GLOVES ARE OFF IN J&K

India Today - - INSIDE - By San­deep Un­nithan

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

VIPIN KU­MAR / GETTY IM­AGES

WARN­ING SHOT Army chief Gen. Bipin Rawat

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