FOR some time now, Lt Gen DS Hooda (retd), the former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian army’s Northern Command, has been talking Kashmir on various forums and during prime time TV debates.
Among other things, the Indian military veteran is endorsing the ‘need to strike the right balance between security and the human needs of Kashmiris’.
In an exclusive chat with Kashmir Observer, the retired general talks about the fallouts of Article 370 abrogation, the military management of Kashmir, and the need for the political process.
How do you see the situation in Kashmir post abrogation of Article 370?
There were two narratives that were in vogue post the abrogation of Article 370.
The first was that the step would lead to normalcy and greater economic development in the state while the second narrative predicted a sharp rise in violence and protests.
Largely, the violence in Kashmir has remained under check. However, the strict lockdown in the name of security has caused enormous distress to the common man. I think we need to strike the right balance between security and the human needs of the citizens.
Initially, you supported the revocation of special status by saying “any step that leads to greater integration of J&K with the rest of the country should be welcomed”. But lately, we’re seeing some change of heart.
There’s really no change of heart. I firmly believe that there should be a greater integration of J&K with the rest of the country.
However, I do feel that our strategy has been more security-centric rather than being people-centric.
The government should initiate a genuine outreach to the people that is transparent and builds confidence and trust.
Ultimately, that is the path towards resolving the problem.
Has the last summer’s ‘unilateral’ step now made Beijing part of the bargain in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir?
The border problem between New Delhi and Beijing has existed since India’s independence and is not a new occurrence.
However, China has no role to play as far as the internal problem in J&K is concerned.
But as a military veteran, how do you see the Dragon’s moves and motives in Ladakh now?
The current standoff in Ladakh is extremely serious and has the potential to adversely affect the complete trajectory of India-China relations.
While we hope that the crisis will be resolved peacefully, the Chinese attitude is not very encouraging. India needs to stand very firm on its demands.
Even after the revocation of Article 370, Kashmiri youth continue to join militancy. Has the move alienated the valley further?
It is true that local recruitment continues, although figures suggest that it has been reducing in the last two years.
Local recruitment has been one of the primary concerns of the army and all efforts are made to wean the youth away from terror.
We understand that the killing of local youth increases the sense of alienation. I think the civil society also cannot escape responsibility and has to play a big part to stop this bleeding of the youth.
Has a military solution failed in the valley?
The armed conflict in J&K is more than 30 years old and the army understands that tackling the situation goes beyond just killing terrorists. It is a whole of government approach where all elements of the government work together to target the root causes that sustains terrorism.
This involves political steps, economic empowerment, meeting aspirations of the people, and ensuring security.
Looking at this merely through the lens of a “military solution” would be wrong.
There’s a general impression among people that the army is in direct war with them in Kashmir. How would you respond to that?
If such an impression exists, it is completely wrong. The army has never hesitated to reach out to the local population during times of distress.
I have personally been involved in two of the largest disaster relief operations during the earthquake of 2005 and the floods of 2014.
The army’s approach to Counter Terrorist operations is based on the foundation of people friendly operations. We are conscious of the challenges faced by the Awaam due to the terrorist threat and the curbs due to the consequent security measures. This is an unfortunate reality of conflict zones, but the attempt is always to minimize any collateral damage.
After, what many call, ‘Winning Hearts and Minds’ merely got reduced to a slogan, has “operation Sadbhavana” failed in the valley?
Winning of ‘Hearts and Minds’ is not merely a slogan, but an essential element of our strategy. Those criticizing ‘Sadbhavana’ must travel to those remote far-flung areas and border regions which are inaccessible and cut off for months.
Sadbhavana initiatives provide critical succour and support in these areas. More than 10,000 students are studying in Army Goodwill Schools in Kashmir and the attempt is to provide them quality education.
Just because some local youth pick up the gun is no reason to declare ‘Sadbhavana’ a failure and shut down the schools and other programmes.
During the 2016 summer protests, you had said that the situation in the valley was disturbing, and that the army needs to introspect. Can you please elaborate on it further?
What I had said after 40 days of unrest in 2016 was that everybody, who is in any way involved in J&K, needs to introspect and see what we can do to stop it.
I had appealed for calm and mentioned that no one is going to get away from it unhurt. I could repeat the same thing today.
Everyone in Kashmir has a role in ensuring peace. Merely criticizing the government or security forces will not start us on the path to conflict resolution.
As I mentioned earlier, civil society must also play its part, particularly in ensuring that the youth do not resort to violence.
Do you think that there is an urgent need to start a political process in Kashmir?
Without a political process, we will only be left with trying to contain or manage the situation, primarily through the efforts of the security forces.
A long-term solution will have to be mainly political in nature.
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