The Army has come under fire in the Valley following release of the video of a man tied to the bonnet of an Army jeep in Budgam on the day of the Srinagar by-elections. Lt General J S Sandhu, the commander of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps and the officer heading the Army in Kashmir, is a J&K old-hand. This is his sixth tenure here, after having commanded an infantry battalion on the Line of Control, a mountain brigade and the Kupwara division. Lt Gen Sandhu spoke with SUSHANT SINGH about the current situation in the Valley, the ‘war of videos’ and his fears for the coming summer.
What is your assessment of the current security situation in the Valley? Did you see this coming or has it taken you by surprise?
The security situation is fragile. Violent protests and stone-throwing incidents will occur, but possibly may not be as widespread or as intense. We continually monitor the situation and are able to assess the trends. The developments have been on expected lines.
What are the major factors driving the protests? Is it radicalisation, social media, Pakistani support or is it something else?
The ongoing protests are an outcome of all these factors combined, with gun-wielding militants applying pressure, and other inimical elements, overground supporters adding to the unrest. Social media has facilitated organising of such protests.
How do you hope to deal with the challenge of social media? And the videos now fanning passions?
Social media is indeed a challenge, and you would have realised that some of it has been churned out from Pakistan (side). Fake videos, old videos, repetitive screening of such videos give rise to an impression of large-scale turbulence. Incidents lasting a few minutes, shown repeatedly, give an incorrect perception. But social media also enables you to counter such videos. We have geared up to meet the challenge.
What are the instructions you have passed on to your men to deal with the current situation, particularly when their every action can be filmed on a mobile phone?
We have asked the soldiers to deal with situations in a professional manner and adhere to the Rules of Engagement. I also realise that the man on the spot needs to be permitted some elbow room to deal with volatile situations ingenuously. The troops are also aware that part of an incident can be selectively distorted to present a negative picture.
What needs to be done to restore normalcy in the Valley, both militarily and politically?
Militarily, we will focus on counter-infiltration along the Line of Control and counter-terrorism operations in the Valley. We will continue our engagement with the awaam (people) and strengthen our bonds with them. To restore normalcy, initiatives will have to be taken in several fields. The Valley has witnessed relative calm and progress in the last decade, and there is a strong desire for peace. This would be a driver to restore calm.
We hear that local recruitment is on the rise. How do you see this play out this summer?
Local recruitment has increased post-July 2016, and is an area of concern. We need to dissuade the youth from joining the tanzeems, we can try to wean them (away) to a brighter future. Skill-development, creation of job opportunities, interaction with parents and elders, are several steps that need to be taken.
What is that one thing that keeps you most worried about the coming summer in Kashmir?
Public support to terrorists, their glorification and increased radicalisation are issues of concern. The battle of minds is as important as the battle through bullets, and we are trying to steer them away from the violent path.