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MOHAMMAD ASHRAF | 6 JUNE, 2017

From Kashmir: Is the Army Being Used as a Political Shield?

MOHAMMAD ASHRAF


The wide spread disapproval of a Kashmir weaver Farooq Ahmad Dar of Budgam in Kashmir being used as a “Human Shield” by Army Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi to prevent stone pelting is not so much by the Army’s own attitude as by the refusal of the political leadership to face the ground situation.

This was evident from the latest statement, probably given in anger and frustration, by the Army Chief General Bipin Rawat. He said that he wishes the boys did not throw stones but used guns so that he could do what he wanted to do!

It is a given fact that the Army is primarily meant to safeguard the borders of the country and give a befitting reply to the intruders or attackers. They are trained on the ingrained mind-set of shoot to kill. The Indian Army is the third largest Army in the world and has fought many successful wars and defended the country ably. They are not meant to be used to put down civil unrest within the country. That use not only blunts their fighting edge but changes their mind-set.

Unfortunately, the politicians instead of facing the ground situation themselves and sorting out the unrest with the civil population often try to hide behind the Army. This has been happening continuously in Kashmir since the outbreak of militancy in the nineties of the last century. There have been grave allegations of extra-judicial killings, mass rapes and so on. None of the allegations can be thoroughly investigated because of AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act). Politicians remain happy as the Army is facing the music!

The use of humans as a shield in wars is not unknown. It has happened during many wars in the past and in recent times. In enemy territory, the soldiers do use civilians as shields to prevent sudden attacks from the enemy especially guerrilla fighters. This is especially so when the troops are passing through civilian areas.

There are two considerations for such actions. These things usually happen in a war and in enemy territory.

In spite of what may be called urgent tactical considerations from the view point of an army fighting a war, such an act is a grave violation of the basic human rights and is strictly prohibited under the Geneva Convention. Rule 97 of Geneva Convention defines Human Shields and rule 28 of Geneva Convention IV provides “The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.”

The Geneva Convention further states,“utilizing the presence of a civilian or other protected person to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations” constitutes a war crime in international armed conflicts.

In Kashmir, all these acts are claimed to be limited terrorist actions and not really full-fledged armed conflict. Then the Army is being used against its own citizens! However, no one uses one’s own citizens in one’s own country as a protective shield no matter how grave the provocation is!

Incidentally, a number of very senior retired officers of the Army have decried the use of Human Shield. In fact one of them has even gone to the extent of saying that the picture of a man tied in front of army jeep may be a defining image of Indian Army like the Napalm Girl was for the US Army in Vietnam War.

The recent outburst of the Army Chief virtually asking

Kashmiri boys to pick up guns shows the frustration of the Army in dealing with the civilian unarmed uprising. This makes it more than urgent for the politicians to take hold of the situation and find a political solution to the problem. The sooner it is done, the better!

(Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR)

(Mohammad Ashraf is retired Director General Tourism, Jammu and Kashmir)

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