Cloak of Invisibility

With police-CRPF ready for the bigger role, the army should go back to the LC

Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab

What seemed a customary visit by the new chief of army staff, General Bikram Singh to the Northern Command (Jammu and Kashmir) could well have implications for army’s professionalism and the nation. One third of the 1.3 million (13 lakh) army is in the Northern Command, with an equal number preparing for a turn-around. Since 1990, when the army got sucked into counter-terror and subsequently counter-insurgency operations, it has been traditional for all army chiefs after assuming the top post in South Block, to make their maiden visit to this operationally most sensitive command - one that has disputed borders with both Pakistan and China. Given the recent spats between the army and the state government, the army chief would be required to give his early opinion to the government on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Should it be applicable to the whole state of Jammu and Kashmir as the army under General V.K. Singh had concluded, or is there room for flexibility to accommodate other viewpoints?

Joint JKP-CRPF training for anti-riot duties

Before General Bikram Singh succumbs to the traditional lobby within the army, he needs to consider a few important issues. Foremost being whether it is wise for the army to continue operating among the people. This over two-decade involvement has been singularly responsible for the moral debasement, degradation of ethics and values and incontrovertible corruption within the army. There are recent reports of Maj. Gen. V.K. Sharma of Northern Command accepting gratification from civil contractors for supplying sub-human food to troops and a colonel caught red-handed taking a bribe, for jobs at the hallowed National Defence Academy (NDA).

One senior officer told FORCE that it takes a single tenure in the Northern Command for an officer to taste blood, probably an urge that stays with him for ever. FORCE has regularly been informed by upright officers in the Valley how numerous officers have abused powers to harass innocent people and made a fast buck. The people, especially in the hinterland, live in mortal dread of the army; the latter can kill people at will without worrying too much about reprisals. While the army insists that unbecoming cases are exceptions, the reality is that far less gets reported than actually happens. Sadly enough, FORCE personally knows of senior army officers trading money with local media for favourable reports. If officers are to go back to its value system exhorted diligently during the training years, it should move back to cantonments away from civilian life. In this case, back to its primary task on the borders.

Increased responsibility is the perfect reason for the army to go back to its primary task. The Line of Control (LC) with Pakistan and the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China have different requirements. The LC needs to be plugged for zero-infiltration, which given the fence and commitment should not be impossible. The army needs to be prepared to cross the LC into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) at short notice, which requires training and an offensive mind-set, something the army leadership was found lacking in during the 1999 Kargil war. The LAC is a new ball-game, where the army ought to build up infrastructure, capabilities, close interaction with the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, and orientation for a war-strategy that seeks stability rather than an offensive proclivity. General Bikram Singh may consider moving the bulk of the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) (which stand at 80,000 troops) to make up deficiencies on the China border. Seeking more numbers, as the army has requisitioned from the government for the LAC goes against the grain of a modern lean and mean army. If anything, the army’s annual revenue allocation will fatten at the cost of capital outlay.

What about terrorism in J&K? By most conservative estimates, no security force including the army puts terrorist (including a small percentage of hard-core) numbers beyond 200. Do we then need 80,000 RR troops and an equal number of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) besides the 75,000 strong state police? The army’s response is that the situation in Pakistan is unstable and the ISI could foment trouble in the Valley as a diversionary tactic, if it found an opportunity. Moreover, there are innumerable fence-sitters who may get spurred to mischief; hence the need to maintain intelligence grids. These arguments do not hold water. The most incredible argument of all is that without the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), the 15 corps headquarters would become unsafe.

If anything, the police have the best intelligence gathering apparatus and together with the CRPF numbers, it is confident of keeping the security situation in check. FORCE recalls that in 2008, it spoke with General officer Commanding (GOC), 19 Infantry Division, Maj. General Ramesh Halgali who has said that after the impending state elections, the army should review the need to be among the people. This did not happen and the reasons are well known. As the RR has a non-permanent status, if withdrawn, it would cease to exist, and the army would in one stroke loose the man-power and numerous ranks in it. Given such vested interests, either a strong army chief or the political leadership would have to take the call on future of AFSPA in J&K.

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