AZADI will not happen, you cannot fight the Army — this is a dictum Kashmiri youth need to know, Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat has said, in an interview to The Indian Express.
Expressing concern over Kashmiri youth “picking up the gun” and “those who tell them (that) this path will bring Azadi…misleading them,” Gen Rawat said: “I want to tell Kashmiri youth that Azadi isn’t possible. It won’t happen. Don’t get carried away unnecessarily. Why are you picking up weapons? We will always fight those who seek Azadi, those who want to secede. (Azadi) is not going to happen, never”.
General Rawat said that he doesn’t attach much importance to the number of militants who are killed in encounters with the Army. “These numbers don’t matter to me because I know this cycle will continue. There are fresh recruitments happening. I only want to stress that all this is futile, nothing is going to be achieved by them. You can’t fight the Army”.
General Rawat said he is perturbed by the killings. “We don’t enjoy it. But if you want to fight us, then we will fight you with all our force. Kashmiris have to understand that the SFs (security forces) haven’t been so brutal — look at Syria and Pakistan. They use tanks and air power in similar situations. Our troops have been trying their level best to avoid any civilian casualty despite huge provocation,’’ he said. “I know that the youth are angry. But attacking security forces, throwing stones at us isn’t the way”.
He defined the challenge as one to break this cycle so that calm returns. “I don’t understand why people are coming out in huge numbers to disrupt our operations. Who is inciting them? If they want that the militants aren’t killed, they should go and tell them to come out without their weapons so that nobody is killed,’’ he said. “Let anyone of them say — mein le kay aata hun (I will bring him out). We will halt our operation. We can’t allow people to disrupt our operations and help terrorists to flee”.
Instead, General Rawat said that the people are “inciting security forces by pelting stones at them to disrupt the operations…they are inciting security forces to become more aggressive.’’
Asked about the Army’s current muscular policy, General Rawat said: “The Army did try a soft approach too. Until June 2016, everything was fine. What is that incited people so much because of that one encounter? (in which Hizbul’s Burhan Wani was killed). Everything was turned upside down in a few days time. The entire South Kashmir was out in the streets, throwing stones at us, attacking our posts. By October-November, I was getting messages that people say Azadi dur nahi hai (Azadi isn’t far away). Somebody was feeding this to people, telling them Azadi was around the corner. Our posts were being regularly attacked. Stones were being pelted at our men. We had to bring the situation under control. We couldn’t afford all that. We needed to tell people Azadi isn’t happening. We had to establish the writ (of the state)”.
“(The Burhan Wani encounter) wasn’t the first such encounter in Kashmir,’’ he said. “I am still trying to understand where did all that anger come from. The youth have gotten themselves in Pakistan’s trap. They are being consistently incited to attack us”.
General Rawat said that he understands that “there isn’t a military solution to this issue”. “This is why we want politicians, political representatives to go into villages especially in South Kashmir to talk to people. But they are scared that they will be attacked,’’ he said. “It will happen once there is calm. And we are hopeful that people will soon realize that all this is futile and start thinking differently”.
The Army chief said he is “ready to suspend” military operations to avoid civilian casualties. “But who will guarantee that there won’t be fire at our men, at our vehicles? Who will guarantee that policemen, political workers, our men returning home on leave aren’t attacked, aren’t killed?’’ he asked. “Our men who were unarmed, who had returned home on leave were killed…(consider the case of) Lt Umar Fayaz. We killed his killers but we had to sacrifice four of our men to do so. Policemen are regularly attacked. Political workers are killed,’’ he said. “Once a stone is thrown at us…once they fire at us.. then there is no way we will not respond and respond sternly. Those how want to fight us, we will fight them”.
“These youngsters, who have picked up guns aren’t a challenge for us. Terrorists aren’t a big challenge for us. We have been telling the people (civilian population) not to come to disrupt our operations, not to throw stones at us,’’ he said. “Recently, we left an operation unfinished at one place. We withdrew our men so that the situation doesn’t turn bad. But as we left, our men came under fire from another house at a different place. A JCO (Junior Commissioned Officer) was injured. He is still in hospital”.
He referred to a new trend, that even those who want to surrender tell us please don’t say we have surrendered.
“They don’t want it look like surrender. They don’t even want us to say they were arrested. They want to make it look like they were injured and that’s why they were captured in the process of the encounter,” he said. “There is fear. Otherwise, how can you explain this?”
General Rawat said that, recently, he has tried to reach out but nobody has come forward to reciprocate. “When I spoke (on April 15), that very evening we were attacked. People have to reciprocate so that we can move forward,’’ he said.
“Young people are getting excited by IS flags. Do you know what that means? Do you want to Talibanise Kashmir? Do you want Kashmir to turn into such a society? Do you want to live in such a society?” he asked. “These young people do not understand the meaning of it all. Somebody is inciting these young people”.
Responding to his support for Major Leetul Gogoi’s move to strap a Kashmiri man to a jeep as a human shield last year on polling day in Budgam, General Rawat said: “That was the only option other than to open fire at a mob that was pelting stones”.
“He (the Army officer) could have opened fire and killed people. Instead, he used the best available option with him in those given circumstances,’’ General Rawat said. “Besides, we were investigating the issue when an FIR was filed against him. My officer felt that he is being abandoned. I can’t let my officer feel that”.
General Rawat said that people (in Kashmir) should understand that this turmoil is taking a toll on development. “Tourism has been adversely affected. Houseboats and guesthouses are empty. What will those people eat if they don’t earn,’’ he said. “We will have a train connecting the Valley to the rest of the country soon – imagine how it will change the fortunes of people . the apple grower in Sopore can send his apples anywhere in the country without any hassle. People have to recognize this development and be thankful. it has to be a two-way process”.