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Tell Them (Army) What We (Kashmiris) Think Of Them – OpEd

The Kashmir region districts. Source: CIA, Wikipedia Commons.The Kashmir region districts. Source: CIA, Wikipedia Commons.

The Kashmiri identity still continues to be like the gown of a poor man that needs to be mended without delay as the patches of pain and misery have been bombarding the common collective consciousness since decades now. The question amid this whole disarray and incessant turbulence is whether the army as a credible institution of the nation has lived up to the mirror image of goodwill ambassadors especially in the conflict zones like Kashmir or merely proved a tool of the repressive state apparatus? Has the army ever tried to or evaluated its total intervention and assessed the positive impact of its social interventions? Has it tried to study or gauged the local perception or impact about all its good will programmes? I am unsure.

Despite the fact that the conflict is purely political, an answer must be found to whether the men in uniform have ever treated the turmoil hit masses — especially the Northeast and Kashmiri people — as people of their own country or their own public or have been dealing with them merely with an ‘enemy’ perception, such is a question for both people and the army.

Since 1989, when the armed conflict started, there has been every attempt to alienate Kashmiris from the time and space. In the dark heartlessness of flying bullets, the general name given to all belted forces by locals is Bharti Fouj/military/security forces and the second general name is ‘Army’. Though security forces consist of various agencies such as army, state police, CRPF, BSF, etc. but Kashmiris simply address all with the one collective, common name of ‘Army’ (creating a great burden of and credibility challenge for the Army itself). This is perhaps because the oppressed feel hardly interested in classifying the oppressors (as a majority of masses still assume of these security forces).

Though the Army runs a chain of public (Awam) welfare programmes it has hardly been openly or widely lauded or hailed for any of  its social work and welfare related interventions. If the Army continues to be known for anything (infamously), it is still associated with fear, encounters and the never ending dichotomy between them (fouj) and the civilians. The question is, are they (the men in uniform) merely the unkind men with impunity or something beyond that too? The Army launched Sadbhavana (Goodwill) in 1998 as a programme of total empowerment and emancipation for locals. It started from the perceptional change to people’s welfare and comfort. But it remains a curious question if Sadbhavana has been really a successful community initiative. Also it has not been resolved who has really benefitted from such welfare schemes and what has been the final gain and fallout — this needs to be studied and understood in a proper perspective.

It is worthy of mention that the Army has been successful in launching its set of local welfare programmes via sadbhavana itself by taking the less exposed masses to more exposure and broader outlook by arranging all India tours (watan ki saer),etc. They have also been trying hard to show the beautiful picture of India (incredible India) to young vulnerable minds, as well as to students and elders. However the fact remains that the Army does not reap much out of it simply because the India that they display in the field (Kashmir) is commonly perceived as oppressive, repressive and undemocratic. Locals perceive of India as the India of arms and ammunition, encounters, unaccounted tortures, killings and endless pain that actually belittles the beautiful image of the country.

The Army also runs a chain of goodwill schools (army run educational institutions) and certain other mass-friendly initiatives, but fails to gain the public appreciation to the extent it deserves, purely because it does not make enough effort in measuring and assessing the impact and hardly investigates about the rapport amid all these welfare programmes.

Undeniably, the education the Army delivers in the goodwill schools is of high quality and according to the local sensitivities, but in the overall picture the Army seems to have failed (or never bothered) to measure the impact of this education and other Sadhbhavana initiatives on peoples’ perceptions. Neither has any NGO or social organization bothered to look at this and advise the Army.

The Army helps locals in emergencies of all kinds (as very appropriately being displayed in flood ravaged Uttrakhand), but have local perceptions about them been ever measured or investigated is a question for the Army itself? Does the Army around the country, especially in conflict zones, assume take the evaluation of its social initiatives for granted or, does it take these initiatives simply as National duty? Also is it aware that people (who benefit from their work and assistance) will hardly recognize or hail them simply because of the enemy perception. Or does the Army take the local perception about its social responsibilities for-granted ,or does army contribute in local welfare simply for gaining field rapport and that is why, without any care for evaluation, assessment and impact?

It almost goes without saying that the Army in Kashmir still carries many labels, and in this era of human rights and values it needs a rethink on the type and magnitude of its social activities, interactions, listening to them by people without any bias or anger, meeting the people and knowing what better they can do to heal the wounds of the innocent masses caught in this bloody conflict that has now lasted decades. In an era of proactive respect for human rights and values, the Army urgently needs to do a rethink their professional conduct and their interactions with society at large. A sense of accountability and justice has to be ensured right from the North East to Kashmir and justice has to be delivered in cases, such as for the Manipuri girl, Thangjam Manorama rape case (July, 2004) to the Kashmiri Asiya-Neelofar double rape and murder case (May, 2009), even though the fact remains that Army has tried its best to maintain the accountability of its men and been prompt to act in certain cases of aberration (in Kashmir, Major Rehman’s instant court martial in 2004-5), however much is still expected such as restoring the people’s belief in the Army’s accountability and justice for common man.

Also measuring the impact and perception of all its Awam centered programmes is essential, measuring and evaluating the education they provide in their goodwill schools and the relief they provide post accidents, disasters is also important. The situation right now seems that either the Army has failed to institutionalize the public centered philosophy (like Hasnain’s Heart doctrine) or they deliberately avoid periodic review and measurement of their impact, work, outreach and social image.

In 2013, the fact remains that despite numerous changes in ‘soldier’s mindset’ and a resultant favourable swing in public perception, a lot still needs to be done for peace to settle-in in the long-term. The Army’s idea of knowing the local environment and ground reality may actually still be an illusion.

Stephen Hawking rightly says, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”

The fact remains that men in uniform continue to lack a substantial understanding of the local ethos. They need much more foot work to reach out to the public and be involved in social activities and responsibilities. This is a professional demand from the situation as soldiers are not supposed to fight only a definite enemy every time, in a fourth-generation war situation like in today’s era. They have to focus as much on the unsaid, unwritten and unseen part of the situation and who can do this better than well-educated military leaders. The Army is waging a fourth-generation war today, and it has to empower its soldiers with these soft skill. It is not the enemy they are trying to defeat, but the Awaam they are aiming to win over.

Undoubtedly, in this fast changing and dynamic situation, the space is up for competition. The Army’s proactive outreach into the social field will be perceived as a threat by the political leadership, as it was during General Hasnain’s outstanding tenure in the valley. The Army must know how to manage this and yet not take a backseat as it did during the months following the exit of General Hasnain-commonly known as ‘The People’s General’ now.

Last Word

The question is do the Army’s welfare programmes really make any difference especially in the areas where high enemy perception for the Army prevails? Even if it does make a difference, is it acknowledged by the benefitting masses and if not why? Also are the Army’s social welfare programmes really the programmes for practical emancipation and empowerment of people especially in the conflict hit zones? Serious thought also needs to be given to do these welfare programmes change the mindset or not when people see the same Army killing people in the name of collateral damage or mistakes.

Lastly, if the Army runs its social welfare initiatives, does it bother to have an independent and objective evaluation of its programmes by neutral agencies so that to see if their actual success, impact, output and utility of all their public centered programmes? Just foiling the consistent infiltration bids on LoC is not enough, but rethinking about the role played for public and realizing the mistakes committed in the past (still committing) is also important, that needs a solution.

Valuing human life and safeguarding the common man must be the top priority of Armed Forces in the holistic country rather than a displaying a big brotherly attitude. Understanding the deceptive calm and fragile peace, the Army must remember that even a single mistake takes the peace deficit valley back to most turbulent times and liquidates or sabotages their whole dedicated and sincere social welfare and service to Awaam.


About the Author

Dr. Adfar Shah
Dr. Adfar Shah
Dr. Adfar Shah, (Adfer Rashid Shah, PhD) is a New Delhi-based (Kashmiri) social analyst and columnist at various reputed international and national media groups. Being an academic he has more than sixty publications besides hundreds of conceptual articles to his credit. He has been writing on South Asia's socio-political realities at Eurasia Review since 2012, where he is Special Correspondent for South Asia Affairs and recently elevated to Associate Editor (English) for South Asia. Reach him at [email protected]

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