“I Was Lucky That I Had Experienced Kashmir”: Former General Officer Commanding 15 Corps Kashmir

Posted on November 25, 2013 in Interviews, Kashmir

By Raju Moza: 

Raju Moza: Sir, let me begin with the current state of affairs. Once upon a time Army had career and aspirational values; today children of even Army officers don’t join the Army. Why is that so? And another aspect which I would like you to comment on is about the rampant corruption in the Army.
Lt. Gen Syed Ata Hasnain(Retd): Army is part and parcel of society and Indian society has changed drastically post 1991 liberalisation.Quite obviously some changes have found reflection in the Army. Earlier there were only a few career options but now the scope for alternate careers has expanded, hence our children have also looked at other career avenues. That said, it is good to see that a lot of new officers are children of soldiers and JCOs. The credit must partially go to the educational facilities now existent in Army cantonments and garrisons. As far as corruption is concerned, I don’t buy that argument, Army is not aloof from what’s happening to the society. I am not condoning corruption and I do realize that the Army is usually associated with righteousness as well as high levels of uprightness but in comparative terms with the outside world there is much less corruption in the Army and more indiscretion. More important is the fact that cases of corruption in the Army are better investigated by our own mechanism and action taken in a timely manner.

MEDIA CONFERENCE POST RAJWAR-HAFRUDA OPERATIONS IN THE KASHMIR VALLEYThis question has been debated vigorously in analyst community, why has the Army in India never displayed political ambitions. Has it anything to do with the way the Army is structured and its command and control system?
This is an awkward question but deserves a simple answer. Political ambitions of any army exists when there is scope for mis-governance, anarchy and complete breakdown of law and order. Such a thing has never happened in India so our discussion remains hypothetical and deserves no further answers.

What are your views about last year’s report by some media organizations alleging that some form of indiscretion was used in the movement of troops towards the capital city?
I don’t want to comment on that news report and I think this report should be left behind; the sooner the nation forgets about it, better it is.

Now coming to Kashmir; you are known as the man who gave a new narrative to the handling of Kashmir with the famous “Hearts doctrine” which included the turnaround in the attitude of Army’s rank and file towards the “awam”. I have one blunt question. I know Azadi is not beneficial to Kashmiris but overwhelming passion is for Azadi ; why should India not grant the same?
I am sure you won’t expect a soldier to say that we should give Azadi to Kashmir, especially someone who has been articulating and reminding the Nation about the Instrument of Accession of Aug 1947 and the joint resolution of the two Houses of Parliament 1994. My reasons are also geo strategic. The land mass of the region of Central and South Asia is a critical piece of ground for various reasons. For some it is the hydrocarbons of Central Asia, for others the access to warm water reports, proximity to the new and unexploited mineral reserves in Afghanistan, the potential for spread of radical ideology to create a continuous zone of radicalism. Much of this is centred on the famous Pamir Knot. The entire process of posturing for strategic advantage and influence is called the New Great Game and involves all the big powers and most emerging powers. Kashmir is our closest link to this landmass and India can therefore ill afford to ever part with Kashmir. Besides this, sub nationalist trends exist within nations all over the world. It is not as if every sub nationality can survive as a nation. I think that those who have separatist aspirations have never seriously examined the tenability of an independent Kashmir.

We always talk of Kashmir as representative of secular India but minorities namely Kashmiri Pandits have been evicted .Its more or less an Islamic region now.
I was about to come to Kashmiri Pandits. They are an integral part of Kashmir and nobody can ever deny that. We need to remember two things about the secular nature of Kashmir. Firstly, its Sufi model is perhaps the symbol of the finest form of secularism and tolerance. No doubt, an attempt is being made to promote intolerance with a more rigid, non-compromising form of Islam. This has been happening right from inception of militancy and the Kashmiri Pandits were an unfortunate victim of this trend. Many Kashmiris are uncomfortable with this and will continue to resist. However, it needs a greater push to strengthen their hands.

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Coming back to Army’s role in Kashmir , I have lived in Kashmir before the onset of Islamic insurgency.For me it is a source of happy memories and Badami Bagh cantonment is where my cousins and I learned riding a scooter. It was then not even walled. Now it’s a completely different place. Where did it all go wrong?
When the world around Badami Bagh started becoming dangerous, quite obviously it had to change. The level of intensity with which militancy existed in Kashmir the response had to be strong at the beginning. It resulted in a degree of antipathy towards the Security Forces. Tourism on which Kashmir thrived came to a standstill. Economic activity by which a society progresses, dwindled. Our neighbour ensured it used all its wiliness to keep the environment surcharged with violence and employed psychological means to brainwash the people. In the last 20 years or so a whole new generation has grown up under the shadow of violence, turbulence and antipathy. You cannot expect them to be normal citizens. They have also witnessed India’s booming economic changes and have only marginally been benefitted by this. I may also add that while national and foreign human rights organizations accuse the Army of wide scale abuses, majority of these are manipulated ones. In such an environment, where even the media can be one sided, one cannot expect time to be at a standstill; relationships did go bad between the Army and the people. However, I am an optimist by nature. I know the awam well at all levels. The Kashmiri awam is mature and I think efforts are afoot to bury the past. I have no doubt that as a nation we have the capability to think positively and many people are working behind the scenes to re-establish that positive relationship with the wonderful people of Kashmir. It will take time but the initiative we took in 2011 is the way forward.

But in your tenure you did manage to settle things to quite an extent. The public once again started looking at the possibility of good times and relationships with Army improved. How did you do it?
I was lucky that I had experienced Kashmir at its height of turbulence to a greater extent than many others. Mine was a team effort with all players first convinced about what we were going to do. We went into a massive consultative campaign to figure out just what the people wanted and realized that more than anything else they desired a return of their dignity which inevitably is a victim of conflict. We used every means to restore dignity through an attitudinal change in our officers and men to whom we explained that we just could not behave as we did in the nineties. We held many workshops with the people, especially the youth, and gave people the chance to vent their angst. People in a conflict zone never get the chance to do that. It was essential to create exit valves to take away the pent up antipathy. When the same people came out of the Chinar auditorium they wanted to hug me and take my autograph, besides inquiring about the process of recruitment for the Army. These were all symbolic gestures to create some positivity in a highly vitiated environment. To the credit of the Kashmiri media they recognized that we were doing something different and backed us to the hilt. I can only say that when the media senses sincerity in intent it never looks for negativity.

The Kashmir Premier League cricket tournament, completely backed by the State Government, was organized with the intent of promoting Kashmir’s passion and bringing a smile and cheer to an otherwise morose environment.

There was also the “JeeJenab” program which was understood by very few. It was launched to allow our own officers and men to start appreciating the cultural terrain of Kashmir and the sensitivities of the Kashmiri awam; how can you address a Kashmiri with the use of the word -‘Tu’, it just has to be ‘aap’ or ‘jenab’ or ‘mohtarama’. Such a basic thing was never taught to our troops. Yet, JeeJenab was not something so literal. It was a symbol of understanding the problems of the awam in a conflict zone. So many people came to us complaining about the attitude and procedure of running the Army’s convoys. We listened to each and once having convinced them that there was inevitability to running of convoys we set about experimenting with timings and attitude of troops who manned the convoys. There was resistance as is wont to be when people are used to an attitude they have had for 20 years or more but change was brought about through sensitization and training.

There is no point of talking about all this without sending the clear message that there is no other way forward. When Public Order starts transiting to Law and Order there has to be a doctrinal change in the entire campaign.

What are your views about recent revelations about army funding Politicians in Kashmir? You were corps SHIB4514Acommander when this alleged operation was carried.
I think it has all been explained in the media. Raking this up time and again is to no one’s advantage.

If I am not mistaken, you were involved in Punjab counter terrorism as well.Why was there no reporting of widespread human rights violations the way it has been in Kashmir.
Yes, I was in Punjab and in Sri Lanka too. I do not accept the accusation that there were widespread human rights (HR) accusations by the Indian Army in Kashmir. I do not deny that there have been some and the Army has taken measures against the errant personnel. You are aware that I was the Presiding Officer of one such Court Martial. It has to be understood that in an environment of asymmetric and irregular conflict the terrorist and his supporters will inevitably employ all means to prevent the Army from functioning effectively. The Army has to be sensitive to this and nip such efforts in the bud. False accusations and manipulations are used to place psychological pressure and create differences with the people. Just take the example of what happened at Kulgam on 19 July 2011 when a Gujjar woman was instigated to level allegations of rape against some RR personnel. The JK Police, which is such a professional force, came to our assistance to quickly investigate and negate the accusations.

However, let me answer your actual question. HR was something I never heard of when I was operating in Sri Lanka. No doubt the United Nations Commission for Human Rights was set up in 1946 but the world went viral on HR post the end of the Cold War. The Punjab insurgency ended around 1992; so that is one of the answers to your question. Secondly, you cannot compare the two situations; Pakistan’s involvement in Kashmir has been far too intense. I also wish to state that when you are operating in a surcharged environment many mistakes will be made. In my time I can vouch that I admitted each such mistake and regretted it.

Sir but what about Pathribal and Machil incidents.( Pathribal and Matchil are two places in Kashmir, where it’s alleged that encounters were fake)
These are specific cases as are some others. They are sub judice so I prefer not to comment on them. However, I visualize Machil going to a logical conclusion. Pathribal has got mired in problems of evidence and I do know beyond that.

It was circulated in media when you were Corps Commander based in Srinagar, you were of the opinion that by 2014 India “might” have to grant Independence to Kashmir. How far is this true and if so, what was the reason behind the same.
That is someone’s reporting without taking the context in which it was spoken. I gave a full rationale as to how the situation may pan out after the withdrawal of the ISAF from Afghanistan and it was one of the scenarios, the worst case one, in which we painted a picture that if we are careless we may see such a negative situation that we would not be able to hold on to Kashmir. Not many organizations project future situations through what is called ‘gaming’. The Army uses this technique for all its discussions. Quite obviously the person who was leaking information from this very highly classified meeting had no idea about the context and the media worsened the situation by letting it go viral without the rationale behind it. I have no intention of leaking the contents of that meeting as I continue to abide by the rules.

What were those situations and threats?
I am not at liberty to share that.

How does AFPSA help in the security situation in Kashmir?
That is too generic a question but to specifically respond to that I would say that to operate in J&K in the areas affected by militancy and terrorism our troops require two main things; empowerment to conduct operations efficiently as different to aid to civil authorities in which each time we respond there has to be a specific requisition from the government authorities; secondly the troops need legal protection. Many times genuine, honest mistakes occur; you cannot have a situation where you start prosecuting people for mistakes or on the basis of whimsical reports; I have already explained how inimical elements wish to place pressure on us. AFSPA does not give the discretion of decision to prosecute, to the Army; it gives it to the Central Government. The Supreme Court has laid down certain ‘Dos and Don’ts’ as guidelines for us to follow; for example no operation should be conducted without representatives of the civil police. These and the ‘force ethos’ that we follow are some of the weapons against potential misuse.

Siachen, as led to several deaths on both sides, why can’t it be resolved. For example a weird idea, it could become may be a peace park.
I would prefer to say in short that it is a case of trust deficit. Can we trust the other side that when we withdraw they won’t occupy the heights that are currently with us. Anything is doable for peace but if you lack trust how can you take major initiatives such as withdrawing from your strategic advantage.

You have been a student of History and I have come to know, you have special interest in Islamic History. Sir, what do you think  is wrong with Islamic world.
Nothing is wrong with the Islamic World. Sometimes one tends to give credence to Samuel P Huntington, the brilliant American author and thinker who differentiated between different civilizations and their emergence to this point of history. The Christian faith reformed along the way particularly during the Reformation of the middle ages. Hinduism is so old a faith that it has evolved over time. Islam is relatively young. Who knows that what you are witnessing today is an evolutionary process in Islam. Beyond that all I would say is that there is a tussle between those who believe in taking the faith to its original form and those who wish to reform and modernise. Much of the 21st century will see this tussle without results.

Now a final question, why is it that Muslims in India are not doing well, and are backward in various areas as reported in Sachar committee report.
1947 was a traumatic year for all South Asians. The Muslims who stayed back were both confused and afraid.Many of their relatives went to Pakistan. The Indian Muslim identity within India too was a very awkward one; no one had an idea about multi culture and multi ethnicity. It takes a nation time to mature and grow. The Muslims remained in awe of Pakistanis in those early years; it was projected to them as an El Dorado by their Pakistani relatives; imported soaps et al. Those were the days of socialist India; not too many thought of money and education. I think majority of the Muslims who stayed in India were from the poorer classes although we had some big names in government, industry, sports, film world etc. This psychological stigma of confusion remained etched for almost thirty years or so. I think the 1971 Conflict was a major landmark for change because the myth of Pakistan’s success as a nation got shattered; the second was the flight of many Indian Muslims to the Middle East where they came across Pakistanis in the same predicament of poverty and learnt that Pakistan was really not an El Dorado. That put an end to the awkward pro Pakistan stance that many Indian Muslims took during cricket and hockey matches. However, the grand finale was the coming of Manmohan Singh as India’s Finance Minister and the opening of the Indian economy. Nothing cements people as well as economic progress and education. 1991 commenced this process and although Muslims may still be at the lowest rung of the ladder in socio-economic terms the process for their betterment has commenced as is actually well on its way. This will ensure the integrative process of India’s minorities.

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