Articles,  Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma

Combatting Terrorism: The Soldier And The Society

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM

Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member

 

 
The aftermath of the incident in South Kashmir, tying a civilian in front of the Army jeep, to protect the polling staff from a large stone-throwing crowd has been discussed threadbare, and is being continually attended to by an over-enthusiastic media. The rationale as stated by the officer leading the Army detachment exhibited innovation and initiative in a dire situation, despite its oblique connotations, though the obvious alternatives to extract out of that situation may have been worse and heart-rending.  Rules of engagement too are not handcuffs, but handrails, guidelines that allow for zero-hour initiatives, within the laid down realms of use of minimal force, safety to lives and avoidance of collateral damage, and larger response to Human Rights considerations. Having been much-abused in discussion, the issue is not deliberated further.  Understandably, the situation and the response must not be replicable or template-able.

The animated chatter that has emanated on the declared response to the stone-pelters at the location of a terrorist incident needs mention.   Indeed responding to the call of inimical parties, the stone-pelters deny room for maneuver and ad-lib counter-terrorist operations. Obvious equivalence of these stone-pelterscomes in asaccessories or accomplices .Accomplies, are often present at the location of a terrorist-crime site and may participate in a disruptive manner. As accessorieslike the stone-pelters, they have knowledge that crime is being committed and by their actions help and encourage the terrorists.Naturally, the accessories are resorting to a different form of disruption, than the principals or the terrorists themselves, the accessories need to be considered the same as principals for action by the security forces. (In many a spoken norm, the accessories are termed Over-Ground-Workers.)In discharge of their decreed onerous tasks in countering terrorism, the security forces cannot construe the nature of protest of the stone-pelters as equal to a political agitation, say at JantarMantar!  The examination of the larger issue and the political nature of the situation, and the actual confrontation of targeted fire from terrorists and multi-directional stone-pelting, are two absolutely diverse realms.  Understandably, mindful of the overall considerations of the situation and human rights, attempts initially must be made to remove, and ensure the stone-pelters are not in harm’s way.  However, within the norms, rules and commandments, accessories to terror are as indicated, and need to be seen similarly.  The principals and their accessories, are hence partners in conspiracy, voicing political discontent through radicalisation and through use of force, which can only be contestible by use of force – firm yet minimal.

Experts, analysts, commentators, academics, veterans and politicians, national and international, all have of late, created a cacophony siding with one or another viewpoint, couched in diplomatese or stridency.  The optics of media channels and parallel social-media also affect the society at large and the serving security community.

Armies world over always choose to combat adversary armies, than terrorists enmeshed among semi-radicalised civilian population.Closing-in, dislocating and destroying adversaries is their raison d’etre – as is with the Indian Army. Any engagement where traditional borders do not exist, where every operation has the likelihood of involving civilian population, how so much small, is a total aversion in a democratic dispensation.  In a counter-terrorist environment, the imperative is to isolate the terrorists, as a means of assuring an encounter that segregates the populace and protects them.  This leads to interaction between the society and the soldier, and societal pressures on the polity.

The sedate and dignified debate post Manchester and London Bridge/ Borough Market, and critique also in measured tones, must have strengthened the hands of those involved incessantly in combating terrorism.  In India this situation is not akin to the insurgencies of the sixties and the seventies, where paucity of information in the drawing rooms, denied societal pressures of the democracy on the polity.  In combating terrorism abetted by a proxy war, as in on in Kashmir, where control in use of force is of paramount consideration, there can be but no victors.

The soldier and his leader is NOT divorced from reality, is also in touch with the society through friends, family and social media.  For the security forces part and parcel of the democratic dispensation and the society at large, the recognition of their thankless, life threatening ventures is oxygen.  With concurrent journalistic probing, the disharmony of loud and brash electronic media incessantly debating operations, the polarization of public opinion, the radicalization evident, strain the state agencies.  The arm-chair televised debates witnessed the nation-over, also affect the soldier, and his ilk, as many of the ‘analysts’ and ‘commentators’ use pejorative language and mannerisms.

The counter-productiveness of sensationalism has dire consequences.   It may well carry forward to next day’s operations, when the post-script at prime time same night imagined flash-forward, may lead to hesitancies at the brink.  Any hesitancy at zero-time in combat, anxious about the acrimony an action will generate, will only embolden the terrorist organizations and their kin – always on the lookout for signs of weakness. The internal dissensions and the hesitancies are not missed out by the inimical elements, who will seek these and inflict higher casualties on the security force, to further detriment to performance of duty.  In time, this may affect  initiative, motivation, morale and inculcate defensive mindset.

The above addresses only the ambit of operations by the security forces in the existing charged environment, leaving the political handling as exclusive preserve.  The task of the security forces is as given by the State, and is undertaken within the rules.   The state, the society and the soldier (contextually also the policeman) are intertwined inexorably. The soldier deserves the support and consideration.  For to do their task, the soldiers draw strength from the society and the state.On their part the security forces, with a wealth of experience behind them, must rely on time-tested methodologies – innovations if any will be explicable as exceptions, and not a rule.  The security forces must also learn the nuances of the electronically charged environment, and adjust to the occasional critiquefrom the serving or the veterans – without any hyper-reaction!

 

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