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'Use force to reassert State authority, not kill a fly with a sledgehammer'

June 17, 2010 09:46 IST
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The Naxalite or Maoist problem is the foremost internal security confronting the Indian government. Last week the Cabinet Committee on Security met to discuss whether the army should be used in countering the extremists.

Lieutenant General V G Patankar (retired), who has led counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur, feels the problem is a difficult social situation which needs to be dealt with maturity, patience, self control and minimum adequate force.

In the second part of his interview to's Archana Masih, the general spoke about the importance of a people-centric approach to such operations and why the Armed Forces Special Powers Act should be seen with a balanced perspective.

Read Part I of the interview:

You have said that all operations -- whether anti-terrorists, anti-Naxalites -- should be people centric...

It is different from guarding the territorial integrity, which is the basic job of the armed forces -- the army in particular, where there is a very clear notion about who you are fighting against.

In this case -- you cannot recognise the enemy who doesn't wear a distinct uniform. Of course, these chaps have started wearing combat fatigues to give themselves a certain sense of belonging -- but that is another matter. But basically he is a civilian who has taken arms against a State, whatever is the provocation.

Whatever the reason, you are operating against your own people. Therefore, it must be completely people-centric.

How can such a people-centric approach be ensured by the security forces?

The moment you accept this as a principal of operation it means regardless of the provocation use minimum adequate force. This is where the real dexterity of application comes.

The idea is to use the force to reassert the authority of the State, not kill a fly with a sledgehammer.

The second aspect is what we followed in J&K, something I did as an article of faith -- let 2,3,10 militants get by if it is going to prevent injury to civilians.

We followed this which was completely alien to the soldier whose training is ek goli ek dushman (one bullet, one enemy) and we really mean it because that is the kind of motivation a soldier must have to fight for his country.

Here we tell him this is not the enemy, these are people who have taken up arms, they have probably taken the wrong path, but they are still not the enemy.

But when almost an entire battalion of security forces is massacred one morning, when a train is sabotaged resulting in over 150 deaths, doesn't that put immense pressure on the government?

In spite of that provocation, I won't recommend that you go in a gung-ho fashion, shoot everybody in sight and ask questions later.

We are still dealing with a very difficult social situation. It needs a lot of maturity, patience and self control. A multi-track approach is no rhetoric.

Another thing that must not be lost sight of in this multi-track approach is whether this is really a people's uprising.

After all, when you say insurgency, you presuppose local support -- exactly like what happened in Kashmir in 1988, 1989, 1990 -- where separatists like the JKLF (Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front) were spearheading it. The movement has transformed, it is no longer an insurgency...

A poll by the British think-tank, Chatham House, recently revealed that only 2 per cent of Kashmiris favoured joining Pakistan.

That has been the truth along. People loosely used to call Kashmir an insurgency and I used to try and tell them it was an insurgency only in the first two years.

It rapidly changed after that because the JKLF wanted freedom, they went to Pakistan to seek help to secure their freedom, but Pakistan had a different agenda. They wanted them to do their bidding in return for help which didn't mean freedom, but annexation with Pakistan.

When the JKLF didn't do their bidding, they (Pakistan) created the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and amongst the first tasks of the Hizb was to get rid of the JKLF. That is why it ultimately only remained in name -- as long as (JKLF leader) Yasin Malik is around.

So initially it was an insurgency when people were with them, the moment things started changing people's support started dying.

There is talk of a dilution or change in the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. What impact would it have if this were to come about?

This is a sensitive issue and should be seen in a balanced fashion.

The very wording of the Act says it is special powers which means normal powers will not work in a given situation.

When does it come into effect? When the government and not the armed forces declare the area as disturbed. The authority still lies with the government.

Every few months the situation is supposed to be reviewed to decide whether the area is still disturbed and if the Act should continue or be withdrawn.

The authority lies with the government, one way or the other. The army had been brought because all systems have failed and it is armed with this Act to see they are well protected.

In fact, the army itself had done a study and given its recommendations -- the original Act said a non commissioned officer was empowered to effect an arrest now we have said it should be a junior commissioned officer... We have done that where it is due.

Somebody had written a letter that was carried on a Web site asking where are all the human rights activists when so many civilians have died at the hands of Naxalites, what about their human rights? Who is guarding their human rights, forget the uniformed community. Nobody talks about them.

There is seldom, if ever, any voice raised about this. But the security forces, the uniformed community, are readily available whipping boys.

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