatever are the facts of the case have come out in the open. If we are trying to set our house in order, that should increase public confidence.”