The In­dian Army con­tin­ues to be an in­sti­tu­tion that is loved and re­spected by the na­tion and its peo­ple. Let us not drag this fine in­sti­tu­tion in to pol­i­tics and con­tro­versy.

SP's MAI - - FRONT PAGE - The au­thor is for­mer Com­man­dant of Army War Col­lege, Mhow in Mad­hya Pradesh, In­dia.

Since the past one year plus the In­dian Army has been in the news for some good and some not so good rea­sons. Un­like most of the other in­sti­tu­tions the Army is held in high re­gard by the gen­eral pub­lic. What is dis­turb­ing is the re­marks by in­di­vid­u­als who con­sider them­selves “in­tel­lec­tu­als”, even though they sound more con­fused than the oth­ers, and some self cen­tered politi­cians. The for­mer use their aca­demic and other cre­den­tials and the lat­ter use their po­lit­i­cal sta­tus, shady though it may be, to crit­i­cise the Army and its lead­er­ship when they are ac­tu­ally to­tally ig­no­rant of the sit­u­a­tions faced by the Army in Jammu and Kash­mir, its op­er­a­tional and in­sti­tu­tional cul­ture and its meth­ods with the lim­ited tools avail­able to it, to nor­malise such sit­u­a­tions.

Notwith­stand­ing the above let us ex­am­ine some of the broad events and ac­tiv­ity that has caused the emer­gence of con­tro­ver­sial and con­tentious views from cer­tain quar­ters.

Sur­gi­cal Strikes

In­dian Army car­ried out sur­gi­cal strikes across the line of con­trol in Septem­ber 2016 which was widely re­ported by the na­tional and in­ter­na­tional me­dia. From dis­be­lief ini­tially by some po­lit­i­cal lead­ers of op­po­si­tion par­ties in In­dia and even the in­ter­na­tional me­dia to the imag­i­nary ver­sions of the strikes put out by some TV channels and print me­dia; the sur­gi­cal strikes by the army did man­age to ex­cite the In­dia pub­lic who were bored with the pas­sive re­sponses by the over cau­tious UPA gov­ern­ment ear­lier. Pak­istan con­tin­ued to be in the de­nial mode that the In­dian op­er­a­tion had caused heavy ca­su­al­ties to ter­ror­ists and some Pak­istan Army per­son­nel in Pak­istan oc­cu­pied Kash­mir (PoK). Among the in­ter­na­tional me­dia the UK Tele­graph re­ported that the In­dian ground troops crossed a few hun­dred me­tres in­side PoK to de­stroy six to eight ter­ror­ist “launch pads” – struc­tures close to the bor­der used by mil­i­tants pre­par­ing to in­fil­trate into In­dia; the BBC said in its re­port said that the op­er­a­tion was “aimed at pre­vent­ing at­tacks be­ing planned by Pak­istan-based mil­i­tants”. It also quoted un­named Pak­istani Army of­fi­cials as say­ing that the fight­ing started in the early hours of Thurs­day, Septem­ber 29, 2016, and con­tin­ued for about six hours. The New York Times termed the In­dian army op­er­a­tion as a ‘prece­dent set­ting’ one.

The Af­ter­math

While the Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Mil­i­tary Op­er­a­tions (DGMO) in a press con­fer­ence on Septem­ber 29, an­nounced the Army’s ac­tions on night Septem­ber 28/29, no fur­ther state­ments were made by the Army, how­ever that did not pre­vent the rul­ing party from tak­ing ad­van­tage of th­ese strikes to con­vince home au­di­ences re­gard­ing their tough and proac­tive stance against the proxy war by Pak­istan. The Congress, how­ever, claimed that such strikes had taken place ear­lier also and the only dif­fer­ence was that it was not pub­li­cised at that time and kept a se­cret. See­ing BJP take po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage of the strikes, it prompted some op­po­si­tion par­ties, out of fear, to ex­press doubts about the ve­rac­ity of the sur­gi­cal strikes. The po­lit­i­cal bick­er­ing dragged the Army need­lessly into the midst of their mean­ing­less con­tro­versy.

Sa­hayak Con­tro­ver­sary

The long-sim­mer­ing con­tro­versy over the use of ‘Sa­hayaks’ by of­fi­cers of the Army was raked up once again when two videos sur­faced on so­cial me­dia in March 2016. The first, a sting video pub­lished by a news web­site, showed Lance Naik Roy Mathew com­plain­ing about be­ing made to do per­sonal chores for his su­pe­rior of­fi­cer; in the sec­ond video, which also went vi­ral a jawan named Sind­hav Jogi­das ac­cused “some of­fi­cers” of treat­ing jawans as “slaves”.

Lance Naik Mathew was found hang­ing at De­o­lali Can­ton­ment in march 2017 — the Army, while or­der­ing an in­quiry, said he may have been driven by the “guilt fac­tor of let­ting down his su­pe­ri­ors or con­vey­ing false im­pres­sion to an un­known in­di­vid­ual”. This mat­ter is also now in the court against the jour­nal­ist who car­ried out the so called sting op­er­a­tion. In the lat­ter case the Army has re­jected Jogi­das’s al­le­ga­tions as base­less, and said he had never been em­ployed as a Sa­hayak.

The above in­ci­dents led the In­dian Army Chief, Gen­eral Bipin Rawat, to warn per­son­nel from us­ing so­cial me­dia to air their griev­ances and to cut the long story short, the Gov­ern­ment de­fended the Sa­hayak Sys­tem and told the Par­lia­ment “Sa­hayaks are com­bat­ants and pro­vide sup­port to of­fi­cers and JCOs in the Army when serv­ing with units or HQ func­tion­ing on War Es­tab­lish­ments.” While the mat­ter was set­tled by the Gov­ern­ments state­ment in the Par­lia­ment, how­ever it did bring Army in to this con­tro­versy once again.

Higher Ca­su­al­ties

On Fe­bru­ary 17, the me­dia re­ported the In­dian Army Chief Gen­eral Rawat say­ing that se­cu­rity forces in Jammu and Kash­mir were fac­ing higher ca­su­al­ties due to the man­ner in which the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion was pre­vent­ing them from con­duct­ing the op­er­a­tions and “at times even help­ing the ter­ror­ists to es­cape.” He said “We would now tell the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion that peo­ple who have picked up arms, and they are the lo­cal boys, if they want to con­tinue with the acts of ter­ror­ism, dis­play­ing flags of ISIS and Pak­istan, then we will treat them as anti­na­tional el­e­ments and go for them. They may sur­vive to­day but we will get them to­mor­row. Our re­lent­less op­er­a­tions will con­tinue,” the Army Chief told re­porters here, send­ing out a stern mes­sage to those who sup­port mil­i­tants. While the Army Chief is to be ap­plauded for his open warn­ing to those who in­ter­fere with mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions, it how­ever gave rise to some nasty com­ments and ob­ser­va­tions of the hu­man rights ac­tivists and op­po­si­tion po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in Jammu and Kash­mir.

Ac­tion by Ma­jor Lee­tul Go­goi

The Army Chief’s award of Com­men­da­tion Card to Go­goi, who had tied Fa­rooq Ahmed Dar to an army jeep and used him as a hu­man shield from stone throw­ers in April to save a large num­ber of se­cu­rity and other per­son­nel who were trapped by a large mob of stone pel­ters, was crit­i­cized by hu­man rights ac­tivists, Kash­miri groups and by a few re­tired army gen­er­als. A video of the in­ci­dent had gone vi­ral on the In­ter­net trig­ger­ing a row with many con­demn­ing it. The Army clar­i­fied that Go­goi in fact saved the day by us­ing his pres­ence of mind to avert what could have been a dis­as­ter.

Stoutly de­fend­ing the ac­tions of the of­fi­cer, the Army Chief in an in­ter­view said “Peo­ple are throw­ing stones at us, peo­ple are throw­ing petrol bombs at us. If my men ask me what do we do, should I say, just wait and die? I will come with a nice cof­fin with a na­tional flag and I will send your bodies home with honour. Is it what I am sup­posed to tell them as Chief? I have to main­tain the morale of my troops who are op­er­at­ing there”. Talk­ing about the com­plex­ity of the se­cu­rity chal­lenge in the state, he sug­gested it would have been eas­ier for the armed forces if the pro­test­ers were fir­ing weapons in­stead of throw­ing stones. He fur­ther stated that “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”. At the same time, he as­serted that max­i­mum re­straint is be­ing main­tained while han­dling the sit­u­a­tion in the Val­ley.

Crit­i­cism of Army Chief by CPI(M)

The CPI(M) crit­i­cised the Army Chief Bipin Rawat for back­ing the use of a “hu­man shield” against stone-pel­ters by Ma­jor Go­goi. The Left party also hit back at the BJP for ac­cus­ing it of be­ing a “mouth­piece of China and Pak­istan”, say­ing the Kash­miri man used as a “hu­man shield” was an In­dian and the episode had noth­ing to do with China. Se­nior CPI((M) leader Prakash Karat the for­mer CPI(M) Gen­eral Sec­re­tary also sought to clar­ify that the party had crit­i­cised the Army chief and not the armed forces.

Crit­i­cism by Main Stream Politi­cians and the Hur­riyat

Main­stream politi­cians as well as sep­a­ratists in Kash­mir have crit­i­cised the Army Chief Gen­eral Bipin Rawat’s state­ment warn­ing lo­cal youth against cre­at­ing hur­dles dur­ing anti mil­i­tancy op­er­a­tions even as the gov­ern­ment came to his de­fence. Both the camps said that such a state­ment would fuel a spurt in mil­i­tancy in the state. The op­po­si­tion Na­tional Con­fer­ence ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment and dis­may over the “bel­liger­ent re­marks” of the army chief and said such pos­tur­ing would com­pound the sit­u­a­tion and in­crease the hos­til­ity in the Val­ley.

Re­fer­ring to the state­ment of the Army Chief, hard­line Hur­riyat Chair­man Syed Ali Gee­lani said “In­dia’s ar­ro­gance and stale think­ing is the ba­sic rea­son for con­tin­u­ous blood­shed and po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty in state”. He fur­ther stated that peo­ple of state and par­tic­u­larly the youth are up against this hege­mony and sup­pres­sion. Chair­man of Jammu and Kash­mir Lib­er­a­tion Front ( JKLF) Yasin Ma­lik termed the state­ment of Army Chief as a case of “po­lit­i­cal im­ma­tu­rity”.

Chang­ing Trends

Killing of Burhan Muzaf­far Wani, also known as Burhan Wani, by In­dian se­cu­rity forces on July 8, 2016, was per­haps a turn­ing point in bring­ing about a new trend of re­sis­tance in the Kash­mir val­ley. Wide­spread protests erupted af­ter his death, caus­ing un­rest in val­ley for nearly half a year in which more than 90 peo­ple died while over 15,000 civil­ians and more than 4,000 se­cu­rity per­son­nel were in­jured. The un­rest af­ter a lull for a few months is con­tin­u­ing. The new trend has brought about a sit­u­a­tion in which the armed po­lice, and the army at times, find them­selves fac­ing mobs of young school and col­lege stu­dents pelt­ing stones at them while they are not at lib­erty or in a po­si­tion to take any dras­tic ac­tion against them. This a different di­men­sion of mil­i­tancy in which the new threats and chal­lenges that are aris­ing or may well arise in the fu­ture which are not easy to pre­dict.

State­ments by mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers no mat­ter how well in­tended fuel the ex­ist­ing sit­u­a­tion and there­fore could be more dam­ag­ing in the long run. It is dif­fi­cult to pre­vent po­lit­i­cal lead­ers from mak­ing state­ments be­cause that is how they re­main rel­e­vant among the masses and their ex­is­tence is de­pen­dent on their rel­e­vance. How­ever as far as mil­i­tary lead­ers are con­cerned our ad­vice would be to show pa­tience and re­strain our vo­cal abil­i­ties as th­ese qual­i­ties would ben­e­fit us in achiev­ing our mis­sion in such sit­u­a­tions with least cost to our selves.

The Army should also gear up its PR to deal with chang­ing trends and re­or­gan­ise its Sadb­havna ma­chin­ery along with the el­e­ments of state ad­min­is­tra­tion at the for­ma­tion as well as at unit and sub­unit lev­els to see how we could to­gether reach out once again and cre­ate pos­i­tive im­pact on the pub­lic in Kash­mir while con­duct­ing mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions with­out alien­at­ing them fur­ther. The in­tel­li­gence net­work of in­for­mants must be able to pick up anti na­tion­als from their hide outs. The mo­ment suc­cess is gained in a re­gion, ad­min­is­tra­tion must es­tab­lish it­self.

New op­er­a­tional sit­u­a­tions in counter in­sur­gency af­fected ar­eas de­mand new meth­ods and new tech­nolo­gies to cater for the new trends and we have to rise to th­ese oc­ca­sions to con­front the new trends. The Army has the men­tal and phys­i­cal abil­i­ties to achieve this and it must place its gen­uine re­quire­ments in front of the gov­ern­ment so that th­ese are met in time. The Army con­tin­ues to be an in­sti­tu­tion that is loved and re­spected by the na­tion and the peo­ple. Let us not drag this fine in­sti­tu­tion in to pol­i­tics and con­tro­versy.

As far as mil­i­tary lead­ers are con­cerned our ad­vice would be to show pa­tience and re­strain our vo­cal abil­i­ties as th­ese qual­i­ties would ben­e­fit us in achiev­ing our mis­sion in such sit­u­a­tions with least cost to our selves

In­dian Army Chief Gen­eral Bipin Rawat


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