Troops allegedly killed civilians falsely claiming they were Islamic militants in order to secure combat bonuses
Jason Burke in Nadihal
Police in Kashmir are investigating a series of incidents in which Indian soldiers are accused of killing civilians who they subsequently claimed were Islamic militants.
In one case, exposed this month, three labourers were allegedly murdered in an attempt to boost the combat record of an Indian army unit whose members were then able to claim bonuses. According to police investigators, the three men were lured to their deaths by local intermediaries paid cash by an army officer. They were executed and buried, and a report was filed claiming they were violent extremists.
In April a 70-year-old beggar was shot dead. Relatives denied army claims that he was a member of a local militant group.
Last week a case was registered with police involving two porters who the Indian military said had been shot by Pakistani forces across the Line of Control, the de facto border that separates Indian and Pakistani-controlled parts of the disputed state.
But doctors who carried out a postmortem said the men had been shot from close range. Army spokesmen refused to comment on the details of the cases, saying that investigations were underway.
Ayesha Khan, the mother of Shahzad Ahmad Khan, one of the three labourers killed in April, said: "Those who are responsible should be hanged and we are hopeful of justice."
Local human rights activist Parvez Imroz said he was aware of at least 50 other cases in which non-combatants had disappeared. "This is the tip of the iceberg," he said.
Imroz said that soldiers tackling Islamist militants received bonuses for each kill. "There are vested interests that have developed in the conflict. The army have been given these incentives and so they kill non-combatants," he said.
Khan's uncle, Riaz Ahmed, said: "I want to know how many other boys they have killed like this. They get their promotions to generals or colonels or whatever and we are left with coffins. They make their careers over the bodies of our sons."
The soldiers accused of the three cases have now left Kashmir and a court martial has been ordered while an internal army inquiry continues.
Imroz said he doubted that any of the soldiers would be disciplined. "We have had no instances where the perpetrators [in previous cases] were punished. Whether institutionally or individually there is no accountability," he said.
Sheikh Shauqat, professor of international law at Kashmir University in Srinagar, said the police investigation was unprecedented. "People believed all along that this sort of thing was happening. But for the first time the state police investigated and exposed it. This at last authenticated the people's belief," he said.
The killings have fuelled unrest in Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state, which is caught in a cycle of violent demonstrations and police shootings.
Three teenage protesters were killed today in the southern Kashmiri town of Anantnag, bringing the total to 11 killed by police in the last two weeks. As demonstrators took to the streets, authorities declared a curfew and mobile phone services were suspended in north Kashmir.
Most of the casualties among the protesters were a result of shooting by the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force rather than local officers.
CRPF commanders said their men had been left with no choice but to defend themselves with live ammunition after protesters tried to set fire to their vehicles and bunkers.
The upsurge in public disorder coincides with a series of visits of senior Indian officials to Pakistan. External affairs minister SM Krishna is due to travel to Islamabad next month in an effort to restart peace talks frozen since the attacks by Pakistan-based terrorists in Mumbai in November 2008.
The Indian army today said it had killed five militants who were trying to cross from Pakistan, which considers the Indian portion of Kashmir illegally occupied and has long supported violent separatist extremists in the state. Three soldiers have also been killed in firefights in recent days, an army spokesman added. More than 30 members of the security forces have died this year.