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regular-article-logo Monday, 22 April 2024

With eye on retaining Gujjar support, defence ministry tells Army to hasten Poonch probe

The Centre’s swift action — it quickly removed three officers including the commander of the Rashtriya Rifles brigade concerned — and its signalling of speedy justice appears to encompass political interests too

Imran Ahmed Siddiqui New Delhi Published 01.01.24, 04:42 AM
Rajnath Singh.

Rajnath Singh. PTI picture

The defence ministry has directed army headquarters to ensure a time-bound and “impartial” probe to facilitate “speedy justice” for the alleged custody deaths of the three Muslim Gujjar men in Jammu’s Poonch district last week, sources said on Sunday.

“The defence ministry has asked the discipline and vigilance branch at army headquarters to ensure there is no undue delay in completion of the probe and the fixing of accountability,” a defence ministry official told The Telegraph.

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“The ministry underlined that the incident was under intense media glare and had raised a question mark on the army’s image, and the probe needed to be impartial and should be completed within four weeks to ensure speedy justice.”

The army allegedly tortured eight men from a Poonch village — three of whom died — after a militant ambush killed four soldiers and injured three.

The Centre’s swift action — it quickly removed three officers including the commander of the Rashtriya Rifles brigade concerned — and its signalling of speedy justice appears to encompass political interests too. The Gujjars, who make up around 8 per cent of Jammu and Kashmir’s population, are seen as crucial to the BJP’s electoral prospects in the Union Territory.

As protests erupted against the alleged custody killings, defence minister Rajnath Singh had rushed to Jammu on Wednesday, met the bereaved families and promised them justice.

He also met soldiers, advised them to maintain “professional” standards, and reminded them they had a duty to not just defend the nation but win the hearts of its people.

The Rashtriya Rifles, which is in the eye of the storm, is the army’s elite counter-insurgency force in Kashmir and was raised in 1990. Its personnel are provided by the army on deputation.

“The role of the three officers is under the scanner. A detailed probe is under way to ascertain their complicity in the alleged torture leading to the deaths of three civilians,” an official at army headquarters said.

He said the inquiry would find out whether the alleged torture took place on the orders of the trio and whether they were present at the spot.

“Statements of key witnesses have been recorded and the progress (of the probe) is being monitored very closely by higher-ups. All civilian witnesses have been asked to depose before the court of inquiry,” the official added.

Sources in the security establishment say the alleged custody killings may “alienate” the tribal Gujjar community, striking a blow to the army’s intelligence-gathering mechanism.

“Traditionally, the community has been working as informants for the army along the Line of Control with Pakistan. They have been the army’s eyes and ears for a long time,” a security official attached to the Union home ministry said.

“So, the Centre has gone on an overdrive to placate the local people.”

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