JAMMU: Army Chief General Manoj Pande visited Jammu and Kashmir on Monday and exhorted commanders to conduct operations in the “most professional manner”, amid an outrage over the killing of three civilians picked up by the force for questioning following a terrorists attack in Poonch last week that left four soldiers dead.
The Chief of Army Staff (CoAS), who visited the ground zero in Poonch-Rajouri sector where a massive anti-terrorism operation is underway, also asked the troops to remain resolute and steadfast against all challenges.
In a related development, the Army initiated a Court of Inquiry as police lodged a murder case against unknown persons over the death of the three civilians, while a brigadier-level officer was shifted, the officials said.
The three civilians, aged between 27 and 42, were picked up by the Army for questioning after the terrorist ambushed two Army vehicles on Thursday at Dhatyar Morh between Dhera Ki Gali and Buffliaz in Poonch. The three were found dead on December 22.
“General Manoj Pande #COAS visited #Poonch sector and was given an update on the prevalent security situation. #COAS interacted with commanders on ground, exhorted them to conduct the operations in the most professional manner and remain resolute & steadfast against all challenges,” the Additional Directorate General of Public Information (ADGPI) of the Indian Army posted on X.
Earlier, a defence spokesman in Jammu said the Army chief reached Jammu in the afternoon and immediately left for the Rajouri-Poonch sector to review the operational preparedness and the prevailing security situation.
The officials said General Pande visited Dhera Ki Gali and reviewed the anti-terrorist operation going on in Surankote and nearby Rajouri district’s Thanamandi forest belt for the last five days to neutralise the terrorists behind the dastardly attack on December 21.
The Army chief later flew to the 25 Infantry division headquarters in Rajouri and was briefed by the commanders on the ground about the overall security situation, they said.
Northern Command General Officer Commanding-in-chief Lt Gen Upendra Dwivedi and Jammu-based White Knight Corps’ General Officer Commanding Lt Gen Sandeep Jain accompanied the army chief. Both of them along with senior civil and police officers are camping in the twin districts of Rajouri and Poonch to supervise the anti-terrorist operation and maintain law and order.
Sending a strong message that it has taken a serious note of the death of the three civilians which has sparked allegations of custodial torture and widespread outrage, the Army has initiated a Court of Inquiry. Video clips purportedly showing their torture were shared widely on social media.
A brigadier-level officer, incharge of the Surankote belt, has been shifted and action against other officers of the unit concerned will also be taken, the sources said.
In a post on X on December 23, the ADGPI had said, “Search operations by the security forces are continuing in the area of operations after the incident of 21 Dec 23. Reports have been received regarding three civilian deaths in the area. The matter is under investigation. Indian Army stands committed to extending full support and cooperation in the conduct of investigations.” The counter-insurgency unit of the Army was in the news for wrong reasons in October also when one of its major-rank officers opened fire on his colleagues and exploded grenades inside the Neeli post camp near Thanamandi, leaving five personnel including three officers injured.
The sources said police have also registered a case under section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal code against unidentified army personnel.
“…after terror incident at DKG on December 21, army troops carried out searches in Topa Peer in buffliaz for the terrorists who escaped after the attack. During searches, Army troops detained a few local youth for questioning, reportedly three such youth namely Safeer Ahmad, Mohd Showkat and Shabir Ahmad succumbed to injuries.
“As such, cognizable offence under section 302 IPC is made out. On this information instant case stands registered. As the instant case is of special nature …special report will be submitted separately as investigation is taken up,” an official said quoting the FIR.
Mohd Sadiq, a relative of one of the deceased, said the three men were picked up by the troops accompanied by policemen Mohd Rafiq and Mohd Rashid along with their sources Jagi and Ganesh in the full public gaze.
“We want names of the concerned Army major, policemen and the army sources to be included in the FIR besides immediate shifting of the Rashtriya Rifles camp,” he said, adding “innocent persons were killed in cold blood and we want justice for them”.
Meanwhile, the mobile internet services remained suspended in both Poonch and Rajouri districts for the third day on Monday as a precautionary measure to check rumour-mongering and prevent miscreants from creating any law and order problem, the officials said.
The services were suspended early Saturday following the killing of the three civilians.
The Jammu and Kashmir administration on Saturday announced compensation and jobs to the families of the dead civilians and said the medico-legal formalities were conducted and legal action in this matter has been initiated by the appropriate authority.