Friday, 8 November 2013

In Search of Peace in Kashmir, An exclusive interview with Lt Gen Gurmeet Singh, AVSM, VSM the General commanding the Srinagar based Chinar Corps.

In Search of Peace in Kashmir
An exclusive interview with Lt Gen Gurmeet Singh, AVSM, VSM the General commanding the Srinagar based Chinar Corps. 
Soldiers are seldom connected with peace. Their celluloid portrayal, complete with war paints and weapons on the ready, conjures images of a man out to kill.

General Ata Hasnain, when in the valley, changed that image where he was referred to as the “people’s general”. For him People were the centre of gravity and succor to awam caught in the cross fire between foreign terrorists, local hardliners and the security forces was the key to conducting humane operations amongst people. As we were analysing this as an honest approach to offer counter narratives to violent extremism, we came across another general – a general operating on the cognitive domain.

Readers, meet Lt Gen Gurmeet Singh – the commander of Srinagar based Chinar Corps.

Team SAISA had analysed Army’s Hearts and Minds  program in insurgency infected areas and were pleasantly surprised at this affable, unassuming general always talking people and about what he wants to do for them. His passion was palpable and his approach honest. We had just finished reading Arundhatti Roy edited, “The Hanging of Afzal Guru” and thought that the security forces were part of the larger malaise in Kashmir. This general therefore fired our imagination as we prodded him about his approach to resolving Kashmir

Q.   General, it is said that 2014 dynamics will pose a huge challenge to the security situation in Kashmir. How are you preparing for this challenge?

Gen Gurmeet.    The challenge is real as you would have noticed by the Pakistani establishments desperate attempts to infiltrate foreign terrorists over the last few months. Poonch, Mendhar, Sambha and Keran are proof that their Kashmir policy is rooted in the Jihadi Military nexus. We have given them a befitting reply and have raised the cost of this proxy war by retaining a firm control over the escalatory grammar of conflict. Our troops have dominated the Line of Control and we shall thwart all their efforts at infiltration to subvert the peace process in Kashmir.

Q.   Keran brought your operations under a sharp scrutiny from national media as another Kargil. What is your take?

Gen Gurmeet.   I respect the national and more importantly the local media and their quest for transparency. The army is accountable to the nation and people have the right to know what is happening at the LC or in the hinterland. Despite efforts by some selective journalists to spin conspiracy theories, I maintain that we were in full control of the situation and that at no point was the advantage ever with the other side. They begin things and ends up messing up big time. I do not think the Keran infiltration bid was as much an attempt at infiltration as it was to hit the media headlines internationally to remind the world that despite “other sides”involvement on their western borders, Kashmir remains uppermost in their minds. Unwittingly some sections of Indian media obliged. Secondly, military operations can not be conducted to suit news room rhetoric. We are dealing with real lives and safety and security of our troops is uppermost in our minds while conducting operations. Military and the media must understand this vital congruence. There are lots to learn – for both in understanding each other’s sensitivities and concerns.

Q.    While LC draws a lot of media attention reported feverishly by an overzealous media, the real battle is going on in the minds of people in the hinterland. What are you doing about it?

Gen Gurmeet.   I entirely agree with you. The LC is well defended and we always retain moral ascendancy but it is the mind space in the hinterland where we have to heal wounds and scars left by history of the Kashmir conflict. The awam has suffered the consequences of this prolonged war and they need a healing touch. I have full confidence in my command who believe that they must deal with the awam in a humane and gentlemanly manner. Our troops are deployed in remote corners of the valley and I have made it abundantly clear to them that for us to win peace, we must be one with the people and resolve their day to day problems while conducting people friendly operations to eliminate terrorist leadership.

Q    What are the key ingredients of your Kashmir Strategy?

Gen Gurmeet.   After Jun 24th, my focus has been on military professionalism by operating in the cognitive domain.  We are conducting specific and surgical operations aimed at elimination of terrorist leadership. Simultaneously, we have focused on inculcating cultural sensitivities among our troops. Kashmiris are hugely talented and grossly misunderstood. It has been my endeavour to bridge this gap and bring the awam and jawan closer towards winning peace. We have an integrated civic action group which coordinates all activities aimed at ameliorating the conditions of the awam in concert with the state administration.

As a result of this approach, we have eliminated terrorist leaders without protests and awam has come forward to give precise intelligence on foreign terrorists. Army has shut the doors of infiltration frustrating efforts of people wanting to foment trouble in the run up to the elections. Their frustration is palpable in absence of first and second tier leadership…now there are few old muscles. It is because of army having reclaimed professionalism, there is visible josh with a deeper understanding of their role in bringing peace, they are not reactive and lastly they have reinvented their humanness.

We have launched a major initiative to out beat radicalisation – seditious material on the media and non armed terror through urbanised pockets. Inflow of unaccounted money, Wahabi, Shia, agencies, both Indian and Pakistani, and drugs money is a big challenge which has corrupted and radicalised youth who have few employment opportunities. That is our biggest challenge.

Q.    And what about your Hearts and Minds Policy? Is it working?

Gen Gurmeet.   Well that is for you to see. As far as we are concerned, when we say people are the centre of gravity, we mean it. Our priorities are to empower youth with education through Goodwill Schools, provide facilities for skilling, empower women and provide succor to people inhabiting remote areas. As winters approach, disaster warning and management has assumed added significance. However, the most important part of our approach is to listen to the grievances of people and provide them relief in concert with the state administration and the police. Here I would like to reiterate that the state administration, all security forces and the police are on the same page when it comes to providing a healing touch. There is still a lot to be done and we shall continue to work at it.

Q.    What would you like as, if we may say, your message to the people?

Gen Gurmeet.   I am no one to give messages but in all humility I would appeal to the people to keep the faith in their Army. It’s the people’s army and we are operating in very difficult  but not insurmountable conditions. People’s support goes a long way in raising the morale of the soldiers keeping vigil at 12000 feet – something which provides respectability to this noble and selfless profession of arms.

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