Indian Army has Free Hand in dealing with citizens of J&K aiding militants: Parrikar

NEW DELHI: Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has come out in support of Army Chief General Bipin Rawat a day after he issued a stern warning to civilians who obstruct military’s anti-terror operations in Kashmir, reports India Today.

While stressing that the Army has a free hand in dealing with locals who help militants, Parrikar clarified that the Army did not treat “every Kashmiri on the street as a terror sympathiser.”

Army chief Bipin Rawat on Wednesday warned those attacking security forces during anti-militancy operations of “tough action”.

The stern message from Rawat came a day after three soldiers faced heavy stone-pelting at Parray Mohalla of Bandipore in north Kashmir when they were about to launch an operation against militants holed up there.

Alerted by the stone-pelters, the militants got an opportunity to fire hand grenades and empty a few magazines from AK-rifles into the advancing troopers, leaving three jawans dead and some others, including a Commanding officer of CRPF, injured. One terrorist managed to flee the area.

General Rawat said security forces in Jammu and Kashmir were facing higher casualties due to the manner in which the local population was preventing them from conducting the operations and “at times even supporting the terrorists to escape”.

“We would now request the local population that people who have picked up arms, and they are the local boys, if they want to continue with the acts of terrorism, displaying flags of ISIS and Pakistan, then we will treat them as anti-national elements and go helter-skelter for them,” he said.

“They may survive today but we will get them tomorrow. Our relentless operations will continue,” the Army Chief told reporters, sending out a stern message to those who support militants.

Rawat’s assertion came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and he paid last respects in New Delhi to three of the four soldiers, including a major, who were killed in two separate encounters in Kashmir earlier this week.

Neutralise the Separatists to claim complete dominance on J&K

Frustrated after the effectiveness of Indian Army’s September 2016 surgical strikes, subsequent decimation of over 20 Pakistan army posts along the Line of Control, and the Modi government’s demonetisation measure, which abruptly halted for four months rioting/stone-pelting, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) urged its lackeys—the separatists—in Kashmir Valley to intensify their operations against the security forces.

Scores of Rs 500 and Rs.1000 denomination notes allegedly sent by ISI to separatists and their wide network of agents, transported and stored even in gas cylinders, for organising/financing agitations, rioting/stone-pelting, lobbing grenades, among other acts of rebellion, became waste-paper overnight. But the lull did not last for very long. Terror funding got ‘remonetised’ by fresh fake currency distributed by the ISI and terrorist-backed bank robberies. Once again, there have been disturbing reports about security forces being surrounded and even stoned by mobs in areas where anti-terrorist operations were on and which actually assisting terrorists to escape.

From January to December 2016, there were ten major incidents in various parts of the valley, of Kashmiri public, particularly youth, stymieing operations by Indian Army, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Jammu Kashmir Police (JKP) by agitating, stone-pelting, and even firing from arms stolen or illegally provided to them. Of these, there were three incidents after ‘remonetising’, from late November to December. January 2017 was an exceptionally cold month with excessive snow inhibiting terrorist activity. In February, there have been at least five incidents of instigating locals to heckle the security forces during their anti-terrorist operations. Another indicator of ISI/separatists upping the ante this year is that while in the first 45 days of 2015 and 2016, ten terrorists each were killed, in the same period this year, the figure has gone up to 22.

However, what is most alarming is the aggressive interference of the local populace reaching new levels. On February 14, when late Major Satish Dahiya and his detachment of troops were fighting against terrorists, the heckling during the operation rose to the extent that the ambulance in which a seriously injured Major Dahiya was being evacuated was stopped and delayed by the interfering crowd. Eventually, troops had to open fire on the unrelenting crowd to extricate the ambulance, but the delay resulted in Major Dahiya losing his life before reaching the 92 Base Hospital in Srinagar.

October 14 was a day when two major encounters occurred. In the first encounter, a top commander of Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba (LeT) and three soldiers were killed, while 11 security forces personnel and a civilian were injured in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district. Based on certain reports about the presence of a group of four LeT militants at Parray Mohalla in Hajin, a joint operation was launched by the army, CRPF, and Jammu and Kashmir Police. As the security forces were laying a cordon around the village, they came under heavy fire from the hiding militants in which 15 security personnel, including Major Thapa of 13 Rashtriya Rifles and Commandant Chetan Cheetah of 45 Battalion CRPF were injured and in retaliatory action, one terrorist was killed. The second encounter was the one led by Major Dahiya.

It is indeed very ironic that the same Kashmir valley populace which was helped by the Army during calamities, and who often benefited from the Army’s welfare programmes have been motivated by separatists loyal to Pakistan to stymie Indian security forces anti-terror operations.

The agitators, predominantly youth, whose education the separatists have calculatedly tried to destroy and whose lives they are now playing with, are probably not aware of the repetition of the cycle of Pakistan army/ISI severely damaging the interests of their parents’ generation in the late 1980s onwards and how stability was brought back by the Army. The same pattern with some more sinister modifications is now being repeated. And this time it is not only stone-pelting but also shouting slogans supporting Pakistan and the ISIS, with much waving of flags of both.

For the first time, many next of the kin of Indian Army martyrs of anti-terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir have collectively raised their voices to protest that the Army must be supported and not terrorists.

On February 15, when Army Chief General Bipin Rawat paid tribute to the mortal remains of Major Dahiya and his fallen comrades at Air Force Station Palam, New Delhi, he minced no words in saying that the army will be constrained to respond.

Reportedly, fresh intelligence inputs suggest that protesters are likely to use petrol bombs to attack security forces, which can cause much greater damage to property and life. Even women are instigated to resort to this more violent form of protest against the security forces. Jammu and Kashmir government issued an advisory for people of the state to stay away from encounter locations with the aim of preventing mobs from assembling there and obstructing the Army and other security forces in counter-terror operations and indulging in stone-pelting to shield terrorists/help them escape. A Divisional Commissioner of the state was reportedly stating that “Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code would be strictly enforced around encounter sites”.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar came out in support of General Rawat’s statement warning those attacking security forces during anti-militancy operations of “tough action”. Rawat said, “Those supporting terror activities are being given an opportunity to join the national mainstream, but if they continue with their acts, security forces will come down hard on them.” Parrikar had said, “In CICT (Counter Insurgency and Counter Terrorism) operations, the government has given a total, a free hand to the Army to crack down on terrorists. Anyone who obstructs is obviously trying to help terrorists. Those who obstruct the operations are trying to protect the terrorists, and his [General Rawat’s] comment is based on that. In these matters, the decision to act will be of the commanding officer or the officer who is on the spot. It cannot be generalised,” Parrikar was quoted in media reports. General Rawat stated that Kashmiri youths creating hurdles in counter-terror operations or displaying Pakistan or ISIS flags would be treated as anti-national. It is evident that such elements which have also obstructed security forces anti-terror operations resulting in avoidable deaths of security personnel and worse, even helped terrorists escape, may have to be dealt with accordingly.

Politics heated up and degenerated yet again after Defence Minister Parrikar backed the Army Chief’s remarks. Following the surgical strikes Opposition leaders, including Rahul Gandhi had made some derogatory and ridiculous statements doubting the strikes. This time also, the same party members appear to be sympathising with the terrorists and their helpers rather than express concern for many officers and soldiers/security forces personnel who have lost their lives or sustained severe injuries.

Replying to a query on the Army chief’s remarks, Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia said that restraint should be adopted by security forces while dealing with people in the state. After BJP had accused Congress of speaking the language of separatists and playing politics over Army Chief Bipin Rawat’s remarks that affected the morale of jawans, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala hit back, saying, “Please tell if their morale wasn’t affected as 188 jawans were martyred in 30 months in terror attacks, but Modiji couldn’t contain Pakistan”. The BJP had earlier accused the Congress of speaking in the voice of separatists and politicising the Army for “lowly political gains” while defending Rawat’s statement on tough action against locals hampering counter-militancy operations in Kashmir. Other Opposition parties have also slammed the Centre’s handling of the situation in Kashmir. CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said, “This government’s Kashmir policy is a complete failure”. National Conference leader Mustafa Kamal said, “This wanton killing, licence to kill has hurt the psyche of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and will only serve to alienate them from New Delhi.” The latest to join the terror sympathisers’ bandwagon has been former J&K CM Farooq Abdullah, who came up with some howlers. The development has even left the PDP and BJP, the two ruling parties in the Jammu and Kashmir government, speaking in different voices. PDP leader Sartaj Madani said, “The Army Chief should not have said what he did. We are only interested in embracing those Kashmiri youth, who have drifted away from us and feel alienated.”

What none of the “holier than thou” sounding apologists/hypocrisies have failed to acknowledge or state is what the Pakistan supporting Kashmiri separatists have done: continuously and unabatedly to ruin the Valley and its youth by organising and funding stone pelting, agitations, etc and that too after destroying over 32 schools in the state, apart from adversely causing much damage to education by calling bandhs/shutdowns in the past years.

There should be no doubt in New Delhi or Srinagar that no amount of anti-terror operations will stop or reduce Pakistan supported terror in the Valley until all the separatists and their intricate network are not neutralised. For that, separatists need to be jailed separated from the Valley.

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