The Shopian incident has once again brought to the fore the question of local politics taking precedence over freedom of security forces, particularly Army, to conduct anti-terrorist operations in Kashmir. As the things were improving in the Valley due to successful conduct of Operation “All Out” by the security forces and the government was preparing to hold local body elections (Panchayat), the Hurriyat and their supporters in Pakistan sensed return of peace and grass root democracy in the trouble torn state leading to total failure and defeat of their narrative and agenda of so-called freedom struggle. The successful conduct of Republic Day Parade on 26 January 2018, despite the Hurriyat and terrorists’ call for a boycott acted as the last straw and sent shock waves across the separatist camp and their mentors.
To derail the election process and put the security forces on the back foot, accordingly became the prime agenda of the anti-national forces operating in the Valley. There could not be a more suitable venue other than the bad lands of South Kashmir — the hot bed of terrorism and the turf of the Jammat. The players were available in plenty in form of the recently released stone pelters — beneficiaries of the amnesty scheme of Mehbooba Mufti. The stone pelters with radicalised minds were allowed to join the mainstream without any effort to de-radicalise them or enhance their skills for a better and prosperous future. Hence their re-cycling into “Agitation Terrorism” was easy and expected.
In a well hatched plan, a convoy of an army unit transiting through the area was ambushed by 100-200 stone pelters and subjected to heavy stone pelting. The mob soon swelled and grew to be near 300 and as a result of the stones pelted on the convoy, a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) of the Army who was leading the convoy was injured. Another eight soldiers also suffered injuries. The mob also attempted to set the vehicles ablaze at which time the troops opened fire in self defence, as permitted by the Indian Penal Code. As a result of this protective fire, two stone pelters were killed.
The conspirators aimed to kill two birds with one stone — demand for postponement of Panchayat elections and maligning the Army and forcing it to go on the back foot. The events that followed were not new to Kashmiri politics, but non-condemnation of stone pelters and the violence perpetrated by them even by the Chief Minister of the state was astonishing and worrying. Shopian incident was a pre-planned act planned and executed by forces inimical to return of peace and grass root democracy and hence opposed to conduct of successful anti-terror operations by the army and holding of Panchayat elections in February. The Kashmiri political leadership of all shades, irrespective of the platform they belonged to, wasted no time in converting it into a political issue to continue their tirade against the Indian Army which is operating against many odds in the Valley. The venom Kashmiri leaders are spitting against the Army unit is indicative of the fact that they are blaming the Army and not the stone pelters without the benefit of a proper enquiry. The Hurriyat even gave a call for Kashmir Bandh. As was expected, the demand for revoking AFSPA gained ascendancy and grew louder. The demand is purely politically motivated and far away from ground realities. The Chief of Army Staff has very rightly set to rest all such demands terming them pre-mature and “time has not come to re-think on AFSPA.” The Army cannot operate in a hostile environment with its hands tied to the back. In the past two decades, whenever the terrorists are under pressure, suffer huge losses and are driven on the back foot, their sympathisers and OGWs rake up the issueof AFSPA to put pressure on the Armed Forces and demoralise them. Unfortunately, their sympathisers include many soft-separatists and so-called mainstream politicians.
A FIR has been filed against the unit. The lodging of FIR is routine as ordered by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court had ruled about a year back that lodging of FIR would be mandatory in case of loss of civilian lives resulting due to Army operations. What is surprising is that an officer has been named in the FIR who was not even present on the scene. Similarly, the FIR has been lodged for ‘murder’ and ‘attempt to murder’! What an irony? Those who fired in self-defence according to the law of the nation are being charged for murder. Whose murder, those who were pelting stones and trying to lynch the soldiers who were on a bonafide military duty? How can soldiers be murderers? Even to think of the same to my mind is blasphemy. What message is the police trying to convey or is it acting at the behest of its political masters to please their vote bank. In both cases it would be dangerous and harmful for national security and would encourage the separatists. The statement that such ridiculous FIR does not affect the morale of the soldiers is as flawed as the policy of amnesty to stone pelters and Mehbooba Mufti needs to revisit both as early as feasible before they attain dangerous proportions.
A mid-course review is also needed at the Home Ministry level. There is a need to examine if the government of late has conceded too much in too less a time in its quest to find a long-lasting solution to the trouble in Kashmir? In order to get the Hurriyat to talk to the Government’s Special Representative, one only hopes and prays that the noose tightened by the NIA is not being loosened! Hurriyat is running out of breath and is gasping for oxygen. This must never be provided to the Hurriyat. Also, it is the responsibility of the executive (political leadership) to ensure that the morale of the soldiers is in no way affected by judicial activism. The morale of the Army is a function of the executive and not the judiciary.
The security forces need to be provided a level playing field while combatting cross-border jihadi ideological terror. If need be, the government should bring about a legislation making the soldiers immune from FIR while performing bonafide military duty in anti-terror operations. Application of mind is necessary in case of understanding and implementing any legal provision. There is certainly a difference between a civilian confined in the four walls of his house and a civilian who forms part of a stone pelting mob and tries to lynch the soldiers on duty or set on fire government property. A leaf can be drawn from UK that has acted to exempt its troops from human rights convention. Premier Theresa May has announced that human rights laws will be suspended on the battlefield after UK pulled out of European Union human rights convention. Accordingly, British soldiers will not be accountable for human rights abuses during conflicts and lawyers cannot sue soldiers with ‘vexatious’ claims. The British Prime Minister felt that this would boost the military’s “confidence.” Where there is a will there is a way. A soldier is taught ‘to do what you are supposed to do — your dharma — and leave the rest.’
A soldier’s dharma is to kill the enemy and winning. A soldier’s dharma is not to lose and how can he be termed a ‘murderer’ when he is performing his dharma of defending his colleagues from hooligans pelting stones at them? The FIR is flawed and needs to be re-worded.
Brig Anil Gupta is a Jammu based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst.He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)