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‘Army officers need ethics training for troops in conflict zones’

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  • Published
    25th Jan, 2021

The chargesheet against an Army Captain for killing three innocent Kashmiri youth in Shopian’s Amshipora village in July 2020 has again opened up the debate on moral dilemmas in counter-insurgency operations, and ethics around armed forces deployed in active conflict zones.


The chargesheet against an Army Captain for killing three innocent Kashmiri youth in Shopian’s Amshipora village in July 2020 has again opened up the debate on moral dilemmas in counter-insurgency operations, and ethics around armed forces deployed in active conflict zones.


  • In July last year, three youths were gunned down in a fake encounter in Shopian district of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
  • In the last three decades of proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir, the Army has faltered only a few times. 
  • In the Shopian case, the Indian Army has openly admittedto their mistake in the fake encounter and is working towards bringing the guilty to justice.
  • However, a case like this does call to question the moral and ethical values of the most respected organisation of the country.
  • The details of the entire episode are very disturbing, and the culpability of a very small rogue element within the Army is discerned quite clearly.

The Shopian case

  • The case relates to the July 18, 2020 encounter at Amshipura in which three youths of Rajouri district were killed and branded as terrorists.
  • In the case, Indian police indicted an Indian army officer, accusing him of killing three civilians and staging their deaths as a fake gunfight.

Points made in the police investigation

  • The rare independent police inquiry into extrajudicial killings in the troubled region found:
  • The Indian military officer Capt Bhoopendra Singh, who used the alias Maj Basheer Khan, had conspired with two of his informers to abduct three local labourers.
  • They killed the men, planted illegal weapons on the bodies and branded them “hardcore terrorists”.
  • They deliberately and purposefully chose not to follow SOPs [standard operating procedures].

The Amshipora fake encounter case is the first time that the army has acknowledged at the preliminary stage that “powers vested under the AFSPA 1990 were exceeded” and that the “dos and don’ts of the Chief of the Army Staff [COAS] as approved by the Supreme Court have been contravened”.


Ethical dilemma faced by Indian Army

  • Insurgency: An enemy soldier is easy to fight across the identified border, but fighting in the hinterland against an insurgent/terrorist is not easy.
  • Identifying actual culprit: Another huge dilemma is to identify actual terrorists, their sympathisers and over ground workers (OGWs).
  • Difficult decisions: In most cases, when the terrorist fires shots, the chances of the Army suffering casualties are very high. Now the biggest dilemma in the heat of the moment is how much fire power to use?
    • In many cases, there are men, women, and children in proximity. The leader, in such moments, has a huge burden of ensuring safety not only of his own troops but also of civilians.
    • The shame of losing a soldier and not being able to hunt down the terrorist is huge. It hangs over the mind and psyche of an officer leading the operation for very long.
  • Communal hatred: One major fear is always there that things can get out of control and radical elements could use it to fan communal hatred.
  • Moral dilemmas: Moral dilemmas sometimes overpower the thinking and decision-making ability of military leaders. While the motivation for young leaders may be recognition and awards, much more may be at stake for seniors.
  • Performance pressure: Add to this, the pressure to perform from higher headquarters.
  • Number game: Peer pressure and the desire to prove your worth also puts an additional burden. Directly or indirectly, almost all cases of fake or staged encounters are a result of the numbers game.

Centrality of Ethics in Indian Army

  • UNHR (1948): As a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948, India accepts that ‘recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights to all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
  • Doctrine for Sub Conventional Operations 2006: “Remember that the people you are dealing with are your own countrymen; your behaviour must be dictated by this single most consideration. The violation of Human Rights, therefore, must be avoided under all circumstances even at the cost of operational success. The operations must be people-friendly, and it must be ensured that minimum force is used and there are no collateral damages”.
  • Special Order of the Day issued by the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) in 1955: You are not there to fight the people in the area, but to protect them. You are fighting only those who threaten the people and who are a danger to the lives and properties of the people”. 
  • Honour Code of the Army: The honour Code of the Army, combined with the Ten Commandments of the Army Chief, are loud and clear. These guidelines are explicit in regards to what ethical conduct should be, and in times of dilemma can help guide a vacillating mind.

Where does the ethical value fail?

  • Choosing individual goals: In the garb of organisational goals, sometimes there’s a tendency to further own goals. Many times, excesses take place when an individual officer is very keen to demonstrate his professional achievement.
  • Using undue force: Sometimes the lines blur between saving lives and using undue force.
  • Failed ‘one-size fit-all’ policy: The Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) cannot be made for each situation, because circumstances are fluid and very confusing during live firing.
  • Risk to peace and communal harmony: While operational situations may demand taking bold and aggressive decisions, at no stage should human values be subverted during counter-insurgency. The risks of going wrong are too high, a mistake by a young officer or a soldier may turn back the clock of peace and communal harmony.

What needs to be done?

  • Cordial relations with locals: Maintaining cordial relations with locals is equally important — this is part of WHAM(Winning Hearts and Minds) campaign in Kashmir. During times of crisis, the same people turn out to be moral shields, since they are good judges of the character of the local commander.
  • Reason identifications: The Army needs to take a closer look at such cases and also conduct a fact-finding study to identify reasons for including ethics training at its Corps Battle Schools.
  • Utilization of effective leadership role: The Indian Army can be proud of its track record in upholding human rights in the Valley, in spite of the very violent situations they sometimes have to encounter. But when an aberration does take place, the role of the leader becomes very important.


Mistakes happen but they need to be accepted upfront. In spite of best efforts, sometimes innocent lives are lost due to cross fire and people get caught in this vertex of violence. In such situations, people do understand and cooperate with local police and the Army, however, what becomes unethical is staging an operation with ulterior motives. Honest mistakes are always condoned. The virtues of honesty, ethical behaviour, moral courage, and thus, good military conduct need to be emphasised.


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