Poonch civilian deaths: Centre counters political outcry with swift response

Centre's timely measures has proved effective in damage control

Indian army Indian Army personnel with locals in Jammu and Kashmir | PTI

The deaths of three civilians allegedly at the hands of security forces in Poonch following the killing of four soldiers in a militant attack on December 21 have provided a platform for political parties to target the Centre government.

However, timely action by the Centre has proved effective in damage control. 

Calling for accountability, the National Conference (NC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and JK Apni Party (JKAP) condemned the alleged custodial killings. Seeking justice, they demanded thorough inquiries and substantial compensation for the affected families.

Leaders like Farooq Abdullah and Mian Altaf, an NC leader whom the Gujjars consider their spiritual leader, visited the families of the deceased men at their residences in Topa Pir and Bafliaz, offering their condolences. The victims Safeer Ahmed, Muhammed Showkat, and Shabir Ahmed belonged to the Gujjar tribe,

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“It is unfortunate that in our country, our army is killing innocents,’’ remarked Abdullah after meeting the deceased civilians. He mentioned that Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had visited and assured a proper probe and action against those responsible. “We hope action will be taken against them, and such incidents will not be repeated,” he said.

The NC leader also met with the injured civilians in Poonch, categorising them as victims of terrorism and probing the circumstances of cross-border infiltration by terrorists. “They are innocent people. How have terrorists come here? Where have they come from? Why did they come here?’’ he questioned. He highlighted the vulnerability of people lacking weapons and protection when terrorists attack their homes.

While Abdullah, MP from the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency, was permitted to meet the families of the deceased civilians, PDP president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti faced obstruction from visiting Topa Pir by the police.

Mufti, accompanied by other party members, was halted by police at Dera Ki Gali near Bafliaz and prevented from advancing towards Topa Peer village to meet the families of the victims. Mufti, however, decided to continue the journey on foot. When security forces intervened, the PDP chief staged a sit-in on the road, demanding permission to visit the village.

She questioned whether the administration was "scared of her" and added that she had heard reports of women being harassed in Poonch.

"Are they afraid that their secret might be exposed? I have heard that they misbehaved with the women there (Poonch). While the women were begging them to return their people, they were threatened, saying they would be stripped, and the same would be done to them as was done to their men," alleged the PDP president.

Sunil Dimple, leader of Mission Statehood, a Jammu-based political party, has criticized the BJP's claims of restored peace and progress in light of the alleged custodial civilian killings in Poonch.

“The compensation and jobs will not bring back a mother’s son or a woman’s husband,’’ he expressed. “This incident exposes the tall claims of the BJP that J&K is at peace after the abrogation of Article 370.”

In response to the incident, the BJP, actively courting the Muslims of Rajouri and Poonch, swiftly reached out to the families of the victims, pledging justice and solace. Ravinder Raina, the party’s state president and a Rajouri native, vowed that justice would prevail and assured that those responsible would not escape accountability.

“This is a significant tragedy,’’ Raina remarked. “Gujjar and Bakerwal are my brothers and anybody involved in this crime will not be spared,” he had declared.

At the national level, senior BJP leadership acted promptly to pacify the situation. Singh, while commending the Army for its sacrifices, also emphasised the importance of winning the trust of fellow countrymen, indirectly alluding to the alleged custodial deaths of the three civilians from Topa Pir.

“I am sure you will win any war and achieve victory against terrorism, but you also need to win the trust of the people,’’ he articulated.

Observers believe that the swift actions taken by the Centre, resulting in the transfer of three Army officers, including a Brigadier, after a video circulated on social media showing soldiers allegedly torturing the three deceased civilians, helped counter the negative sentiments directed towards the Army and the Central government.

The state government’s decision to provide jobs, compensation, and housing to the families of the victims played a crucial role in mitigating the fallout of the incident.

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