Kashmir, from an Armchair!

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Troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) went down for us recently in Pampore, Kashmir. Before the nation could absorb the shock or their families could come to terms to the tragedy, there was whole lot of noise on the incident in the media and the social media, amusingly mostly from those who know nothing about military strategy, battle or insurgency except the in-depth knowledge gained through video games and who dished out ideas on how terrorism should be dealt with by our forces and how a befitting reply was called for. Then there was a small group of military veterans who lamented as to why the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) could never professionally compare with the regular Army.

To my limited understanding, three things starkly stood out from this most unfortunate incident and the debate it generated. Firstly, that the narrative is increasingly being taken over by armchair warriors who have no inkling about what they’re talking about. Secondly, our troopers from the CRPF and other CAPFs and even their capabilities as individuals, unfortunately, are constantly being shown in bad light. Thirdly, the turf war between agencies, real or perceived, is not in the interest of the country and too much over-correction and micromanagement may also kill the military initiative of troops operating in trying circumstances.

Let me attempt to explain these three aspects in detail.

War, more specifically counter-insurgency, is not mathematical. There is no textbook solution in military strategy. While broader principles are to be kept in mind, the unpredictable nature of such warfare makes it impossible to foresee every single step of a brainwashed enemy who is out to die and who has no value for life- his own, his peers’, innocent civilians’ or soldiers’. Troops operate in a hazy zone and it would be nice if people with no inkling of the actual on-ground situation of that moment, including this author, keep their mouths zipped and let experts in that area handle it. Contrary to popular propaganda, growing incidents of such attacks do not reflect the failure of our security establishment but simply the frustration of our enemies, and there should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that the current leadership in the area is not just capable, but also the best. Also coming back to those who comment from afar, as I always say, military operations sound exciting only for those who watch them on TV thinking as if war is some kind of fireworks display- ask those who suffer the legacy of war and their families.

Whenever personnel of CAPFs go down for our national cause, immediate comparisons are made with the defence services wherein it is stated how poor they are professionally when compared to the Army. And this is stated in such a manner as if it’s the fault of the individual trooper. Yes there may be deficiency in training, yes there could be lack of professionalism and equipment, but the same is not the fault of the person who is wearing the khaki uniform and performing his or her role to the best of ability. The fault may lie in long standing policies which have resulted in lack of attention to issues related to the CAPFs. In case of CRPF, it has assumed the role ofChalte Raho Pyare Force wherein there is no cohesion and small sections of personnel keep moving here and there on varied and multiple duties without any kind of regimentation, but for this the individuals wearing the uniform cannot be blamed and it is the policies which would need to be reviewed, and which review, we hear, is in the offing in the very near future. Let us realize, our men and women of CAPFs do not lack in bravery and they emerge from the same populace as personnel of our military, and sacrifice of every soldier deserves the same respect, irrespective of the colour of the uniform. Though not exactly mutually exclusive, should our nation be concentrating more on the missiles that we’re never going to use or the basic equipment of the soldier on ground, is what we should introspect about.

Coming to the last of the three points that I would like to touch, incidents of turf wars between organisations, as also partly initially seen in this occurrence wherein there was a controversy as to which force killed the militants, are growing by the day. Of course though since times immemorial we have been told that success has many fathers while failure is an orphan, this tendency of glorification should not extend to absurd extremes where national interest is forsaken for narrow pomposity and fleeting fame. The magnanimity of the Army’s Northern Command in officially clarifying that such operations are conducted by way of synergy between various forces hence came as a much required development. Even the tendency of micromanaging the reaction of troops when they are faced with the enemy can at times kill the initiative of soldiers in Catch-22 situations and that is where the Prime Minister’s statement about freedom of operation for our troops also comes as a welcome announcement.

While a space for free, candid and open discussion is the very foundation of democracy, we must display due sensitivity towards those whom we lose in such unfortunate incidents. Before blaming them individually or commenting upon the merits or demerits of various strategies in complex military situations, let us close our eyes and think of the families the tears on whose faces have not yet gone dry.

by Major Navdeep Singh

Major Navdeep Singh is a practicing Advocate at the Punjab & Haryana High Court. He was the founding President of the Armed Forces Tribunal Bar Association at Chandigarh. He is a Member of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War at Brussels.

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