Let us stand by our soldiers in Kashmir

    An Indian soldier being beaten with sticks by goons in Kashmir
    An Indian soldier being beaten with sticks by goons in Kashmir

    A few days ago, a picture was posted on Facebook showing a young CRPF jawan lying on the ground being kicked by gloating hooligans who believe they have the right to treat our security forces as such, and are the answer to Kashmir’s problems. That was for me a case of “enough is enough”.

    These hooligans seem to believe that India will succumb to their macho instincts. By now they should have realized that Kashmir is a part of India, as Maharaja Hari Singh had signed the Instrument of Accession on August 18, 1947, long before they were born. That was then the condition laid down for all Indian princely states, and that signature made Kashmir an integral part of India, notwithstanding the regular hiccups from Pakistan or from their sympathizers in the Valley.

    Recently, a mobile patrol of 14 RR near Bandura was attacked. Tomorrow it may be some other military establishment. The headquarters of 5 Corps at Srinagar was attacked in the past. The pattern is consistent, when military activity is curtailed or subdued, militancy rises. History has on so many occasions shown us that unless the writ of the government is firmly established, negotiations are futile.

    This phenomenon of the Valley turning out for a militant’s funeral will happen and will grow unless the government acts. The past is full of incidents which have strengthened militancy through appeasement. We today have Mehbooba Mufti as the Chief Minister, whose penchant for playing with fire is well established. We had militants being released in the past for her sister Rubaiya Sayeed; the first act of appeasement. Her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, was then the Union Home Minister. We then had the Delhi-Kathmandu flight hijacked to Kandahar in 1999. Three prominent militants in custody were released, including Maulana Masood Azhar of the Jaish-e-Mohammad. This was followed by an attack on our Parliament in December 2001, with Azhar being the mastermind. Appeasement only leads to the strengthening of the militants’ morale, while demoralizing that of one’s own forces

    It was after the failure of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s Operation Gibraltar in 1965, that the ISI escalated its involvement in Kashmir. When the holy relic of the Prophet was stolen in Srinagar in 1964 and riots broke out, all that was required to quell the riots were four Punjab Armed Police battalions. Look at the force level today? This is not the fault of the Army or the other security forces, but a confused Kashmir policy that has brought the current situation to the fore. The Army can contain a situation to a point, it is then for the Government of India (GoI) to take whatever political initiatives are required. The trouble is that before the Army brings Kashmir to the point necessary for negotiations, dabbling commences and the first casualty is the Army itself.

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    Those who do not have any experience of counter-insurgency operations seem to comment the most and do untold harm to the system. These are not riots, as the PDP MP, Muzaffar Baig, would make us believe by quoting a Supreme Court ruling, but full-fledged insurgency. This procedure is not possible in a full-fledged battle and I believe, has not been the intention in the SC’s judgment.

    The Army must be allowed to bring militancy under control to a point where those professing it realize that the time has come to talk. Yes, people will die in the ensuing action, then so be it. Kashmir is Indian territory. If those owing allegiance to Pakistan’s ISI continue to create instability, then they must face the music. The Burhan Wanis may be the glamour boys for many, to India they are the perpetrators of violence and separatism. Let them not live with a mistaken belief that they have the upper hand.

    The Government of India must allow freedom of action to the Army. The directive must be just one: “Bring a situation in the state where the writ of India runs and not that of the ISI”. Yes, in the ensuing clashes collateral damage will take place. No soldier likes such action. He is trained to face the enemy, not protecting his back against treacherous elements. We have had this experience in Nagaland, Manipur etc. The British army considered their Northern Ireland commitment prior to peace with the IRA, in the same light. It was the IRA which finally decided to talk peace when they could not face growing military pressure.

    In such situations, the government must support any military action taken. Unfortunately, this has not been the situation. For instance, in Budgam when a car broke through a military checkpoint in November 2014, the soldiers manning the post opened fire, as was their duty. One officer and eight jawans were court-martialed and imprisoned. Penalizing soldiers for doing what was expected of them is unacceptable. It is for the Chief and his Northern Army Commander to stand by their men in the difficult duty they are performing and not succumb to political pressures. A patrol was mobbed in the Qazigund area and an effort was made by the mob to snatch weapons from the soldiers, the patrol had to open fire to extricate itself, in which one man and two women were killed. The Army says it “deeply regretted” the incident and an inquiry has been ordered. This is ludicrous. Are we becoming an army of girl guides? What would have happened to the patrol leader had they managed to snatch the weapons? It seems the current policy is that you are wrong if you do and you are also wrong if you don’t – an absurd situation.

    In the late 1950s, my battalion was in Nagaland. The orders were that no Naga would be dressed in khaki and would carry a weapon. One day, in the early morning mist an NCO-led patrol came across a Naga in khaki with what looked like a weapon (it was a staff). When challenged, he panicked and ran and the patrol opened fire killing him. It so happened, his daughter worked in the PMO. In the rumpus that followed, the PM demanded the battalion be disbanded. The Army Chief, General Thimmaya, refused to comply. He stood by his battalion and his NCO. Here we are today still serving the country. This is what the Army expects from our Chief and our Army commanders. It would be appropriate to end with a quote from President Obama’s statement on the recent violence against the police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana: “I want to be clear: there is no justification for violence against law enforcement. None. These attacks are the work of cowards who speak for no one. They right no wrongs. They advance no causes”. This in full applies to Kashmir.

    (The author, Capt. Amarinder Singh, the Congress MP from Amritsar, is a military historian)

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