Army Chief's new tactics in 'dirty war' raises hackles

Last Updated: Thu, Jun 01, 2017 17:15 hrs
Army Chief's new tactics in 'dirty war' raises hackles

Comments made by Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat on the Kashmir violence are being debated across the country. General Rawat said that the Indian army is facing a “dirty war” which has to be fought through “innovative ways”.

In an interview with the PTI, he said “This is a proxy war and proxy war is a dirty war… You fight a dirty war with innovations”.

He goes on to say, “People are throwing stones at us, people are throwing petrol bombs at us. If my men ask me what do we do, should I say, just wait and die? I will come with a nice coffin with a national flag and I will send your bodies home with honor”.

There is bi-partisan support for the current government to start political engagement and find a political solution. From former Home Minister P. Chidambaram to former senior BJP leaders like Yashwant Sinha, who led a delegation to Kashmir and met a cross-section of people, including the mainstream parties and the Hurriyat leaders as reported in First Post.

The editor-in-chief of DNA comes to the defence of the General, writing

“Our collective punditry that generally is obsessed with the big picture (details are for minnows and the un-intellectuals), misses one point completely: The basic human instinct for self-defence and defence of one’s kith & kin. The real army, unlike the ‘army’ of Lutyens Delhi intellectuals, is a closely-knit family wherein the head of the family is responsible for the lives and well-being of other members”

“This is not about “Bhakt” or “Sickular”, this is not about whether you love or hate Modi, this is not about the youth of Kashmir and their future – this is about a 20-something young man in uniform facing an ‘incoming’, and trying to stay alive.”

Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu supported the General’s statement

However, the comments have sparked widespread criticism from many quarters. The Executive Director of the Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth criticised the comments. In statement, the Kashmir Reader reported, Chairman Hurriyat Conference Syed Ali Geelani said he (Rawat) is a man of Jan Sangh ideology and his statements show his “criminal mentality”. He said in part “Their statements expose their intentions and it testifies our claim that they are giving free license to their forces against innocent Kashmiri people and assuring full backing and impunity from any accountability for carrying genocide in the state.”

The Kashmir Times editorial called the comments “shocking” and “horrifying”. The op-ed states-

“Army Chief Bipin Rawat's remarks in defence of Captain Gogoi recently awarded for using a civilian as a human shield to protect his men from stone pelting are shocking and horrifying.””… The words betray a desire for vindictiveness not military strategic requirements. The clear import of his words is that the force is itching to take action against people of Kashmir and simply looking for an excuse. It is not only the indiscipline and what should be a clear case of cowardice by an army officer he is defending and rewarding, he is further urging and prodding his men for more bloodshed come what may”.

The editorial goes on to highlight the existing situation in Kashmir in light of the Generals comments.

“The situation in Kashmir is already too precarious and such responses from New Delhi and its organs is rapidly exacerbating the situation rather than making efforts to engage in some fire fighting. The Valley is once again on the boil after the killing of top militant Sabzaar Bhat on Saturday and ensuing battles on the streets are likely to spiral and exact their toll, especially if the open burst of such remarks by people in top positions continues to be made”

Given the political situation and increasing tensions amid clashes, the Greater Kashmir editorial placed an emphasis on the economic situation of the state and stated “Kashmir cannot afford a continuation of this state of affairs”. It writes

“Both the state and the non-state political actors having a strong bearing on the economic and political situation must evaluate the costs of the actions that could potentially have an irreparably negative impact on the economy and self-reliance of the state. This is a very grim situation with far reaching political and economic consequences.”

It talks about how businesses and people want to continue with their normal lives but are unable to due to state-imposed restrictions and hartals –

“This situation has also been witnessing diversion of developmental funding from Kashmir - funding that is people's right by virtue of the taxes they pay - to other areas of the state as well, leaving the valley at a much deeper developmental disadvantage. It is time for all political forces to reflect on their actions and devise a political strategy that is not suicidal.”

The Indian Express editorial said the comments by General Rawat are unbecoming of his high office. It states –

“General Rawat is understandably concerned about the difficult challenges that confront his men in Kashmir. But can he afford to lose sight of a fundamental distinction — between armed militants and civilian protestors? By not acknowledging or respecting the difference between the two, or suggesting that there is none, General Rawat could be accused of potentially redefining the army’s role and mandate in troubling ways, which could end up reducing the political space for maneuver in the Valley”.

The editorial goes on to state how General Rawat’s comments do not sound like a leader, with the state needing much needed stability;

“General Rawat must arguably aim to limit the fallout of the army’s exposure to what is primarily a political problem. His ill-judged statements, however, send out the impression that the army is fighting the people of Kashmir. The chief of the Indian Army cannot sound like an angry retired prime time warrior. He must, at all times, acknowledge the responsibility — and the constraint — of his high office.”

General Rawat made comments defending the actions of Major Gogoi, in a move seen as a show of loyalty to his men, who put themselves in harm’s way. In light of these comments, the Hindustan Times editorial stated that the General has it wrong. It writes –

“Gen. Rawat’s assertions are the more disappointing because they come, not from some desk-bound general, but from a decorated veteran of Kashmir, an officer with vast experience in counter-insurgency operations.” “It is hardly reassuring that the nation’s top soldier thinks it is necessary that Indians should be afraid of those in uniform, but in any event the use of human shields doesn’t engender fear: it invites contempt.”

As reported in Firstpost, when asked about a solution to the Kashmir issue, General Rawat said “It will have to be a composite solution. Everybody will have to get involved. Army's role is to ensure that violence does not take place and the common man who is not indulging in this (violence) is protected.”

Pranab Dhal Samanta writing in the Economic Times states General Rawat has “broken away from the established norm”. He opines

“There’s a discernible churn in the army, and its new chief General Bipin Rawat is at the heart of it. No need to start judging just yet. But it’s important to understand the moving pieces. Most chiefs, like Rawat, would also probably stand by the officer because such seemingly appalling methods are not unusual in the army as long as the larger mission — in this case, the safe exit of polling staff — is accomplished.”

Seen as a balancing act of standing by his men and not indulging in violent rhetoric, in lieu of the comments made by General Rawat, The Statesman editorial warns of consequences for the army and the state in general –

“It is not difficult to understand the eruption of the General’s frustration, the Army is being asked to single-handedly fight a war it knows it cannot win on its own. Alas, both the General’s words and the political rhetoric will only see the Army losing its high moral authority of yesteryear.”

More columns by Varun Sukumar

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Did Major Gogoi make the right decision?

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