After receiving much criticism from politicians and commentators, Army Chief Bipin Rawat on Thursday said “Indian Army doesn’t have a norm to use human shields, but the individual officers are entitled to decide the tactic depending on circumstances”.
He also dismisses criticism that the Army is trigger-happy, but says the level of violence in Jammu and Kashmir needs to be brought down for any meaningful dialogue with stakeholders. “Dialogue and violence cannot go together,” General Rawat told sources in an interaction here at his office.
General Rawat was asked to comment on a string of criticisms about his earlier remarks defending Major Gogoi’s action of tying a civilian to the bonnet of an Army jeep when facing a crowd of stone pelters in the valley.
He was also criticised for justifying the Major’s action that was described as unprofessional and damaging to the reputation of the Indian Army and being violative of the Geneva Convention that lays down rules of warfare.
“It (human shield) is not a general norm. As a practice it is not supported. But situations would dictate. Under the circumstances he (Major Leetul Gogoi) took a decision independently. He can’t look back at that stage and wait for orders,” General Rawat said. “If somebody has any other ideas as to how to tackle such a situation, then he can pass it on to us. We will take a look at it,” he said.
Replying to a question on the comments by CPI-M leader Prakash Karat over his reported remarks that stone pelters should rather use guns as amounting to instigating them to take to guns, General Rawat maintained that he was misquoted on the issue.
“In a proxy war situation like this the enemy cannot be identified. He is not wearing a band or a uniform that can identify him as a terrorist. Only when he fires then you know what to do in such a situation. The Army cannot throw stones, that is not my pattern. I can’t throw stones.”
Asked about the absence of any dialogue with stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir and whether there can be a military solution that can be lasting, General Rawat said it should be an “integrated” solution.
He maintained that the situation in J&K was not as bad as it was portrayed in the media and dismissed the perception that people of the state are against the Army.
“They have already seen one bad tourism season, another bad year will affect them worse. Why are we doing, what we are doing? We are doing it to bring peace in the valley,” he said.
Asked about the criticism that the Army Chief’s view was reflecting the government’s views, General Rawat said in a democracy the Army has to work under a democratically elected government.
“We take directions from the government… Are we supposed to work away from the government? Directions are always given by the government,” he said.
He said the government gave the Army a free hand in executing its directions. Similarly the Army gave freedom to units to execute its directions.
“Violence had come down after 2011-12. What have the Army or security forces done (to evoke anger)? Army cannot be faulted for the killing of Burhan Wani. Something is happening behind the scene, someone is instigating people,” he said.
“I don’t think there is that kind of resentment. Of course people are angry about issues like unemployment. That is an issue even in the rest of the country, but for that you do not take to guns. Look at the way the youth are coming to join Army in large numbers,” he said.
The General said Kashmir with its rich resources could be a leader in so many fields, but economic development was not taking place because of violence.
Air Marshal (Retd.) Anil Chopra, who is a serving member of the Lucknow bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) raise’s questions about the impartiality of the legal mechanism that is meant to handle appeals in cases involving crimes and misdemeanours by soldiers and officers of the Indian army.
On April 12, soon after a video showing Kashmiri protestors heckling security forces on election duty started circulating on social media, Chopra,a highly decorated retired air force officer, took to Twitter to advocate that a hundred “stone-pelters” in Kashmir be shot.
While the Kashmir conflict has been a polarising issue on social media, this is the first time a serving judge or judicial official has bluntly spoken out in favour of actions whose legality is not only questionable but which may one day end up in a court room that he presides over.
When the army was facing widespread criticism over the decision of an officer to use a Kashmiri man, Farooq Ahmad Dar, as a human shield to deter or prevent stone pelting or perhaps simply as a warning to Kashmiri civilians, Chopra applauded this drastic and illegal move as an “innovative idea”. He also said he admired the Indian government’s decision to support the major who came up with this idea.
Chopra not only defended this act, but also ridiculed those who saw the army action as an abuse of human rights.
Government estimates that around 200 militants are active in the Valley. Groups such as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa are aggressively using social media to woo youngsters.
Messaging platforms like WhatsApp have come under increased scrutiny especially for their role in getting stone-pelters at the sites of anti-militancy operations.
The army chief said the force regularly raised the issue of modernisation with the government and it was going well.
The Indian military, which needs to scale up capabilities to keep pace with China’s defence modernisation, is in the process of acquiring big weapons and systems. India was the world’s fifth largest military spender in 2016.