LET THE NEW GOVERNMENT EVOLVE A POLICY ON KASHMIR. THEN WE CAN DISCUSS ARTICLE 370
Face to face: Syed Ata Hasnain, Former Lieutenant General
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi
A former Lieutenant General who retired as Military Secretary to the Government of India, Syed Ata Hasnain was considered one of the most important Commanders to have led the Srinagar-based 15 Corps. He is credited with understanding and deploying psychological strategies in order to integrate J&K with India. In an interview with Hardnews, Hasnain speaks about security and policy concerns under the newly-formed government
Q: Since you have served in Kashmir, tell us about the present situation. How serious is the militancy threat?
We are in the 25th year of what I call externally-sponsored internal conflict. The security situation has been under control except for a few violent incidents leading to loss of military and civilian lives. Progressively, since 2000, the Indian Army has been successful in controlling infiltration from across the border. This has changed the nature of the conflict. The problem of infiltration and the number of active terrorists has also reduced, estimated to be somewhere between 150 and 300 in the region. However, the potential to infiltrate still remains, as all of the LoC areas can’t be sealed. Moreover, alternative routes like through Nepal and Bangladesh are being increasingly used by terrorists. Also, there are enough surrendered terrorists who have not been integrated into the mainstream. The potential for a return to the situation of the early 1990s is remote but there can be no complacency, especially in view of the radical elements in Pakistan being completely out of control and the government there giving us no assurances of cooperation in this area.
Q: Will the drawdown in Afghanistan have any impact on Kashmir?
We don’t know what will happen after the ISAF troops leave Afghanistan. Some commentators are predicting that it may have an adverse impact on the security situation in Kashmir. It is a tenuous situation, but nothing to worry about. We have enough boots on the ground. It’s very different from 1989. Then, there was no Rashtriya Rifles; troops were not as experienced and well trained as they are now. Neither did we have state-of-the-art surveillance and night-fighting equipment. Now we do. So, chances of the withdrawal of the troops from Afghanistan leading to anything dramatic in Kashmir is bleak. There are a few worrisome points. Pakistan is in the throes of violence. Besides the Pakistan Taliban, we see many other radical groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Al Badr et al, who are very active and not under control. Time and again, they have openly displayed their intent that they are at war with India. So we can’t be complacent about the situation in Kashmir. There is another point which is very worrisome. The military operations in the Valley and the allegations of human rights violations levelled against the Army have created a sense of alienation, especially among the youth of Kashmir. These are the people who were born around 1989 and they have been exposed to excessive violence and counter-violence during the period. Their restiveness needs to be adequately tackled with sensitivity.
Q: Don’t you think, in such an atmosphere where the youth feel alienated, these comments about discussion on Article 370 will have an adverse impact?
Firstly, PM Modi was very clear about it even before he took oath. I recall his rally in Jammu where he said there should be at least a debate on Article 370 to see if it has benefitted the people of J&K. He did not mention anything about removal, but for an informed debate on its contents. What has happened is that vested interests have picked up the statement and are using it to whip up frenzy. I think it is too early to even say that the government has begun the process of discussion. One has to give time to the new government. There is a dire need to integrate the people of Kashmir into the mainstream. But one should not read much into these statements. Let the new government first evolve a policy on Kashmir and then we can discuss Article 370 in the future. It has become a sensitive issue because of the emotions. These statements don’t reflect the policy of the government.
Q: The new government has appointed the ex-Army chief, General VK Singh, a minister to look after North-East affairs. Isn’t it ironical, if one factors in the kind of alienation the presence of the Armed Forces has brought about in that region?
This is a very immature way of looking at General VK Singh’s appointment. We have an extremely educated and experienced leader in General VK Singh to look after the affairs of the North-East, to ensure its comprehensive development. To look at security just from the standpoint of the presence of the Armed Forces is a flawed understanding. Creating a secure atmosphere entails a situation where the people can realize their aspirations and potential to the fullest without any hindrance. In General VK Singh, we have a man who has the experience and the abilities to look after the region from all angles, be it political stability, border issues, strengthening democracy, social upliftment, better education and so on. Moreover, he knows the region well. He has served as the Army Commander of the Eastern Command. People must realize the extent to which the Indian Army educates its leaders on non-military issues too.
Q: You have been of the view that Muslims should come forward and work with the new government. Why?
One should not read too much into the election campaign. Campaigning is one thing, and being in the government is completely different. We have a stable government after almost three decades. We must make the most of it. From a high of nine per cent growth, we have come down to 4.5 per cent. The employment figures are dwindling. There is only one person the people of this country think can take India back on the growth trajectory, and that person is Narendra Modi.
A government that has won a single-party majority and commands a huge majority will inevitably leave behind the rhetoric of the electoral process. Governance is too serious a matter to allow it to be mired in political criticism and minority bashing. Prime Minister Modi’s emergence should send a clear message to Indian Muslims. This is the moment to seize, unshackled from vote banks. Even if they have voted for other parties, that was their democratic right; it does not prevent them from now strengthening the hands of the most stable government in India’s recent history.