Indian troops use locals as shields in held Kashmir encounters

Published May 1, 2019
THE debris of a house destroyed during a gun battle between local fighters and Indian troops is seen in Pinglan village in India-held Kashmir.—Reuters
THE debris of a house destroyed during a gun battle between local fighters and Indian troops is seen in Pinglan village in India-held Kashmir.—Reuters

PINGLAN (India-held Kashmir): Hundreds of Indian soldiers descended on the picturesque village of Pinglan, which is surrounded by apple and apricot orchards, just before midnight on February 17.

By the time they left 18 hours later, one civilian, three fighters and five members of the Indian security forces were dead, a row of houses was reduced to rubble, an unexploded missile had been planted in a rice field, and more than 120 villagers had sought treatment for exposure to tear gas, alleged beatings, and in some cases mental trauma.

Reuters spent two days in Pinglan, a village in India-held Kashmir that has a population of about 6,400, about a month after the crackdown to piece together what happened during those hours.

Interviews with more than 60 eyewitnesses indicate that soldiers forced at least four villagers to act as human shields. That meant sending them first into a building where local fighters might be hiding.

Human rights lawyers say such tactics which are meant to deter fighters from firing on soldiers carrying out the raids are highly questionable and could even be a war crime under international law. But they would not be illegal under Indian law.

“[The] Indian army has never used civilians as human shields,” claimed military spokesman Lt Col Mohit Vaishnava, in response to requests for comment.

However, he said that during encounters, local people were sometimes asked to mediate between the army and fighters.

A suicide attack on Indian troops, which had left over 40 of them dead in February, sparked a huge crackdown in the disputed region as Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave troops a “free hand” to respond.

Since the attack, hundreds of Kashmiris have been arrested, and dozens of fighters and civilians martyred in what the authorities term “encounters”.

On February 17, from about 11:30pm, three days after the suicide attack, security forces cordoned off all the roads leading into Pinglan and began going house-to-house. An army informant in the village had heard of the presence of fighters, according to an army officer who is familiar with some operational details of the encounter.

Residents interviewed in Pinglan were almost all openly hostile to India and its soldiers. Many people said the village had not seen armed confrontation between local fighters and troops for decades.

A resident’s account of a villager being taken by the army to search a building was consistent with testimony of three other people, all of whom told Reuters they were forced to perform similar tasks.

Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2019



20 Jan, 2022

Too great a divide

THE government’s offer of talks to the opposition on electoral and judicial reforms is a welcome development in a...
Military inductees
Updated 20 Jan, 2022

Military inductees

Giving preference to military personnel for appointments in civilian roles is exposing them to unnecessary controversy.
20 Jan, 2022

Suu Kyi charges

MYANMAR’S ruling junta seems determined to spin a complicated legal web around Aung San Suu Kyi to ensure that the...
UAE targeted
Updated 19 Jan, 2022

UAE targeted

MONDAY’S deadly drone strikes by Yemen’s Houthi rebels targeting the UAE, and subsequent retaliatory attacks on...
19 Jan, 2022

New province debate

THE private bill introduced by a PML-N senator seeking a new province in south Punjab amounts to oversimplification...
19 Jan, 2022

Omicron in Karachi

WITH the wedding season in full swing, it is no surprise that the Covid positivity rate in Karachi has been touching...