May 2004 News

'This Is Not A Normal War'

20 May 2004
The Statesman
Kavita Suri

Jammu: For a person who has spent a good part of his professional life handling insurgency, the assignment in troubled Jammu and Kashmir cannot be more challenging than that during his days in Assam. Beginning his career as a soldier fighting Sukarno-led insurgents in Indonesia, to commanding a corps in the Punjab and a field Army in the Western Theatre, the experience of Lieutenant General Shreeniwas Kumar Sinha, Governor of J&K, is enough for the septuagenarian soldier to suggest viable solutions to the problems plaguing the troubled Valley. A former ambassador to Nepal, General Sinha is also the recipient of Param Vishist Sewa Medal. Noted South Asian expert Stephen Cohen has even referred to him as one of post Independence- India's outstanding Generals. A prolific writer himself, General Sinha has written nearly 300 articles in national newspapers. He is also the author of five books, including one on the Jammu and Kashmir operation of 1947-48 and his autobiography, A Soldier Recalls. The three other books penned by him are Of Matters Military, Pataliputra and Veer Kuer Singh. General Sinha spoke to KAVITA SURI on the Kashmir imbroglio and his experiences in Assam. Excerpts: You have been instrumental in curbing insurgency in Assam as the Governor of that state. What is your assessment of the situation in this part of the country? Well, my feeling is that since the 2002 Assembly elections, things have started looking up. The tension amongst the people has been reduced to an extent and that there is a feeling of return to normalcy. This was reflected by the record increase in the number of pilgrims going to the Valley. It is not that violence has stopped… but people have defied the poll boycott calls and I am also encouraged by the fact that we managed the annual pilgrimage to Amarnath without any violent incident. I took it as a personal challenge and visited the place four times to take a stock of things. Then there was the Kheer Bhawani Mela, another landmark event in which 50,000 Kashmiri pundits participated. Even the locals responded in a positive manner. But what about the internal issues? We have improved relations with Pakistan. The situation has improved internationally as well. So far as J&K is concerned, the cease-fire is still on and this is a great achievement. Infiltration has also declined. But isn't the decline a usual winter phenomenon? Not entirely. The Army needs to be congratulated on erecting the barbed wire fence in such a difficult terrain. In Jammu, the project is almost complete and in Kashmir, it would be so in a few weeks. I am hopeful that with cease-fire continuing, the level of infiltration would be low even when the snow melts. But what is disturbing is the level of violence in the hinterland that has not come down. But there is a certain degree of optimism stemming from the fact that we have been able to eliminate the top leadership of militant outfits such as Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Hizbul Mujahideen. Tell us something about your experiences in Assam. We undertook military operations under a unified command. We were able to achieve very good results. We eliminated about 3,000 militants in encounters and recovered about 3,500 weapons. Nearly 400 militants surrendered and we also recovered Rs 1.5 crore in cash. Through military operations, we were able to break the militants' back. But equally important were the psychological initiatives. You mean psychological operations? I don't like to call them psychological operations because we are talking about dealing with our own people. The Army calls it 'psychological warfare', but I would like to call it 'psychological initiatives'. In Assam, the people's grievances were regarding Ulfa and the unabated illegal migration from Bangladesh. After assessing the situation, I wrote a 50-page report and sent it to the President of India. When it was leaked to the press, every newspaper in Assam published it in full. The report greatly touched the hearts of the people. I had dug extensively into history and projected Lachin Barkfukan as a national hero, saying that perhaps he was a bigger hero than Rana Pratap or Shivaji. All textbooks talked about the Indus Valley Civilisation, the Ganges Valley Civilisation but there was no mention of the Brahmaputra Valley Civilisation. Then there was the issue of economic development. When I took over as Governor, Assam was a food-deficit state. The water table was very high. I got sanctioned a Central fund of Rs 300 crore with which we got one lakh tube-wells installed in one year. When I left Assam, the people said that I was more Assamese than any other Assamese. What differences do you find between Assam and Kashmir? There are two major differences - one, the religious fundamentalism that one sees in Kashmir is not there in Assam. And the second is the proxy war (against Pakistan). I feel the strategy that worked in Assam can work equally well here with suitable modifications. The Army has been doing excellent work. Newspapers may publish many allegations against the Army, but over 99.5 per cent of these are either false or highly exaggerated. Militants use two weapons - fire arms and propaganda. We will continue our operations against them in J&K and the heavy attrition that we are effecting, particularly on their leadership and in choke points. And regarding the other aspect - psychological initiatives - we will do what we can do. What do you think are the challenges before you? And what are the changes that have taken place on ground since you took over as Governor of J&K? One needs to have a lot of patience. You can't effect changes take place in a short span of time. I am a constitutional head. I am criticised for being pro- active. But I don't interfere in the functioning of the government. That is the prerogative of the government. I can certainly advise. My feeling is that things are changing for better. For example, the railway line to Baramullah, which would be complete by 2007, will change many things besides bringing about economic changes. On the external front, Pakistan is not acting. But that does not mean that we are lowering our guard. You have been successful to a great extent in Assam. What is stopping you from launching similar operations in J&K? Do you think the security forces here are handcuffed? The security forces are doing their best. You must understand that we are fighting an invisible war which is very different from fighting a normal war. Suppose there are 2,000 militants in J&K... But all of them are not identifiable. It is not practical to think that there can be an operation that will flush out all the 2,000 militants. But the quality of intelligence has improved and this shows when we are able to get their top men. And we have been able to get most of them in these past 10 months. I want the security forces - the Army, police, para-military forces - to work as a team. I am glad I am being able to contribute to making it a success. (The author is the Jammu-based Correspondent of The Statesman.)


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