The Times of India
No hot pursuit, we'll wait in ambush: Army
By Siddharth Varadarajan
The Times of India News Service
KUPWARA: Stung by the resumption of militant violence in Kashmir,
politicians in New Delhi are advocating extreme methods like `hot
pursuit'. But here, those involved in fighting extremists say they're
simply not interested.
With two-and-a-half securitymen for every resident, Kupwara is
virtually frontline territory. Militants trudge across thick forests
and undergrowth for several days before emerging exhausted at safe
hideouts on the Indian side. ``The terrain near the LoC is such'', an
army officer said, ``that those who stay put are at an advantage. A
person moving through makes so much noise he becomes an easy target. So
we prefer to wait in ambush''. He said that if the army were to start
chasing militants through the jungles, or across the LoC, ``we could
easily walk into a trap''.
A senior officer involved in counter-insurgency operations in northern
Kashmir told this correspondent, ``It's all very well for somebody
sitting in Delhi to make ignorant statements about pursuing militants
across the LoC. We are doing exactly what is required. What we want is
for the administration to play its part in winning the confidence of
the people, which it is not doing''. Another officer said: ``Often we
don't know where the training camps are, or they are more than 50 km
away from the LoC. Such operations cannot be launched without
considerable military risk''.
More than anything else, army officers say they need unity of command
at the functional level. While Lt Gen JR Mukherjee, GOC-in-C of the 15
Corps, exercises control over all security forces deployed in the
valley, there can sometimes be considerable confusion on the ground.
``I cannot even coordinate plans with the CRPF chaps who guard the
approach to my headquarters'', said one army officer. ``The Pahalgam
tragedy is a perfect example of what can happen when you have mixed
forces and mixed command''.
``As for the BJP's call for giving us a free hand'', said an officer,
``we are already doing fine.'' He said that with even with local
militants caught in cordon-and-search opeartions, the security forces
are ruthless. ``Please don't quote me'', he said, ``but the unwritten
policy is that we avoid taking prisoners.''
Another officer said that when politicians wanted a free hand for the
army, ``what they really mean is we shouldn't care about civilians
here. But that would be disastrous''. ``After years of bad
experience'', he said, ``we know that the more people-friendly our
operations, the more successful our counter-insurgency will be.'' Apart
from humanitarian considerations, another officer added, ``this is a
question of military efficacy. We want to increase the number of
operations based on hard intelligence (Hard Int). For this, we need
people to provide information. If ordinary Kashmiris are victimised by
the security forces, they will never come forward''.
Having said that, officers acknowledge civilians are routinely put
through great inconvenience by the security forces and that sometimes
innocent lives are lost. ``An error of intention is never forgiven by
the army but an error of judgment might be'', a senior officer claimed.
``But I can't say the same about the other forces''.
Army officers have harsh words for the Kashmir police-run Special Task
Force, which consists mostly of surrendered militants. STF personnel
are paid Rs 1500 a month and earn cash rewards based on the number of
militants killed, arms recovered etc. ``This is an invitation for
corruption'', said one officer. ``We know they extort money under the
threat of implicating people. If Kashmiris are alienated, the STF is to
Box: What the officers say
- If the army were to start chasing militants through the jungles, or
across the LoC, it could easily walk into a trap
- We are doing exactly what is required. What we want is for the
administration to play its part in winning the confidence of the
people, which it is not doing
- The more people-friendly our operations, the more successful our
counter-insurgency will be