Wednesday, 17 June 2015

COS of HQ Western Command; GOC of Chetak Corps and Sudarshan Chakra Corps.

As my turn came for promotion to Lieutenant General, I was informed by the COAS, General Rodrigues, during a visit to HQ 15 Corps that he had earmarked me to take over command of 15 Corps in July 1993. Since I had already done over two years as COS at the same location in a difficult period, I requested him for a change. My father was, at 93 years, not only of an advanced age, but had also been ailing for some time and needed care. I, therefore, told him that I would prefer to be posted to a place which had good medical facilities. The COAS accepted my request. He posted me as the COS HQ Western Command to succeed Lt. General B.K.N. Chibber, PVSM, AVSM, who was being moved as the Security Adviser to the Government of Punjab. This was to be an interim posting till a vacancy for the corps commander occurred. Accordingly, I got a short tenure of six months as the COS with the then Western Army Commander, Lt General GK Gulati, PVSM. This enabled me to get familiar with the operational tasks of Western Command, as also with the ongoing operations of counter-insurgency in Punjab, which were in the final phase of consolidation.

The dynamic Chief Minister, Shri Beant Singh, along with the very competent DGP, Shri KPS Gill, were well in control in Punjab. There was unity of purpose and very close coordination between the civil administration, the Police and the Army in the conduct of the operations. In Punjab, by and large, the civil society was not with the insurgents, which enabled a quicker return to normalcy. The media also played a positive role by providing a very balanced coverage of the events. The actual task of eliminating militancy was undertaken by the Punjab Police, while the Army provided them with a secure environment by dominating the rural areas and the border belt during night time. At the Command level, in addition to the planning for the conduct of the counter-insurgency operations, there were operational discussions, tactical manoeuvres, and war games. As the COS, I found that there were many administrative installations, hospitals, and logistic units which needed attention. Their supervision and reporting were under the direct responsibility of the COS, and I was able to visit these various installations as also familiarise myself with the entire western border in Punjab, during my time there.

 In November 1993, I was appointed GOC of a pivot Corps, while it was undergoing the yearly operational alert. This was one of the most important pivot corps of the Indian Army providing a pad for launching operations, with considerable resources on its orbit. Its armoured content was as much as that of an armoured division. The Corps also had an independent Artillery Brigade with the 155 mm (Bofors) guns. The Corps Key Location Plan (KLP), at Bhatinda, Suratgarh, Bikaner and SriGanganagar was still under development at that time. Major General J.S. Dhillon, my COS, was of great help in finalising the KLP and other infrastructure. Maj General Vinod Sehgal was GOC of one of the divisions; Maj General N.C. Vij (later COAS) was in command of the other; and Maj General C.S. Panag was the GOC of the third Infantry Division. The Corps was also a test-bed for developing the “Battlefield Surveillance Centre” and the “Artillery Command and Control Centre”, which have now been made operational in the Indian Army. Aspects like offensives across deserts and riverine terrains and reduction of strong points were perfected.

During our stay at Bhatinda, our daughter, Anisha got married. The wedding was solemnised at DSOI, New Delhi. I deliberately held the wedding outside my corps zone, to ensure that my subordinate commanders and staff did not flock to the wedding with gifts. I also disallowed leave to the officers to participate in the event. Some of my officers may have thought me too strict. But my purpose in organising the wedding function of my daughter outside my Corps area was quite clear—private functions must remain private in the Armed Forces. And I mention it here, to highlight the tendency at times to use official facilities for private purposes in many departments. This leads to misuse of resources and promotes corruption, and senior officers must set an example to discourage such a trend; we emphatically must not follow the precedent of our political leadership and other government officials in this regard.

Most of the stations in the Corps, i.e Bhatinda, Suratgarh, Bikaner, SriGanganagar, Lal Garh Jattan, and Kota, were small or new towns. The cantonments there were not fully developed. The Army, today, by its efforts has developed good sports facilities, opened new schools, and constructed housing complexes and hospitals in most of these stations. All this systematic work has also helped in restoring the confidence of the civil populace, in ensuring better governance, and in normalising the situation on the ground from anti-national elements. It is often not fully realised that the Army, in this process, plays a significant role in the development of infrastructure of remote areas, smaller towns and the border belt. The civilian population and the retired veterans also feel involved in the task of nation building.
The army units in peace-stations basically are either involved in training for war, or are there for much needed rest and refit from the pressures of the field areas. The Infantry units have their peculiar needs for reorientation to the new environments, as unlike the specialised units, the Infantry units mostly come from a hard field-station to the peace-station on rotation. They need time to get their families and the shortages and low scaling of married accommodation (approximately 15%) permits tenures of less than a year. Formation Commanders need to cater for their special needs and must not give them additional duties, other than their operational tasks, which often appears to be the norm. The training commitments of the units located in the peace stations, particularly specialist units such as Air Defence Regiments, Assault Engineering Regiments, Armoured Units and Artillery Regiments need coordination as the firing ranges are few and far away.

I was able to conduct the planned two weeks operational familiarisation of all the formations, preceded by a Corps Level War Game at the operational locations in November 1994. This also enabled me to meet a large number of my units and their officers on the ground. Thereafter, Infantry Div (Rapid) under Maj Gen Vinod Sehgal was exercised on the offensive operations astride the canal/river obstacle along with the independent Armoured Brigade. One Infantry Brigade of the other Infantry Division provided the “enemy force”, and the third Infantry Div was tasked to provide the control and umpire organisation. The exercise was supported by the other supporting arms and services fully. Such exercises enable the units to practice battle-craft and drills. The Army Commander, Lt. General G.K. Gulati, PVSM, witnessed the exercise and gave some valuable advice. The GOC Div, Maj Gen Vinod Sehgal, was a fine soldier and an imaginative Commander, and tried out some new concepts although most commanders these days do not try out anything new, for fear of making mistakes and adopt the well-beaten and predictable paths. In fact, new concepts and ideas are often run down.

As I was just about settling down as the GOC, I was pleasantly surprised to get my transfer orders as the GOC of a strike Corps, located at Bhopal. The command of one of the strike Corps of the Indian Army is an honour, which any professional soldier would aspire to. I took over the command of this Corps from Lt General K.M. Seith, AVSM, a fellow paratrooper and a friend. The Corps had its armoured elements located in Central India, with other two formations at Ranchi and Secunderabad. The Corps was well spread with units at stations like Trivandrum in the South to Barrackpore in the East, Pune in the West and Delhi in the North.  Some of the supporting formations were still under the process of being raised. The Corps HQ was housed at Sultania Infantry lines in some makeshift accommodation, with some units in tentage and TRS (Tent Replacement Scheme) huts in the EME Centre Complex at Bairagarh.

We raised the Air Defence Brigade at Dehu Road and moved the Independent Arty Brigade to Aurangabad. Both these stations proved to be good assets to the Corps, as these also had good education facilities. I was able to visit various formations and assess their training needs. The Division, ex Ranchi, was practised in move and deployment in the Rajasthan deserts for training. The long time taken for this induction and deployment was a matter of concern and was suitably rectified later by the Army HQ, by allocating another formation from Central India. This improved the operational capabilities of the Corps further. We were able to conduct a full scale exercise in the deserts, codenamed Chakravyuh, by all the formations, including the Armoured Division, with the training tanks, the Artillery and the Engineering brigades in full. HQ Southern Command provided the ‘enemy’ troops. I was also able to get the Air Effort, including helicopter lift, for a Special Forces battalion lift for the exercise. The exercise was witnessed by the COAS and the Air Chief. Maj General Vijay Kapoor was able to exercise the Armoured Division in a realistic setting in the deserts and along with the other Divisional commanders practice various concepts of offensive missions. The logistics Services were also able to get fully exercised.

It took considerable time for the formations and units to de-induct to their respective permanent 
locations, spread in the South and Central India. This also gave us the opportunity to see the variety and diversity and uniqueness of India’s heritage during our visits to the formations. My wife accompanied me during some of my visits to these stations and acquainted herself with the education and the associated issues of the family welfare. The infantry units, I noticed, were always pressed for time doing numerous tasks, since they get to the peace station tenures for a short 2-3 years, before going back to the field. The commitment on station duties, assistance to civil authorities during natural calamities, time for operational training, therefore, needs to be balanced realistically.

Aruna with the ladies of the Station

Receiving the COAS, General Shankar Roy Chowdhary
The Corps has the Sudarshan Chakra as the emblem, depicting the ultimate weapon of the Gods, and true to its emblem, over the years the equipment profile and high professional standards have made it the real ‘cutting edge’ of the Indian Army. Having visited the Corps HQ at Bhopal for a reunion recently, and having seen its professionalism, the new accommodation and the sports facilities, made one feel proud of belonging to such an elite formation. The enhanced financial powers of the formations today, along with the new concept of HQ Sub Area being placed under the command of the Corps HQ have enabled better integration and response for logistic installations as compared to earlier times.  The quality of maintenance of the buildings, the roads and the completion of urgent works improved consequent to the new arrangement of the Sub-Area HQ being placed under the Corps HQ. The Army, today continues to retain its traditional standards of excellence, competence and high professional standards. A visit to any of the Army stations is always refreshing and rejuvenating and the senior officers’ conclaves and the periodic reunions contribute greatly to further enhance the standards.

Monday, 4 May 2015


 The dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir stretches back to 1948 and the problem has been further complicated by the Pakistan sponsored insurgency after 1989 -90. The dispute is not only a territorial and a political problem, but also an emotive issue deeply affected by the internal dynamics of India, Pakistan and the people of the J&K state. Any solution to the protracted problem must satisfy the differing perceptions and aspirations of all the parties involved.

The rigid stands adopted by the three stake-holders to the conflict prevent accommodation and any settlement, unless all the competing parties are willing to be more flexible and accept some level of compromise to their stated claims. Any viable approach in tackling the issues must not only respect the sovereignty and the territorial integrity concerns of India and Pakistan, but also the popular aspirations of the people of J&K. The key to resolve the issue lies with the governments of India and Pakistan, as the people of J&K and POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) see themselves as either victims or hostage to the policies of one or both the States. The complex character of the dispute cannot be solved without the active cooperation of the two States and Pakistan has to refrain from supporting the various terror outfits operating at their behest in the J&K, and assist in enabling an environment conducive for meaningful talks.

It also needs to be understood that the aspirations of the different regions of J&K are not similar. The people of Jammu and Ladakh, and the Gujjars and the Paharis of the hills do not support the separatists, excepting the more vocal Sunni population of the Kashmir valley. The Sunni population of the valley have identified more closely to the separatist cause and their proxies in Pakistan. In fact, these five districts in the valley, out of the total 24 districts in the entire state, have a population of only 30% but have been given disproportionate amount of importance and representation - both in the state legislative assembly and at various forums. It needs to be realised that they, through the “United Jehadi Council” or the “Hurriyat” do not represent the aspirations of the entire state. We thus, need to involve adequate representation of the people from the other regions of the state in any future talks, as a composite delegation that represent all sections and elected members, rather than just the Hurriyat, who focus on the concerns of only the separatists and the alienated people of the valley. 

Unfortunately the various think tanks and the official agencies of the Central Government in the past have also neglected the demands of the other regions, so much so that the refugees of 1947 who had migrated from Pakistan to Jammu still continue to be stateless, and without any rights of citizens. On the contrary, the migrants from Tibet after the Chinese ingress of 1950, have been given the status of state subjects. The resettlement of the Kashmiri Pandits in the valley remains unresolved as they fear for safety and feel unwelcome. This is certainly not an example of fair-play that ensures equal treatment to all the regions and communities. The issue of the Northern Areas, Gilgit and Baltistan and their unauthorised annexation by Pakistan is hardly ever discussed by India or the so called Hurriyat who claim to represent and voice the concerns of the people of J&K. Thus, the Kashmir issue is driven by a complex network of multiple interlocking dimensions, which requires a skilful compromise of the conflicting demands. To resolve this complicated dispute we need to identify and address the entire range of issues that have relevance to the possible solution of the J&K issue. These are discussed in the succeeding paragraphs.

Issues Relevant to the Possible solution of the J&K issue
2. The external dimension of the Kashmir issue concerns the territorial status, the geographical borders and the applicability and the relevance of  the outdated UN Security Council Resolution of 1948, which have been overtaken by subsequent events, and the successive democratic elections in the Indian part of the J&K during the last six decades in the state. Pakistan continues to raise the outdated issues, despite the fact that she has not pulled back the troops from the POK, which was the prerequisite for the promised plebiscite. Implications of the illegal ceding of the Shagksham valley to China by Pakistan also needs to be factored in while considering the external dimension, as also the unauthorised integration of the Northern Areas and Baltistan by Pakistan. The internal dimension examining the aspirations of the people of the J&K must include all the regions including those of Jammu and Ladakh. In fact, the Muslim population of the Jammu and Ladakh also endorse the case for accession of the state with India. Even the Shia community in the valley, which is about 12% does not support the separatists cause. However, the demand for good governance, greater autonomy, economic development and greater trade, commerce and cultural exchange across the LOC/ borders is widely accepted, by all the regions, except the Hurriyat, who as the proxy of Pakistan plays the negative role of strikes, encourages non-cooperation and incites violence . The Hurriyat feels at-home talking to their Pakistani masters and avoids talks with the Indian Government. This clearly reflects their affiliations, preferences and priorities, yet they clamour to represent the voice of the J&K?

It is true that the Central and the state governments in the past have made serious mistakes by rigged elections, central meddling in the state, corruption, denial of legitimate demands, use of force and large scale arrests, which resulted in unprecedented anger and alienation in the valley. This alienation was exploited by Pakistan by infiltrating jehadi cadres, arms and ammunition in the Kashmir valley. This has been corrected to a large extent by the firm action against the insurgents by the armed forces, civic action programmes and the economic development activities by the central and state governments. The action by the armed forces has been generally fair and supportive, with the use of minimum force, barring few aberrations. The armed forces have had to operate in difficult situations, where a hostile vernacular media and foreign sponsored propoganda and the foreign funded Human Rights organizations have attempted to malign the armed forces. Although the majority of the civil population is no longer misguided and prefer to lead a peaceful life, the hardcore militants persist in their sinister designs, actively supported by Pakistan.

Such a situation would continue as long as Pakistan with her anti-India agenda and her proxies in the state will not reconcile. This is a factor which is unlikely to change while we address the internal dynamics of the J&K. The main participants in the future dialogue process thus, should be the elected representatives of the people from the three regions. The Hurriyat should be invited as one of the players representing the seperatists, but should not be given undue importance in the parleys - even if they decline to participate, which they are most likely to do unless Pakistan directs to them to do otherwise. The present thrust on the economic development in the state, greater devolution of powers and mainstreaming with the rest of the country should continue, enabling a conducive atmosphere for the redressal of grievances. Conflict resolution would take considerable time and requires persistent effort by all the agencies and the stake holders.

Alternatives and options
3. Given the above background , what are the various alternatives and options to resolve the complex internal and the external dimensions of the Kashmir issue? Some analysts have  suggested that we should adopt the model of the Northern Ireland  between the Republic of Ireland and UK , the so called “Good Friday Agreement '' for settlement in the J&K. A dispassionate examination would reveal that there are differing conditions and environment between the two. In the Northern Ireland there were similar cultural, linguistic and economic conditions as those prevailing in the Republic of Ireland, with a more homogeneous society. The ground realities of diverse religious, multi-linguistic, multi-ethnic and differing social conditions in the J&K have to be considered, besides the deployment of the two armies on the live borders. However, a few aspects from the Irish model could be adopted with suitable modifications. Recognising and respecting the two identities of the two sovereign states of India and Pakistan in the respective territories along with the Kashmiri identity will have to be accepted by all, as the starting point.

Secondly, the peace process in Northern Ireland was driven by the determination of the British and the Irish states. Such an environment in our context is presently lacking and the cooperation of Pakistan would remain suspect and a question mark. Thirdly, Britsh-Irish inter -governmental cooperation was greatly facilitated by the European Union (EU), as both the states were members of the EU and accepted by the two as the forum to discuss the issues. Such a regional grouping is not available between India and Pakistan as the SAARC has not matured to take on such disputes. In the Irish model, the USA also acted as a facilitator and mediator, but the role of the third party as a mediator is not acceptable to India. The Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration(1999) do provide a broad framework for the two countries for talks provided there is evidence of political will in Pakistan. At times, there is often a demand in India to abolish article 370, particularly by some hardliners. Article 370 provides special status to Kashmir within the Indian union to maintain its exclusive identity as part of the accession instrument. Abrogation of this article would be a retrograde step. This article provides the legal basis for accession with India and should clearly be retained, as any tampering with this article will only harden the public opinion in the valley.

There is another controversial issue raised by political parties in the J&K, of repealing AFSPA from the state. This act enables the armed forces to operate in the conduct of anti-insurgency operations legally. Repealing of this article should only be done gradually from the districts where the situation has been normalised, based on the recommendations of the state. The Army and the PMF should also be withdrawn from the towns to the selected locations outside the urban centres, leaving the state police to handle law and order functions. The long term goal should be to strengthen the capacity and the calibre of the J&K police to undertake all the security tasks in the state. The Army's presence along the LOC and its anti- infiltration grid in the depth will have to be retained and cannot be diluted in the near terms, till the final settlement of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. Any talk of demilitarisation is also premature, till Pakistan dismantles its terror infrastructure and reduces its own forces from the LOC and POK.

4. An important lesson from the Irish model which could be adopted is the creation of an 'inter-ministerial joint council' between India and Pakistan, which would resolve all the inter-state disputes and take further steps to enhance mutual relations in trade, tourism, irrigation and power, education, sports  and cultural exchanges. This Joint council would have to operate directly under the two Prime Ministers to be meaningful. The most important step that needs to be taken is to accept the LOC as the geographic border between the two countries with suitable modifications to make it more realistic on the ground. This is the most difficult decision and the most important one failing which no normalisation would ever be possible except the status-quo situation as on today. This decision to convert the LOC as the border would lead ultimately to making it as the soft border and open up tremendous opportunities to both the sides and to the Kashmiri people; however forces in Pakistan, the Army as well as the Jehadis and their proxies in the J&K would resist and not let this happen. In such a scenario - which is most likely - resolving the Kashmir dispute and enhancing inter-state linkages, appears extremely difficult. At the same time it should be clear to all that any hopes of redrawing the borders by military actions or the aspirations of separatists for “Azadi” will not be realised or allowed to be fructified by India. The sooner this truth is realised across the borders and by their proxies in the J&K the better it would be for all, otherwise we would have to live with the existing situation.

There are some who advocate trifurcation of the state, however such a step would disturb the balance of the three regions and not resolve the issue, except, pushing the Kashmir valley further in the control of the separatist forces and eventual separation. Surely this is not a viable option for India or the Kashmiris themselves. The Centre should encourage the regional parties like the PDP and the NC to come up so that the regional aspirations of the local population are better understood, and these parties act as a 'buffer' between the Centre and the State. However, the authority of the central institutions – the Election Commission, The CAG, Central Vigilance Commission, and the Supreme Court should not be diluted.

What then is the ultimate solution?
 I am of the opinion, based on my very long tenures in all three regions, while serving in the army, both at the operating levels and in senior positions, that the J&K issue, because of the inflexible stand of Pakistan, will continue to remain unresolved and we will have to live with this reality. The Indian Army will have to remain deployed in the J&K in the national interests to guard the frontiers and provide the necessary security, stability and an environment for peace, development and integration of J&K with the rest of the country. The people of J&K would have to learn to accept the status-quo and get on with the opportunities this arrangement provides. The effects of economic development and globalisation, along with the people friendly policies of the government, easier travel facilities across the LOC, inter state trade and commerce and all round prosperity, will ultimately have a sobering effect on the public to accept the existing arrangements willingly. The relations, with Pakistan, hopefully would also improve over a period of time and become more amenable and business like, even if not entirely friendly.  Pakistan, due to its internal compulsions and the Army's own agenda, is unlikely to water down its claims over Kashmir. Some politicians in the Kashmir valley and the hard core separatists, even when marginalised, would continue to demand self-rule and greater autonomy. This, although adequately provided in the article 370, should be undertaken, within the parameters of the Constitution.

We should be prepared for Pakistan's and the Hurriyat's rigid and inflexible attitude and in fact even ignore them, and continue to pursue our national policies of  good governance, economic development, and people friendly policies and provide the necessary healing touch, while taking firm action against the insurgents in the J&K. The law and order and the policing of the urban centres should be completely handed over to the state police. The PMF and the Central police forces should be withdrawn, retaining the barest minimum for provision of security to the central institutions/ installations or for reinforcing the anti-infiltration grid. The state administration and its agencies involved in health services, public works, power and electricity should be strengthened and energised to deliver. At the diplomatic level we should expose Pakistan's double standards and involvement in the cross border terrorism in J&K. We should propose establishment of an Indo-Pak Joint Council for resolving the J&K entangle and for settlement of the related disputes between the two countries.