ISSN 2330-717X

The Indian Army’s Trial By Fire – OpEd

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By Deepak Sinha

What can be more bizarre than the father of a serving Army officer being compelled to approach the Supreme Court with a plea to protect his son from being crucified by the Jammu and Kashmir Government? The officer, as per all accounts, acted as per existing SOP’s and ordered his troops to open controlled fire as a last resort against a rioting mob bent on lynching some of his men, destroying government property and preventing him from carrying out a lawful task assigned to him. That it resulted in the tragic death of three rioters was unfortunate and tragic, but not unexpected.

Most surprisingly, without getting into semantics, the Central Government verbally permitted the State Government to lodge an FIR against the Army unit involved, despite being conversant with the actual facts of the case. One cannot help but ask where does this leave the Army Chief, who had not so long ago, obviously at the Government’s behest, publicaly referred to stone pelters as terrorists against whom strict action would be taken? More importantly, what does the action of kin of serving personnel approaching the judiciary say about the faith the rank and file in the Army have in their leaders and in the Government to look after their interests?

In an earlier piece on counter insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir, I had pointed out that the Army was slowly but surely losing out on its ability to dominate the countryside, the core ingredient of any successful counter insurgency strategy. This latest unprovoked mob attack on an army convoy moving along an important arterial road in South Kashmir reinforces my argument and is a stark pointer to the rocky road that Security Forces face in the coming months.

It is also necessary to put the issue of Pakistani interference in the correct perspective. For too long now, Pakistani involvement in Jammu and Kashmir has been used as a crutch by our politicians and security establishment to deflect blame for the prevailing situation.  That Pakistan trains and supports terror organizations carrying out attacks against our citizens, not only in Jammu and Kashmir but elsewhere, is not in doubt. As is the fact that it also provides funds and other support to separatist leaders and terror groups operating inside our country. It is on the basis of credible evidence that the international community, with the notable exception of China, increasingly treating Pakistan as the fountainhead of radical Islam and a pariah state.

Yet, despite Pakistan’s concerted efforts, contrary to what our political leadership would have us believe, the sum total of its involvement has only had minimal impact on the prevailing security environment and on our conduct of counter-insurgency operations. Sure, there have been high profile attacks in the Valley, against Parliament and in Mumbai that resulted in tragic loss of life, but they have never posed any problem to our nation’s integrity or way of life. General Musharraf’s ill-conceived and short-sighted Kargil endeavour of 1999, which ended in utter disaster, was to rejuvenate the insurgency which had been on the wane since the mid- Nineties.

It is little wonder then that while the Pakistan Army’s so-called strategy of bleeding India through a thousand cuts has achieved little, its blow back has jeopardized the Pakistani state itself; causing deep divisons within civil society, damaging democratic institutions and governance. Clearly, more innocent civilians have probably been killed or internally displaced there than in India. That the military continues to push this failed strategy is only because it allows them to surreptitiously control the levers of state and enjoy its fruits without being held accountable.

We would also do well not to mix up the situation on the Line of Control (LOC) with the ongoing insurgency. While it is true that Pakistan does facilitate infiltration of militants across the LOC by providing supporting fire, the dynamics governing the actions along the LOC, be they artillery exchanges or actions by Border Action Teams (BAT), like the one that caused casualties among our troops recently, are very different. They have more to do with attempting to dominate the LOC to enhance one’s units’ reputation mostly motivated by a mix of unbridled egotism and ambition on the part of some. These pointless tit- for–tat attacks with little in terms of gain, both tactically or strategically, only results in unnecessary and avoidable casualties to troops and adversely impacts local populations causing immense damage to property and livelihood, apart from civilian casualties. That there has been no cessation of hostilities is only because decision makers are safely ensconced far in the rear with little concern for the troops or civilians at the receiving end.

As to the issue of the insurgency itself, the hypocrisy practiced by the political establishment is indeed astounding. While our own Government is an ardent advocate of having Pakistan declared a state sponsor of terrorism by the international community, we have done precious little to get Parliament to pass such a declaration, nor for that matter, have we taken any steps to cancel the Most Favoured Nation status that we had granted it in 1996. The fact that separatists continue to be provided with security, logistical and administrative assistance involving tax payers’ money in Crores is another such issue. In addition, credible allegations have been made that locals indulging in mob violence and stone throwing are incited and paid for by political parties keen to push their own agendas. That explains why no government, either at the Centre or State, has ever publicly suggested a political solution to resolve outstanding issues.

One can thus conclude from the prevailing environment in the State that the business of insurgency is alive and well, and in fact, thriving. To ensure that the status quo continues, political parties of all persuasions have a common agenda of keeping the pot boiling by accusing Pakistan of fostering terrorism and blaming the Army for human rights atrocities when it acts against those responsible. Moreover, the States unwillingness to act against those indulging in acts of stone pelting allows the local population to vent their frustration against the state of affairs by attacking Security Forces with impunity.

Given that judicial activism has reduced AFSPA, under which the Army operates, to a toothless and ineffective piece of legislation, the Army finds itself between a rock and a hard place. In such difficult circumstances the Army cannot carry on as if it is business as usual. It is therefore, incumbent on the military leadership to take the extreme step of halting counter insurgency operations immediately and keeping troops restricted to the barracks till all impediments to their effective functioning are not removed. Only then will these politicians and governments stop playing games.

This commentary originally appeared in The Times of India.


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Observer Research Foundation

Observer Research Foundation

ORF was established on 5 September 1990 as a private, not for profit, ’think tank’ to influence public policy formulation. The Foundation brought together, for the first time, leading Indian economists and policymakers to present An Agenda for Economic Reforms in India. The idea was to help develop a consensus in favour of economic reforms.

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