Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat has said the youth in Kashmir must not get “carried away unnecessarily” and understand “azadi” is not possible as the security forces will always fight those who want to secede, the Indian Express said on Thursday.
Gen Rawat told the Indian Express in an interview that he was concerned that the youth in the strife-torn state are picking up guns and “those who tell them (that) this path will bring azadi … misleading them”.
“These numbers (of militants who are killed in gunbattles with the army) don’t matter to me because I know this cycle will continue. There are fresh recruitments happening. I only want to stress that all this is futile, nothing is going to be achieved by them. You can’t fight the army,” Gen Rawat said.
He added that the security forces “don’t enjoy” killing but if anyone wants to “fight us then we will fight you with all our force”.
“Kashmiris have to understand that the SFs (security forces) haven’t been so brutal — look at Syria and Pakistan. They use tanks and air power in similar situations. Our troops have been trying their level best to avoid any civilian casualty despite huge provocation,’’ he said.
“I know that the youth are angry. But attacking security forces, throwing stones at us isn’t the way,” he said.
He also expressed concern over people flocking to sites of gunbattles and “inciting security forces by pelting stones at them to disrupt the operations … They are inciting security forces to become more aggressive.’’
“I don’t understand why people are coming out in huge numbers to disrupt our operations. Who is inciting them? If they want that the militants aren’t killed, they should go and tell them to come out without their weapons so that nobody is killed … We will halt our operation. We can’t allow people to disrupt our operations and help terrorists to flee,” he told the Indian Express.
The general said the army, which has been criticised for using extreme force in the state, “did try a soft approach too” and pointed out to the violence in 2016 after Hizbul Mujahideen’s Burhan Wani was killed in a gunfight with security forces.
“… Until June 2016, everything was fine. What is that incited people so much because of that one encounter? Everything was turned upside down in a few days’ time. The entire South Kashmir was out in the streets, throwing stones at us, attacking our posts,” he said.
He said he was getting messages that people in the state were saying “azadi dur nahi hai (azadi isn’t far away)” by October-November that year.
“Somebody was feeding this to people, telling them Azadi was around the corner. Our posts were being regularly attacked. Stones were being pelted at our men … We had to bring the situation under control. We couldn’t afford all that. We needed to tell people Azadi isn’t happening. We had to establish the writ (of the state)”.
“(The Burhan Wani encounter) wasn’t the first such encounter in Kashmir … I am still trying to understand where did all that anger come from. The youth have gotten themselves in Pakistan’s trap. They are being consistently incited to attack us,’’ he said.
Gen Rawat said he understands that “there isn’t a military solution to this issue” and wants politicians and political representatives to talk to people, especially in south Kashmir.
“But they are scared that they will be attacked. It will happen once there is calm. And we are hopeful that people will soon realise that all this is futile and start thinking differently,” he said.
The army chief said he is “ready to suspend” military operations to avoid civilian casualties.
“But who will guarantee that there won’t be fire at our men, at our vehicles? Who will guarantee that policemen, political workers, our men returning home on leave aren’t attacked, aren’t killed?’’ he asked.
He added that youngsters, who have picked up guns, and terrorists aren’t a big challenge for the army and that the army has repeatedly asked people not to come to disrupt their operations and throw stones at security personnel.
“Recently, we left an operation unfinished at one place. We withdrew our men so that the situation doesn’t turn bad. But as we left, our men came under fire from another house at a different place. A JCO (Junior Commissioned Officer) was injured. He is still in hospital,” he said.
General Rawat said he recently tried to reach out but nobody came forward to reciprocate.
“When I spoke (on April 15), that very evening we were attacked. People have to reciprocate so that we can move forward,’’ he said.
“Young people are getting excited by IS flags. Do you know what that means? Do you want to Talibanise Kashmir? Do you want Kashmir to turn into such a society? Do you want to live in such a society? These young people do not understand the meaning of it all. Somebody is inciting these young people”.
Gen Rawat said that the people in Kashmir must understand the turmoil is taking a toll on the development of the state and that tourism has been adversely affected.
“Houseboats and guesthouses are empty. What will those people eat if they don’t earn?’’ he asked.
“We will have a train connecting the Valley to the rest of the country soon – imagine how it will change the fortunes of people. The apple grower in Sopore can send his apples anywhere in the country without any hassle. People have to recognise this development and be thankful. It has to be a two-way process”.