Srinagar: Barely a week later when Army’s Chief General Bipin Rawat spoke tough against the people hampering the counter insurgency operations and intimidated to treat them anti nationals or Over ground workers following the death of six soldiers including an army major in counter insurgency operation in Kashmir, the security forces in sensitive Tral of south Kashmir left the operation midway due to disturbance created by the civilians at the encounter spot.
The response to the Generals message by the militant sympathizer civilians was loud and clear. “Leave militants or kill us”. The statement from the Army’s top commander was also a sort of an acknowledgement that civilian population is hindering operation by resorting to stone pelting and conveys a message that civilian population in Kashmir are helping the militant, in contradiction with the army’s claims of past that militants enjoy no ground support.
The statement of Army chief came at a time when army and Jammu and Kashmir Special Operation Group of Police and the CRPF had to face hostile stone pelting crowds while they launched operation in Pulwama, Hajin and Kralgund. In these three operations, eight militants, five army men and two civilians were also killed and dozens injured in the clashes. Two officers of Army and the CRPF also sustained injuries.
Though from past two decades army and other forces have been engaging militants during operations, however, of late the civilians, especially youth start pelting stones on the assault parties that many a times help militants to escape during operations. Many a time police and army had to call off the operation fearing civilian causality. Now the Army chief’s blunt statement that civilians hampering anti militancy operations could be taken as OGW’s is an indication that army is planning to deal with iron hand with the protesters.
And it could be signal to the formation commanders on the ground that they could go to any extent while dealing with civilians, earlier the government as well as the security forces have been exercising maximum restraint to avoid civilian causalities as every civilian killing could plunge Valley into further chaos and confusion. Many fear the return of old days of militancy in Kashmir in the back drop of the Army chief’s statement.
In early 1990’s the security forces used to open indiscriminate fire on the civilians that led many massacres like, Sopore, Bijbhera, Gaw Kadal and are observed as black days every year in Kashmir. Many analysts fear the statement of General Rawat is an indication of return of old days. Politically this statements seems an immature from a General who had commanded a division and Corps in Kashmir and is well aware of the facts on the ground, any excessive use of force will not only further alienate people but army will also loose goodwill if it has earned by engaging civilian population through its operation Sadbhavana.
Only Bhartiya Janta Party has endorsed the views of General Rawat rest all the political parties have criticized the army chief for the statement. Time has come for political engagement and not the military confrontation and any confrontation will lead to further killings and Kashmir will again come on the limelight. On the other hand separatists and mainstream leadership in the Valley had termed the statement as the threat to the civilians and asked General Rawat to go through history before issuing threats.
The separatists in Kashmir who have successfully spearheaded lockdowns and protest programmes against the civilian and militant killings may have reason to justify their stance who presently are otherwise facing severe backlash in public domain for complete six months shutdown in 2016 against militant commander Burhan Wani’s killing.
Chairman Hurriyat Conference (M) Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said that the statement reflects a tyrannical mindset towards the people of Kashmir.
“The army chief needs to ask the Executive of his country as to why is the institution of army being used by them to crush a mass political movement of people demanding their political right and why do people at the obvious risk to their lives gather? Only because they see them as freedom fighters pushed by the arrogance of Indian state which is not willing to address the Kashmir dispute politically and pushing educated youth towards armed resistance.”
Mirwaiz said that the Army chief should know the fact that people of Kashmir were fighting for their right to self determination since 1947 and India had left no stone unturned to unleash every known type of atrocity on the people.
”Only in the popular uprising of 2016 the tyrannical acts of the government forces have left more than 100 sons of soil dead, thousands injured with pellet guns, scores of them blinded and maimed forever.”
Mirwaiz said before labelling Kashmiris as anti-nations Army chief should realize that Kashmiri nation was not fighting any nation or any political party but striving for its just rights which the Indian state had dealt with by killing tens and thousands of Kashmiris, subjecting over ten thousand people to enforced disappearances, burying thousands in unmarked graves.”
Mirwaiz further said instead of issuing threats to break the will of people, Army chief should accept the ground realities in Kashmir where government forces open indiscriminate fire on unarmed youth and peaceful protestors and detain and arrest innocent civilians in fake cases to pack detention centres, police stations and jails.
He further said the Indian military and political leadership had no other option but to come to the grips of the reality that Kashmir issue cannot be dealt with military might or with threats of war but by involving all parties to Kashmir dispute in a meaningful and result-oriented dialogue process.
Reacting to the statement of Army chief Hurriyat Conference (G) chairman Syed Ali Geelani said that since 1947, India is carrying these bloodbaths and want to strengthen their forced occupation.
“They won’t hesitate to kill each soul for this purpose, Geelani said adding that it is scary that instead of taking this development a serious, they are beating the same bush, parroting about unfound theories and want to move us with the barrel of gun. ”This won’t help them as in past they tried these methods to disassociate us from our stance and in future they won’t achieve anything,” he said.
National Conference spokesman Junaid Azim Mattu on Army chief’s statement said it was tragic that New Delhi was still trying to talk to the youth of Kashmir through the defence establishment when the need of the hour was to engage them politically.
“Youth rushing towards encounter sites and incidents of stone-pelting on the forces during encounters are worrying and alarming signs of the sense of alienation and disenchantment in Kashmir. The need of the hour is to understand and acknowledge the deep sense of isolation in Kashmir and deal with it with statesmanship and magnanimity.”
He said threatening and warning youth who are already anguished and irrational to the sense of caring little for their lives will be of little consequence but would only push them farther from reconciliation.
“Aggressive, hot-headed statements would fuel the spurt in local militancy in Kashmir and make the challenge of engaging with the youth insurmountable. Young men are choosing the path of armed militancy in Kashmir in numbers that we haven’t seen since the early 1990s. Even though the passes along the Line of Control are still snowed shut, militancy related incidents have increased steeply due to a spurt in young, educated local boys picking up the gun.”
He said even after the mayhem and bloodshed of 2016, if New Delhi still thinks warning and threatening the youth will help – it’s a tragic delusion.
Assembly member Langate engineer Rasheed said that while New Delhi doesn’t get tired claiming Kashmiris as its own people, the threat given by Gen. Rawat has exposed the claim.
”General’s threat is a confession that militants have mass support and calling them terrorists is not the solution. Gen. Rawat’s warning can be his professional compulsion but New Delhi must see and analyse it beyond that. While militancy is completing its thirty years, New Delhi has miserably failed to consolidate its constituency in J&K.” On its part ruling PDP has avoided to make any comments on the statement of the army chief, however, vice president of party Sartaj Madni said that General Rawat should not have made such comment.
Recently, senior BJP leader and former Union Minister who led several delegations to Kashmir during unrest last year had asked Centre not to waste time and start dialogue with Kashmiri leadership. Likewise former Northern Command GOC, retd (Gen) D S Hooda who was considered one of the mature army general had asked government and military leadership to engage youth of Valley through dialogue.
And time has come when both military and political leadership should realize that military is never solution to problem only engagement with local population could diffuse tension. And Afghanistan is the best example where the top armies of the world couldn’t defeat Taliban and now after years of fighting they are looking towards negotiations on table. India is a democratic country and it should try to resolve issue through the process of democracy and any military misadventure will have far reaching consequences not only for Kashmir but also for India and the entire sub continent.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The story is from the print edition of Feb 22 to 28, 2017.