Lt Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain: Ak-47 Is Not My Weapon. It’s A Mere Tool To Be Used Occasionally. The Heart Is My Weapon
General Officer Commanding, 15 Corps, Lt Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain AVSM, SM, VSM**
How do you assess the situation in the Valley today and how do you see it unfolding in the coming months?
The Chinar Corps is responsible for the entire Valley, which includes the Line of Control, the Valley floor extending up to the Great Himalayas and the area of the Amarnath Shrine. The period 2008-2010 was the paradigm of a developing situation. In my assessment, in 2008, the strength of terrorism in the Valley had come to sub-critical level. Hence, from the perspective of terrorism the sponsors and the terrorists had to do something to revive the turbulence. The tipping point was the ‘Amarnath Shrine Land Transfer Issue’, which offered an opportunity to the terrorists and the sponsors. In 2009, with the successful assembly elections, we all thought that some kind of stability had returned, with the roti-kapda issues becoming important all over again. But that was not to be. The same thing played all over again in 2010. However, numerous factors contributed to the agitation petering out including agitational fatigue, steps taken through the resolve of the state administration and a very high degree of synergy achieved between the security forces in executing the joint strategy adopted during the core group meeting in September last year.
In 2011, two things are critical. One is agitational stamina, which is on the wane; and two, the social parameters are aligned in such a way that there is little support for relentless agitations. The parents are unprepared to watch their children lose out on another academic year. The business community want economic activity to restart and the Tata Sumo Union, which comprises the taxi drivers who have bought their vehicles on bank loans cannot afford another season of turmoil. In addition, the summer agitation impacted tourist industry in a big way, which axiomatically drained the small scale business houses, the hospitality industry and most importantly the local daily wagers, who thrive on the tourists. Overall the economic backlash was substantial. It became loud and clear that, with protests and agitations, daily livelihood was at stake. All these things together got the people thinking about what actually has been achieved. There is, to my mind, a general revulsion towards violence as a whole now, not just stone-pelting. Moreover, the youth especially are feeling left out of the developments taking place all over the world, as they are net-savvy and can see for themselves what the potential holds and what the realities were.
Putting all these factors together, it is unlikely, that this year will be a repeat of the last year. Moreover, we are still in winter, the Darbar (state government) shifts to the Valley on May 9 and that is when events could start unfolding. The single most important thing is that, there should be no trigger. Ironically, in the Valley, the most innocuous rumour can be a trigger; notwithstanding whether there is any element of truth in it or not. Hence, I feel that there could be localised protests in some areas, however, not at the same level as the last year.
On another note, there is no change in terms of upping the ante in as far as terror is concerned, because the intent on the other side remains the same. The camps are filled up. The only thing holding them back is the abnormal levels of snow which has prevented them from making infiltration attempts so far. Last year, the first attempts at infiltration were made in the month of February, we are already in April now and yet nothing has happened so far. I expect it to happen very soon. By the middle of May, of course, there will be a surge in attempts. But let me say this, we are very strong on the Line of Control and have further strengthened our overall counter-infiltration grid. Additional surveillance equipment including helicopters and UAVs are available.
By nature we are statistically biased and form opinions and judgements based on them, however, in the dynamic CI environment, where both external and internal factors play a significant role, mere statistical data may not give the correct perspective and may be misleading. In my opinion, in any counter-terror situation, the worst form of assessment is through statistics. Many people feel that, when the number of terrorists has come below the sub-critical level, what is the requirement of the troops presence? In my view, we should have two parameters to assess the situation. One, whether the intent on the other side is alive? Two, whether the infrastructure on the other side, which includes funding, is intact? These two factors along with the network of over ground workers in the Valley clearly brings out that the other side continues to retain the capacity and the capability to push in a large number of terrorists not only from the traditional routes but even from other land routes, which can dramatically change the situation.
I also believe that there is a nexus between agitation and terrorism. If agitation reduces, you will automatically find that terrorist activities would increase. For the other side, it is important that all the anti-Indian elements here remain in the news. Their news-worthiness adds to their relevance.
What gives you confidence that this summer would not be a repeat of last year? What measures have you taken to ensure that?
A series of steps have been taken by the state government along with the security forces over the last four months. As far as the army is concerned, we have a very good understanding with the state government. It is heartening to see the state government’s understanding of the ground situation and the police and the CRPF’s preparedness. I would say that the synergy, when everyone seems to be on the same page is an all time high. Take the CRPF for instance. We have undertaken large scale training of the CRPF for the first time at our Corps Battle School, training more than a 1,000 trainers of the CRPF, who have then gone out to train others. CRPF units are also interacting with our RR units in different locations and attending their training programmes too. The synergy is not only at my level, or at the formation commander’s level, now it is seamless down to the troops.
The training is not about merely reacting to situations and agitations but also learning the art of winning over people. In counter-insurgency operations you need the ‘Iron Fist in the Velvet Glove’ concept. The Indian Army is one of the few armies in the world to do this really effectively. You need to use soft and hard power together. Yet, despite doing this, we realised now for the first time that, it is not possible to exercise soft power without understanding the culture, religion and sensitivities of the people. While I don’t want to make a grandiose claim, I am surprised that in a short span of time we have been able to take this message down to the last man. It is to the credit of my general officers and my commanders that they have taken pains to ensure that the junior-most soldier understands it today. Every week, it is issued as orders and each man carries these instructions in a small booklet in his pocket as a ready reckoner.
The idea is that whenever the troops have time, they can go over the booklet and refresh their understanding of what we are trying to do. It is a programme called ‘Jee Janab’. Jee Janab signifies simply put, the Kashmiri tradition of tehzeeb (polite mannerism). Kashmiris are very good at two things, tehzeeb and takrir (lecture). All this while, we were the ones giving them the takrir. Now we are giving the people a chance to give takrir to us. We are in the listening mode. In addition to this, it has been reiterated time and again that, our body language, conduct and mannerism, should be respectful in keeping with the tradition of the people. The tehzeeb must be maintained at all times. This however, does not mean that we have abandoned the hard power. We are still applying the hard power where it is required; the difference is that this time, the soft power is being exponentially exploited as a force multiplier to the hard elements of power. Moreover, while conducting operations, stringent rules of engagement have been promulgated, aiming at minimising collateral damage and no loss of civilian life. The recent operations in Shopian, Tral and other areas, where there was no damage to property or loss to civilian life, bear testimony to what I have said. However, it needs to be understood that, due to the nature of operations and terrain restrictions, collateral damage is not always unavoidable. These sensitivities are going down very well with the people. Basically, I am promising things that are deliverables. Take the army convoys for instance, if anything can be a symbol of army’s hard power, this is it. They used to severely inconvenience people, who were sceptical of coming in their ways. We are now changing that. In fact, I am also trying to tweak the convoy timings in such a way that they do not clash with the peak office hours. These are small changes that are taking place keeping the sensitivities of the people in mind.
A significant step undertaken to bridge the gap between the people and the army and foster better understanding is by allowing more people into the Badami Bagh Garrison, of course with due security. For the last 10 years, the gates were fortified and people could only speculate what was inside. We decided to allow people to come inside and see for themselves what was behind the perceived iron walls. We have a museum inside, called Ibadat-e-Shahadat. What is the point of having a museum when no one can see it? It took two months for the word to reach out that we were serious about letting civilians come inside the Badami Bagh. Now, every day, there are more and more people lined up outside the gates wanting to meet us. So much so, that even if there is a grievance against troops, I am willing to listen to it. The intent is visible and feedback encouraging.
You should give the requisite confidence to the people that they can share their woes with you and lessen their burden. This is what I call awaami sunvayee (listening to the people), as opposed to awaami durbar (people’s court). I go to meet the people, speak for 10 minutes and then sit back and give them a patient hearing. The difference that the army can make in alleviating people’s problem is phenomenal, because of our ability to reach the far-flung and remote areas, with relative ease. Our sincerity of intent and efforts have gone down well with the people and I thank the media for facilitating this. They have never written a wrong thing about me personally nor the army, ever since my arrival here. They have been watching the army suspiciously for a while, but now they have started to realise that what we are doing is from the heart. This is the theme that I am trying encourage. That Ak-47 is not my weapon. It’s a mere tool to be used occasionally. The heart is my weapon. I am now converting this theme into the Chinar Doctrine.