Two Disappointments in the Aftermath of Army Chief's Statement
The clamour over General Bipin Rawat’s statement has finally calmed down. To me, there were two disappointments.
File photo of Lt Gen (Retd) DS Hooda speaking to CNN-News18.
The clamour over General Bipin Rawat’s statement has finally calmed down. To me, there were two disappointments. The first was natural — avoidable politicisation would take place and the media would take it up with fervour, some questioning the statement and some vociferous in their support. This would also die a ‘news death’ as other stories took centre-stage.
The second disappointment was more worrisome in its long-term implications. Both security experts and amateurs, who know little about the ground situation in Jammu and Kashmir, called for a review of the Army strategy. I saw constant chatter in the social media about the velvet glove now being off the iron fist, the outdated ‘hearts and mind’ approach of the Indian Army — the Americans simply devastate nations and bomb terrorists, and other hard steps. I know the intention of those who aired their views was not to target the innocent population and was focused on the instigators, but in a situation where sentiments run high, the messaging was unhelpful.
In the outpouring of our sentiment, we forget some basic, hard facts. America has bombed Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, but lost each of these wars. By the time the last helicopter flew out of Saigon, 50,000 soldiers had been martyred. The Soviets had lost 30,000 soldiers in a brutal, no-holds-barred campaign in Afghanistan as they limped back across the Afghan-Uzbek Bridge. There are numerous other examples — the British in Palestine and Kenya, Belgium in Congo, and the French in Algeria.
In the modern history of counter-insurgency, if there is one success story, it is that of the Indian Army. Insurgencies in Mizoram, Tripura, Assam, Punjab and Nagaland are now largely behind us. Manipur and J&K still persist but are way below their peak levels. All this has happened because the Army has had a consistent military strategy centred on a people-centric approach and a strong ‘hearts and minds’ campaign. This has never wavered. I remember, 35 years ago as a young Captain, attending every Sunday church in a small Naga village, just to show that I was a part of their community. It was embarrassing to sneak in and sit on the last aisle, and understand little of the language, but I persisted because it was the right thing to do.
There are thousands of soldiers on ground in J&K doing a very difficult and somewhat thankless assignment. While they need our support, it must also be clearly understood that they are experts in their field and know what to do. The situation is complicated but crowd interference is not a brand new phenomena. Last year, procedures had been put in place for a dedicated law and order component to accompany Army teams for dealing with crowds. This is now being further refined and I am sure that our military leadership in Kashmir will find an appropriate solution. There is no need to change our basic approach to counter-insurgency.
There are shortfalls which need to be addressed to minimise casualties. Better individual protective gear is essential, though, to be fair, new bulletproof jackets and ballistic helmets are now making an appearance. There is no immediate replacement for mine-protected and light bullet-proof vehicles, both key to operating in the urban terrain of Kashmir. The CRPF and police also need better protective and state-of-the-art riot control equipment. They have suffered too many injuries in stone pelting.
Today, voices have grown louder, and Twitter and WhatsApp provide instant gratification by the number of likes. Let us all raise the flag, clap our hands, raise the morale of soldiers, but let them do the battle as they know best.
(Editor’s Note: The author recently retired as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command, which had launched the surgical strikes against terror camps in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. Views are personal)
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