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AS PART of its strategy to bring normalcy to Kashmir, the Army wants authority of the central armed police forces (CAPF) in the Valley to be restored as a professional force, to start a positive social media outreach programme targeting the youth, and operate under the full protective cover of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
Stating that these are part of the issues raised by the Army with the Centre about evolving a joint strategy to deal with the situation on ground, senior Army officers who are directly involved with counterinsurgency operations in Kashmir told The Indian Express that contrary to popular impression only four or five districts of south Kashmir are currently in turmoil.
“People are calling Kashmir a war zone. That is a hyperbole,” a source in the Army said. “Please look at the aerial photos of Kashmir and Syria. Look at the amount of new construction in Kashmir — and these are palatial bungalows being made. If the situation was bad with no hope for the future, why would anyone invest that kind of money?” The Army is concerned about the image of CAPF, which bear the full brunt of public protests, including stone-pelters. “We cannot have video clips of security forces, mainly the CRPF, being hammered circulated widely in Kashmir. They are a professional force and there is an urgent need to restore their image of authority where they meet violence with violence,” the source said.
The Army also wants protesters who destroy and damage government property to be booked under appropriate laws, and not be housed in prisons in the Valley. If it is not possible to send these ringleaders to prisons outside the state, sources said, the government should house them in prisons in Jammu region. This will remove these people from their social ecosystem and prevent them from becoming local heroes, sources argued. The Army is cognizant of the fact that the Kashmiri youth are being misled and misguided by social media campaign being run by Pakistan. “It is being orchestrated very well by Pakistan,” a source said. “We need to go beyond counter-propaganda and start our own social media outreach programme with full intensity.”
The Supreme Court’s recent judgment on AFSPA, ruling that an FIR can be filed against Army officers operating in an area under the jurisdiction of AFSPA, has also made the senior leadership unsure. “This is the wrong time to have a discussion on AFSPA. When the situation is tense in Kashmir, the Army will have to act strongly at times,” the source contended. “If an FIR is filed, then the officer can be summoned by the police or local courts for decades after his retirement. How will he have confidence to act boldly?” Besides assuaging the people by taking up their grievances against the state government, the Army is also keen to start programmes which facilitate greater interactions between Kashmiris and people from other states.