The high casualty figures in Kashmir must have been extremely galling for the new Army Chief, Gen Bipin Rawat. For the first time in three decades, the government had breached the unwritten norm of seniority to appoint him as the Army Chief because General Rawat was said to have scored over his two superseded seniors on the strength of his presumed expertise in counter-insurgency operations. His outburst at best could be attributed to two very bad days this month in Kashmir that claimed the lives of six Army personnel, including a Major. What made the situation worse was the injured Major could not be rushed to hospital in time because of protesting mobs, resulting in his death.
It is natural that such instances should trigger a temporary feeling of primitive blood lust in the closely-knit Army fraternity. But it does not behove an Army Chief — though schooled in the principle of using minimum force during anti-militancy operations — to overstep his jurisdiction and threaten the civilian population. The Army has a well delineated role in anti-insurgency operations. That has been clearly breached. In fact, there is no provision in the extant laws that can make good his threat of treating all those who obstruct the Army’s operations during encounters as anti-national elements. Nor does the Army have the power to “go after” or declare elements who display flags of other countries as “terrorists”.
This is a task best left to the local police. By all accounts, the police had tear-gassed people moving to the encounter site. The reason for crowds obstructing encounters in the recent past needs to be deciphered by the civilian authorities, who in turn, need to work out a solution after consulting all stakeholders, including the Army. As General Rawat would be aware, unbridled violence during the early years of insurgency in J&K made a bad situation worse and the wounds didn’t heal. A heavy hand can bring about a temporary and deceptive calm. It can even be misconstrued as a victory. But no one has won the battle by treating all civilians as the enemy.
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