Army set to scale down op­er­a­tions in Kash­mir

Sce­nario ready for po­lit­i­cal process, says se­nior of­fi­cer

The Hindu - - FRONT PAGE - Peerzada Ashiq

Army op­er­a­tions in Kash­mir are head­ing to­wards a point where other pro­cesses, es­pe­cially po­lit­i­cal ones, can take over so that sol­diers could re­turn to the bor­ders, Gen­eral Of­fi­cer Com­mand­ing (GOC) of the strate­gic 15 Corps Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Anil Ku­mar Bhatt said. Speak­ing ex­clu­sively to

The Hindu in Srinagar, Lt. Gen. Bhatt said, “Re­sults of op­er­a­tions never come in the short term... but we are mak­ing head­way. The Army can al­ways cre­ate con­di­tions of peace and tran­quil­lity for other pro­cesses, most im­por­tantly the po­lit­i­cal process, to take over. Presently, we are reach­ing there. In the long-term strat­egy, any Army would pre­fer to do its pri­mary role of pro­tect­ing the bor­ders.”

On the grow­ing num­ber of lo­cal youth join­ing mil­i­tants this year and the killing of 37 mil­i­tants in Novem­ber — the high­est for any month in the on­go­ing of­fen­sive — the of­fi­cer said a change in tac­tics was yield­ing re­sults.

“One, there is co­op­er­a­tion from peo­ple. Two, we short­ened op­er­a­tions and fin­ished them in the night. The idea is not to be get in­volved in crowd con­trol. It’s equally im­por­tant for us to avoid civil­ian casualties. We have slowly learnt our lessons,” he said.

He said the build-up of lo­cal ter­ror­ists, even two years af­ter Hizbul Mu­jahideen com­man­der Burhwan Wani’s killing, was an area of con­cern.

So­cial me­dia a worry

“There is a bench strength ter­ror­ists main­tain and fill it with peo­ple who are on the side­lines wait­ing to get re­cruited. The so­cial me­dia has been a chal­lenge to us to this end .... Photos of youth pos­ing with guns posted on­line is done as part of strat­egy, so that the door to re­turn [to civil­ian life] is shut.”

“The trend has waned con­sid­er­ably in the past two months. It had reached 24 re­cruits a month in June-July,” said the Army com­man­der.

Stat­ing that the launch­ing pads for mil­i­tants in Pak­istan Oc­cu­pied Kash­mir did see a dip dur­ing elec­tions in that coun­try, Lt. Gen. Bhatt said, “It has in­creased since, as 250 to 300 ter­ror­ists are wait­ing to in­fil­trate. What they (Pak­istan) speak pub­licly has not changed any­thing on the ground.”

Civil­ian back­lash

“What is also turn­ing the tide against the ter­ror­ists is that a lot of peo­ple have been at the re­ceiv­ing end of the ter­ror­ist atroc­i­ties of worst kind and are re­fus­ing to pro­vide shelter to them,” Lt. Gen. Bhatt said. He said tar­get­ing po­lice­men or se­cu­rity forces per­son­nel at home or dur­ing leave “was a new low on the part of terror groups”.

How­ever, the Army will abide by its rule not to go af­ter “ter­ror­ists’ fam­i­lies or non-armed civil­ians”, he added He said ap­prox­i­mately 300 ter­ror­ists were still op­er­at­ing in the Val­ley, with 175-180 in South Kash­mir, while 57 had sur­ren­dered or been ap­pre­hended this year.

Lt. Gen. Bhatt said there was no case where the Army’s sol­diers crossed the line or violated Stan­dard Op­er­at­ing Pro­ce­dures (SOPs) dur­ing op­er­a­tions this year, even in the in­ci­dents of Kul­gam and Shopian, which left seven civil­ians dead.

SPE­CIAL AR­RANGE­MENT ■

Gen­eral Anil Ku­mar Bhatt.

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