GLOVES ARE OFF IN J&K
In the five months that General 13ipin Rawat has been army chief, he has taken a hard line on a worsening security situation in Jammu and Kashmir's southern districts. Particularly as troops face stone-throwers against whom they are ill-equipped to respond. The army does not use the controversial 'pellet-guns', as the riot control shotguns used by the paramilitary forces are colloquially called, but increasingly finds itself being confront- ed by hostile stone-throwing civilians against whom it has no counter. In February, the army chief had warned of `tough action' after numerous incidents of stone-throwers distracting security forces and allowing trapped militants to flee. Now, his latest statements in a May 27 interview to the Press Trust of India have not only invited controversy but also sign alled the army's new hard line. "Adversaries must be afraid of you and at the same
time your people must be afraid of you. We are a friendly army, but when we are called to restore law and order, people have to be afraid of us,” he said.
General Rawat’s statement came soon after a controversial incident on April 9 in J&K’s Budgam district, in which an army officer, Major Leetul Gogoi, tied an alleged stone-thrower, Farooq Ahmed Dar, to the front of an army jeep and drove him around the district. The army has backed Major Gogoi’s version that his human shield saved the lives of several polling staff and avoided the army having to fire on a hostile stone-throwing mob.
Major Gogoi was awarded the Chief of Army Staff’s Commendation Card even as he faces a court of inquiry and a probe by the local police. Former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah was a lone voice of dissent, dismissing Major Gogoi’s court of inquiry as a farce. Randeep Singh Surjewala, spokesperson of the opposition Congress, and the party’s Punjab chief minister, Capt. Amarinder Singh, backed the army’s decision to award the Major.
The army has, in recent days, also stepped up its offensive against Pakistan along the Line of Control (LoC), retaliating against the May 1 mutilation of two soldiers with a fire assault on Pakistani posts along the LoC in Naushera. In an unprecedented move, it also released footage of the incident to the media. In three separate operations on May 29, the army killed 10 militants, including the new head of the Hizbul Mujahideen, Sabzar Ahmad Bhatt. Still, it is the conduct of army operations in civilian areas which will be closely watched, particularly since General Rawat, in his interview, spoke of having to fight a ‘dirty proxy war’ in J&K, making use of ‘innovations’ like the one employed by Major Gogoi.
The move has the Centre’s support. In a visit to the state just two days earlier, defence minister Arun Jaitley made it clear that the initiative in a ‘war-like’ zone lay with the army. “Military solutions are to be provided by military officers. How a situation is to be dealt with when you are in a war-like zone… we should allow our army officers to take a decision,” said Jaitley.
A decade ago, then army chief, General J.J. Singh, had described the army’s people-friendly approach in counter-insurgency as an ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’. Clearly those were different times. The gloves are now off.
The army’s operations in civilian areas will be closely watched in the backdrop of Gen. Rawat’s statements
WARNING SHOT Army chief Gen. Bipin Rawat