Srinagar, Feb 18: General officer commanding (GOC) of Srinagar based Chinar Corps, Lt. General D P Pandey has said that the “new normal” is becoming the way of life in Jammu and Kashmir and that the truce along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan is desirable for both nations, and the main beneficiaries are the people on the LoC.
In an exclusive interview, D P Pandey talked about several things ranging for current situation in the Valley, Ceasefire Agreement along LoC, Army’s Sadbhavana program, Connect with the Youth of the Valley and Fallout of Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan on Kashmir.
Here are the Excerpts of the interview:
Question: How do you compare the situation before and after Abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir?
GOC: Maintaining peace has been the prime goal of all the Security Forces, working in close synergy with each other, i.e. Army, J&K Police, CAPF, Intelligence agencies and the Civil Administration.
• The situation has been largely normal with negligible stone pelting incidents, negligible mob-violence and especially no civil casualty due to the Security Force action since 05 August 2019, are few examples of it.
• Today, I as a member of the ‘Team Security Forces and Civil Administration’ am very satisfied with the way the calm and peace has prevailed in the Valley. Tourism is flourishing, business is doing well. The new normal is becoming the way of life.
• Due to our effective anti-infiltration grid, ceasefire in vogue and a very proactive approach of the intelligence and security forces there was significant reduction in all parameters of violence. This effort has been to break what I call is the ‘cycle of violence’, which included identifying and targeting the OGWs network and has yielded good results. There is a significant drop of smuggling of arms, ammunition and drugs, also.
• We have anticipated desperate acts of militants and their handlers to continue to establish their relevance. At this phase when militants’ capability have severely degraded they are hitting the soft targets. These acts expose the real value system of these militants and their handlers. The new challenge which has come out is the killing of soft targets trend like Hindu and Sikh minorities, women, security force personals that are on leave, low level political workers, daily wage labourers, shop keepers and social activists etc anyone who does not have security cover.
Q: Apart from counter insurgency operations, what are your/Army’s plans regarding cementing Jawan and citizen relations?
GOC: Yes synergy between Security Forces & citizens has been a continuous effort though there is always more to do. Indian Army has a long tradition of going the extra mile to maintain connect with the citizens. It is this spirit of Indian Army that it continuously works to carry out Counter Insurgency Operations with self-imposed restraint of ‘minimum use force’ even in life threatening situations to avoid collateral damage.
• Overall the increasing participation of the citizens in cultural, sports and empowerment activities are heartening as they spread positivity in the lives of citizens affected by fear of violence and disruption of normal life. Soldiers and citizens rubbing shoulders in cultural and sports events drastically improves soldier – citizen connect. This change was seen as a testimony during the last year’s celebration of Swarnim Vijay Varsh celebrations. The 1971 victory over Pakistan was celebrated across the length and breadth of Kashmir where the citizens were seen standing proudly with the soldiers in all events.
• Involvement and participation by the security forces in cultural events like Junoon-e-Hunar, Wular Festival, music festival Son-et-Lumiere, Doodhpathri Festival, Jashn-e-Baramulla etc. Sports events/ tournaments like Women Cricket Premier League, Kashmiri Girls’ Hockey Tournament, Kashmir Premier League, Jashan-E- Chillai Kalan in Shopian etc has helped us identify and promote the local talent. The 65 km long women cycle race at Baramulla was especially satisfying.
• I sincerely hope for more accessions where the soldier and citizens rub shoulders and have a good time together.
KNS: What has been the outcome of Sadbhavana program in far-flung areas of Jammu and Kashmir, and what is the response and public support toward this program?
GOC: Sadbhavna projects, as the name suggests are a means to maintain an emotional connect with the people. Operation Sadbhavana (Goodwill) is a unique humane initiative undertaken by the Indian Army in the erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir to address aspirations of people affected by scrooge of militancy, sponsored and abetted by Pakistan. This has provided succour to a large section of population of of J&K. It has played an important role in negating the influence of militant groups where insidious attempts are made to alienate the common man from the national fabric. The need of the hour is not only complete eradication of militancy but also to reintegrate the affected populace with the national mainstream. In such a scenario, Indian Army is doing its bit.
• In addition, activities under Sadbhavna are designed for ‘Citizen-Army Connect’, there have been numerous events, out-reach programmes and interactions at the Company Commander’s level that have been highly successful. Our focus remains on empowering youth and women from all sections of the Kashmiri society. And I can say with a sense of achievement that it has contributed a lot in improving the lives of people of Kashmir. Approximately 10,000 plus students are getting quality education in 28 AGSs/ AGPS and more than 600 teachers and staff is employed in these schools. This year a student of AGS Wazurhas stood 8th in class 12th in entire UT. Our boys and girls from AGS have won National and International medals in sports and made the UT and the country proud. In addition to that, we have successfully established 50 youth centers and women empowerment centers promoting skill development at various levels. Many centers are accredited with Nation Skill Development Corporation (NSDC). We also have special programmes like Super-50 (Engineering) and Super-30 (Medical), which have given good results empowering the youth of the valley and their families in competing with bright students across the country to gain admission in the entrance exams of IITs and NEET. This year we have included 20 vacancies for girls in Super 50 for medical preparations.
• I would also like to mention that Sadbhavna was more focussed on basic amenities and infrastructure during the peak of militancy when there was a reduced capability of the civil administration to carry out development and other public welfare activities, especially in remote and far flung areas. Now, with the return of normalcy and well established and robust civil administration, these tasks are being carried out by civil administration. Army activities are more on education, skilling, sports and culture.
Q: What is the current situation along the Line of Control? Has the infiltration gone down post ceasefire agreement?
GOC: This truce deal is desirable for both Nations, and the main beneficiaries are the people on the Line of Control (LoC). The deal has great significance for the stability and peace in the region. The attempts to foment violence in J&K are the primary reason for a volatile LoC; the onus is on Pakistan to stop abetting militancy in J&K – that done the LoC peace will sustain. While the ceasefire deal is in effect, we are alert and upgrading our ability to counter any infiltration attempts.
• The infiltration bids and their pattern remain dynamic, as does our counter infiltration grid all along the LoC. In 2021, a robust counter infiltration grid, aided by use of technology to aid surveillance and domination of the LoC has curbed infiltration to a very large extent. There have been numerous successful eliminations of militants who were trying to infiltrate from various sectors. The infiltration figures last year are much lower than 2020 and we intend to keep it that way in 2022 also
• The Pakistanis are desperate to send weapons to Kashmir to generate violence and insecurity. In addition to infiltration attempts, there are efforts to leave arms caches near the LoC, to be picked by the OGWs or militants on this side. South of Pir Panjal there has been efforts to drop weapons by quad or octa-copters, for which we are taking suitable countermeasures. We are also mindful of efforts to infiltrate weapons from IB sector; extra checks have resulted in recoveries of weapons while being transported across the Banihal into Kashmir valley.
• Concurrent to the infiltration and weapon smuggling efforts, the recent recoveries indicate the role of narco money to fund terror in Kashmir. Numerous efforts to smuggle drugs along with weapons have been foiled. NIA, Police and Security Forces are working in coordination to expose the network. Kashmir is facing challenge of drug menace and the civil society is conscious of the threat, civil society support will prove critical in efforts to neutralise this threat.
• The Pakistani internal situation and continued propaganda efforts in J&K give indication of ill intent. On our part, we are committed to the LoC Ceasefire and will maintain it in letter and spirit.
Q: Since the fall of Kabul to Taliban, did you witness any impact on Kashmir viz-a-viz security and militancy.
GOC: Afghanistan is an evolving geo-political situation and the whole world is watching it very closely. At national level, our Govt is keeping a close watch on the developments that are unfolding and its resultant impact on the security issues pertaining to Kashmir. The Security Forces are alert on borders and in the hinterland. We are continuously monitoring the fallouts which might emerge from Taliban situation in Afghanistan. You would also be aware that the first thing the Taliban did after taking over was releasing all militants from prisons including those from the ‘Islamic State’ (IS), LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). Concurrently, Pakistan’s ISI could also use its influence on the Taliban and shift those training camps based in PoK to border areas in Afghanistan. Such developments might have an impact on India. We are also watching closely the security situation and violence on Pakistan ‘s borders with Afghanistan. The situation is a worry for the global order and we are part of that.
• It’s essentially an Afghan movement and the Kashmiri situation has a momentum of its own which is very different. In those times the borders were porous and it was easy to infiltrate weapons and militants. I don’t see that happening now.
Q: Any message you want to give to the people of Kashmir particularly the youth of Valley.
GOC: The Indian Army believes that addressing militancy is beyond just neutralisation of the militants, it involves defanging the support network that sustains terror. It includes elimination of the ideologues and the OGWs network that radicalises, carry out recruitment, fund terror activity, arrange weapons, give hit lists and operate the social media accounts of these militant organisations. It is apt to call them militants without weapons. All layers are being addressed to control militancy in J&K. These OGWs and ideologues are the factories of militants who use religion as a tool to indoctrinate vulnerable youth and use them for the Kashmir conflict as cannon fodder. Innocent lives are lost and, in the bargain,, they are enjoying in luxury, safely settled outside Kashmir in India and abroad, and thriving due to the conflict economy.
• Some recent successes in the effort have been encouraging, we hope for more success with our continued efforts. For the citizens, there are three messages.
• Firstly, the Security Forces need the support of the citizens to root out militancy from J&K. There is urgent need for the civil society to collaborate with Security Forces to prevent Kashmiri youth from joining militancy; Indian Army is committed to all support in such endeavours. Even for those who have joined militant tanzeems, Indian Army is committed to help them come back from the misguided path. This should become a people’s movement.
• Secondly, the citizens should be conscious of the propaganda effort of the separatists supported by Pakistan. Social media is a carrier of this propaganda. Only a conscious society can take measures to ensure that it is not affected by propaganda. The elders have to guide the youth to see the truth and work towards a bright future of all citizens of J&K.
• Thirdly, I call upon the citizens to be vigilant against the militants without weapons. These are those who instigate, fund and control militancy as a means to a political end, for them anyone not following their ideology is fit for killing. They are the biggest threat to peace in Kashmir and can be countered only by a synergistic action by the citizens and Security Forces. We have to address all three levels to effectively break the cycle of violence.
• The youth is the hope of Kashmir. I meet a huge cross-section of Kashmiri youth during my visits all across Kashmir. What stands out is their desire to take their destiny into their own hands. They are not willing to allow militants, their handlers or the separatists to dictate their future. They are smart and capable to make their own destiny. They are the hope for the future. I would ask them to look at the future with hope; the new world order is full of opportunities and the Kashmiri youth needs to exploit these opportunities for the good of all.
Q: You have been frequently heard talking about the need for happiness and laughter in J&K. What do you mean by that? How are we supposed to achieve that happy state?
GOC: For me, happiness and laughter are the essence of life. We always need more of it. J&K has a long history where centuries of experience which has made the Kashmiri citizen circumspect and shy to celebrate the essence of being happy and laugh together as a well amalgamated society.
• I think the shift started sometime in thirteenth century when Kashmiri rulers lost sovereignty to attackers from the west, it was a brutal period that included subjugation by outside regimes. Kashmiri folklore is full of anecdotes that only relive the sad experience – they convert them into satire and other ways to air their emotions. The long negative experience has left marks of victimhood and unhappiness on Kashmiri psych – unhappiness has seeped into the cultural DNA, which prevent expression of joy and happiness. Somehow only marriages seem to be celebrated with opulence.
• Sadly, even the BhandPather is more about sarcasm, satire & light hearted humour. The humour or comedy has to increase. We need to be able to laugh and just be happy.
• It is an extremely fortunate society where the common man is more bestowed in terms of good health, long life, natural resourses and extremely fertile land. Last 75 years has seen economic well-being and religious and social freedom not seen in last few centuries. After 30 years of negative narrative of human rights violation driven by the nexus the citizens are now finding light of great positivity and therefore it calls for more positivity and happiness by a common man. Time has come to shed the old narrative of victimhood and embrace joy of life. Few security challenges will remain, but the positive energy will be more prevalent and at the same time youth of today will find joy in life. My request to the youth is to understand why this narrative of victimhood is so easy to accept – why it needs to change. Only society can bring about a change and the youth needs to take lead. They have to shake of the gloom and embrace laughter and happiness, maybe with laughter clubs and building a tradition of celebrating success in any field, celebrate a good tourist season and a good harvest.
• I have been here for multiple tenures and I find a common Kashmiri desire of seeking joy, entertainment and freedom from this falsehood spread by the nexus. Rich and upper-middle class families get opportunities to cross over South of Pir Panjal to enjoy and entertain activities, but the same opportunities are unavailable to a large section of society. Time has come now to get these facilities and opportunities be made available for a common citizen in valley. Music and craft are ingrained in the blood and soul of Kashmiris. It is imperative that the present discourse of finding pain in life changes to accepting laughter. I want to see Kashmir happy and sharing that happiness by rings of laughter all around in schools, in colleges, in market places, in restaurants, in homes, in dhoks, on the shikara and in every corner of Kashmir.
• I wish for a happy and prosperous J&K full of laughter. (KNS)