People want freedom from overt presence of security forces; I understand that: Maj Gen BS Raju
Vijay Joshi & Sumir Kaul
Awantipora: The back of armed militancy in Kashmir is virtually broken, and now a great deal of “political sagacity” is needed to ensure that a lasting solution to the decades-long separatist problem is found, the army commander for south Kashmir said in an interview to PTI on Wednesday.
“There is no semblance of any space where militants or separatists are in control. Militants are in self-preservation mode,” Major-General BS Raju, head of the Victor Force that performs counter-insurgency operations in five districts of south Kashmir, told PTI.
He said his focus now is on ensuring that there are no new recruitments into militant cadres and on reaching out to the people to convince them that the army is there to help.
“Overall, most people want a solution. They want to get out of this cycle of violence,” said Raju, the general officer commanding of Victor Force, based in Awantipora, about 33 km south of Srinagar.
South Kashmir has come to be known as the Ground Zero of renewed militancy in the Valley, with the highest number of attacks on security forces recorded here last year. As many as 73 militants have been killed this year in this region alone, more than twice the average number in previous years. It is believed that about 120 armed militants remain active, possibly 150.
“These days they are not targeting the army directly, but are looking at softer targets. They are sometimes hitting civilians on the plea of neutralising informants,” said Raju, who took over in March this year.
“The situation has been brought to a level where political initiative can be started. It is good to see political engagement has started,” he said, referring to a flurry of comments by Government of India and ruling party leaders on New Delhi’s willingness to hold talks with “all stakeholders” in Kashmir. This has also been welcomed by pro-freedom leaders including Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
“It depends on the political sagacity of the central government. It will depend a great deal on the central government,” he said.
But, he noted, that “a great deal of straight talking” with Kashmiris is needed to tell them what can be given and what is not on the table.
“We need to tell people here that ‘azadi’ under no circumstances is possible. And anything is possible under the Constitution. If you keep harping on ‘azadi’ you will be in a state of misery for a long time,” he said.
“Because of the success against home-grown militants, the army expects cross-border infiltration to increase in the next few weeks, to make up for the dead militants. I anticipate more and more attempts to replenish the depleting cadres… (but) the window for infiltration is narrowing as winter is approaching,” said Raju, who headed the Uri brigade in 2012.
Raju said that one of the biggest problems that security forces and the government face is the radicalisation and alienation of the younger, school-going generation. He said that it has become increasingly common to see young teenagers and some as old as eight getting involved in stone pelting. The children are not necessarily driven by ideology but because it is seen as an act of bravery, bordering on bravado, the army commander said.
To keep the children engaged and to show them that the soldiers are on their side, Raju said, the army has launched a series of outreach programmes such as sports and painting competitions, distributing stationery, taking children on treks, and giving them packed meals.
He noted that most of the militants, pro-independence activists or even the stone-pelters have little grasp of the meaning of ‘azadi’, even though it has become a catchphrase.
“They do not necessarily want freedom from India,” he said, “but most people do want freedom from the overt presence of security forces. I understand that, but people should also know that we are here only for their protection and once militancy is stamped out of the Valley, security forces will be back in barracks,” he said.