Indian Army chief defends use of human shield in Kashmir

In a brazen attempt to defend the act of an Indian soldier using a Kashmiri man as a human shield, the Indian Army chief claimed that his forces had to adopt ‘innovative’ ways in order to fight the ‘dirty war’ going on in the disputed Himalayan region.

“In fact, I wish these people, instead of throwing stones at us, were firing weapons at us. Then I would have been happy. Then I could do what I (want to do),” he said.

Major Leetul Gogoi, of the 53 Rashtriya Rifles, was in the spotlight after a video, shot during the April 9 Srinagar Lok Sabha by-poll and posted on social media, showed a man tied on the bonnet of an army jeep in Badgam. The video went viral and drew anger and condemnation from human rights activists, Kashmiri groups and even by a few retired Indian army generals.

Read more: Kashmir Unrest Enters ‘Dangerous New Phase’ as Protests Threaten India’s Grip

While, an investigation by the police, which lodged a FIR against the security forces in light of the incident, revealed that Gogoi had tied the man to the jeep’s bonnet as a human shield, the Indian military awarded him with Chief of Army Staff’s Commendation Card for “sustained efforts in counter-insurgency operations”.

“This is a proxy war and proxy war is a dirty war. It is played in a dirty way. The rules of engagements are there when the adversary comes face-to-face and fights with you. It is a dirty war… That is where innovation comes in. You fight a dirty war with innovation,” General Bipin Rawat said in an exclusive interview with the Press Trust of India.

Gen Rawat went on to say that his prime objective of awarding Gogoi, against whom a Court of Inquiry has yet to finalise its report, was to boost the morale of young officers of the force who are operating in a very difficult environment in Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK).

“People are throwing stones at us, people are throwing petrol bombs at us. If my men ask me what do we do, should I say, just wait and die? I will come with a nice coffin with a national flag and I will send your bodies home with honour. Is it what I am supposed to tell them as chief? I have to maintain the morale of my troops who are operating there,” the Indian Army chief said.

Talking about the complexity of the Kashmiri insurgency, Gen Rawat suggested it would have been easier for the Indian forces if the protesters were firing weapons instead of throwing stones. “In fact, I wish these people, instead of throwing stones at us, were firing weapons at us. Then I would have been happy. Then I could do what I (want to do),” he said.

Justifying the atrocities of the occupation forces against the innocent Kashmiris, the head of Indian military said if people in any country lose the fear of the army then it is doomed. “Adversaries must be afraid of you and at the same time, your people must be afraid of you. We are a friendly army, but when we are called to restore law and order, people have to be afraid of us,” he said.

Farooq Dar, who was tied to the jeep, says he is not a militant or a stone thrower and was only returning home after casting his vote in the by-election when he was hauled away. He says he still suffers from the physical and mental trauma of being paraded on the jeep’s bonnet with a sign slung around his neck, warning stone pelters of the consequences.

Read more: “The day we get guns, we shall never pelt stones again.” – Kashmiri stone-pelter

Responding to a question, Rawat said he does not anticipate a “limited war” with Pakistan. Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence from the British in 1947. Both claim the territory in full and have fought two wars over the mountainous region. An armed rebellion that started in the region in 1989 has left tens of thousands, mostly civilians, dead.