AFSPA Petition: Army leadership needs to do soul searching
AFSPA Petition: Army leadership needs to do soul searching
?If the troops stop bringing their problems to the commanders, they have either lost confidence in their ability to solve their problems or have concluded that they do not care.?
nnnMajor General Anil Sengar (Retd.)nnAlthough the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has been a bone of contention for many since its inception, an on-going tussle over dilution of the said act has now even forced Army men to take their stand. In a first, on August 14, an unprecedented writ petition filed ?collectively? by 356 Army officers of Eastern Command in the Supreme Court against alleged dilution of the AFSPA in disturbed areas such as Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir has raised many eyebrows. This move was later supported by few hundred more, taking their number to over seven hundred.nnDays after Army Chief General Bipin Rawat, speaking to officers of the Army Headquarter in Delhi, questioned the need for serving Army officers and soldiers to approach the Supreme Court in personal capacity against the above-mentioned issue, a serving Major General, currently posted as Chief of Staff of a Corps in the Eastern Command, has filed an application that he be made party to the petition filed by 739 Army personnel.nnWhat does the Army Chief think of him? In my perspective, he is a rare breed of Generals who possibly answered the call of his conscience and set an example. Better, he should have got the military leadership to act when the dust storms were gathering. This is not a solitary case. In September 2017, more than hundred officers of Army Service Corps had gone en masse to the court against a perceived discriminatory promotion policy.nnWhy should that happen time and again?nnA large number of people including law experts, such as Dushyant Dave, and General Panag, the former army commander, joined to condemn these officers outright, referring to the action as mutiny and an act of gross indiscipline. Dushyant Dave was particularly severe on this and, given his legal background, gave many reasons to justify the Supreme Court?s action and how this act had the potential to lead to all-out confrontation between the Judiciary and the Army.nnWell, it is a fashion to condemn army actions that do not fit the frame of reference of either armchair human rights experts or legal experts or the self-proclaimed righteous within the military. Lt. Gen. Prakash Menon, former military advisor of National Security Council, in a very well-articulated article, The Indian Soldier Feels Let Down by the Army Brass, Supreme Court and Politicians, brought out the larger dangers of the judiciary wading into the combat space.nnDebate is the strength of democracy, and it must be encouraged. My observation is that more often than not, these experts tend to look at the issues from their narrow respective fields of expertise, without comprehending the dynamics and complexities of the military situations that have a character of their own, which cannot be put into a narrow frame of reference of one field.nnI wish to contribute my bit to put across why fixed templates of experts, such as those of Dushyant Dave or General Panag, can create serious misunderstandings in public and intelligentsia and create an unwarranted alarm.nnNo one in the Army sees the institution above the law. In fact, nowhere else in the country is law enforced and disciplinary action taken more expeditiously and severely than in the Army.nnWhy actions of the Army in counter-insurgency environment will not fit in to the straitjacketed frame of the law or the Army act?nnCounter-insurgency operations pose multiple challenges. Insignificant incident can be blown out of proportion in this age of (morphed/doctored) social media with no accountability. Conflicts can arise out of constraints and caution imposed by military hierarchy. It creates an environment where plethora of agencies ? human rights organizations, political parties and media ? are always looking for breaking news and sensationalizing military errors.nnThe situation in disturbed areas is really complex and seeks utmost attention and skills so as to minimize any chance of mistake. However, owing to different nature of enemy while fighting with either soldiers of enemy nations or civilians of our own country, it is very difficult for a soldier to counter those of our own nation, such as stone-pelters in Jammu and Kashmir.nnIn war, the whole nation rallies behind an Army man, whereas in Jammu and Kashmir, a group of own countrymen, the political establishment, as has happened now, and even the judiciary could be against him. As it happened in the case of Major Aditya, 10 Garhwal Rifles, against whom an FIR was lodged, reportedly in consultation with the then Jammu and Kashmir CM Mehbooba Mufti and the Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.nnWhere do the cases like the one of Major Aditya fall. Those who have operated in active counter-insurgency areas will only understand that those are very dangerous situations to handle for the young officers. The decision is impulsive, for there is no time to seek counsel or anyone?s advice. Choice is to take action or make a mockery of the security forces and get your men killed. Such actions which result in deaths of stone-pelters or those aiding terrorists to escape or hinder the operations are very necessary in situations like these. By no stretch of imagination should such actions be investigated, for no investigation can fathom the situation or the mental state of the men whose lives and honour were in danger. The political leaders were wrong to initiate an FIR in the case of Major Aditya.nnMilitary leadership must look inwardsnnThe chief was quick to express his disappointment at the officers going to the Supreme Court. Frankly, he could have done nothing else, unless he was a man of different breed. What does he think of Major General Rajeeva Kumar, who reportedly joined the petitioners?nnOne obvious question no senior army commander or the chief posed is why did these officers and men go to the court, if, as he says, they were already pursuing the AFSPA case with the government. The possible reasons might be as follows:nn· Lack of clear information on how the leadership is working to safeguard Army?s right.nn· Lack of confidence in the ability of the senior military leadership to deliver.nn· Fear among average officers and soldiers to fall prey to the recent demands to dilute the act.nnAll these issues have left an impression that the military leadership is either incompetent or does not care. Well, what does the chief expect the men to do? Clearly, these officers and men lacked the confidence in their leadership to deliver.nnWhen an incident had happened in 2015 in the Valley where the Kashmiri youth racing in a car refused to stop at a check post and then crashed, resulting in his death, Lt. Gen. Hooda, Northern Army Commander, was quick to fault the troops even before the court of inquiry had concluded. Following this occurred the Uri incident where about 18 soldiers including an officer died. I see a direct connection between these two incidents. The army commander had psychologically disarmed his men, rendering them incapable of acting against a threat, for fear of their own commanders. This action to go to the Supreme Court is a reflection of that lack of confidence in their leadership.nnHeed the dangers that lie aheadnnThe champions of human rights may question the Sri Lankan Military for war crime and human rights violations. In reality, common people there are grateful to their Army for getting them rid of the LTTE menace and bring peace to the country.nnIndian Army has restored normalcy in the valley many a times. What has the government done to leverage that stability and achieve lasting peace. Even today, the government has no clear long-term strategy for resolving the Kashmir issue. This delay is really making the situation even worse.nnIt is my assurance to Dushyant Dave that the Army will not get into a confrontation with the Judiciary. It is not part of Army?s DNA. But, there is a bigger danger, as Lt. Gen. Menon points out in his article The Army Feels Let Down by the Army Brass and the Government. They will continue to serve the country, but not the way they have been.nnThe real danger comes in the form of loss of morale, passion, commitment and trust in the leadership. All of these are capable of destroying the core pillar of our army, that is unity.nnAFSPAnnThe decision whether to revoke or dilute the AFSPA will solely be taken after analysing the present and future complications that will crop up after its removal. It is also important for the Centre to not dilute the Army?s power in today?s environment when our neighbouring nations are always on a lookout for a chance to disturb our integrity.nnThe Way AheadnnAsymmetric warfare is not about rules, it is about fighting without rules. It is about neutralizing the advantage of the stronger adversary by any means. And that is exactly happening in Kashmir.nnAt the same time, the Army is not above the law or the Constitution. There is a serious need to understand the difference between actions done in good faith and those done with bad intent.nnThus, for our forces to remain effective, the Judiciary should keep out of the combat space and leave it to the government to address the balance.nnAbout the authornnMajor General Anil Sengar (Retd.), from THE GUARDS, was a combat officer with wide-ranging experiences in all kinds of operations and terrain. He has served in counter-insurgency operations at various levels. He has also served on UN Mission and as Defence Attaché to Turkey, Syria and Lebanon. A prolific writer and a speaker, he has written three books. The last one, Four Decades in Olive Greens, Pride, Passion and Perspectives, covers his perspective on what ails the Indian Army.