A new video, leaked online, that depicts an Indian Army officer advocating greater bloodshed in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, has sparked fresh tensions in a corner of India already reeling after two men were shot dead by Indian Army personnel.
The video, and the reaction to it, are emblematic of the protracted 28-year-old conflict in the region and raise questions about the role of the army in quelling the armed militancy there. In April last year, an army patrol picked up a young Kashmiri man and used him as a human shield after he had cast his vote in local elections. That incident sparked off widespread outrage and protests across the Kashmir Valley.
The Jammu & Kashmir Police have filed a “murder case” against the Indian Army for the killing of the two men, in Shopian district, on January 27. India’s Army Chief, General Bipin Rawat, insists his forces have been taking “adequate precautions in protecting human rights,” adding that the “time has not come for any rethink” on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). This is a contentious law, which protects the military against charges of murder and other offenses.
While Army Headquarters has been silent over the authenticity of the video clip, sources at the Defense Ministry told Asia Times it pre-dated the Shopian incident by a few days. They confirmed that the man in the video is a serving officer, probably with the Territorial Army. He wears a paratrooper’s badge, and a maroon beret in the background provides an additional clue. No inquiry has been ordered thus far.
The purported army officer in the video boasts: “We were falling for things like peace… It has been my record that wherever I go, there has been bloodshed. So, I am not satisfied unless there is bloodshed.” He downs his drink and smashes the glass against his head while reciting a poem advocating greater bloodshed.
Since Partition in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir. Insurgents in Kashmir Valley, part of Indian-administered J&K, wish to secede.
The army in Kashmir
The Indian Army, renowned for its professionalism, has been the major bulwark in counter-insurgency operations the state. However, it has a mixed record on human rights and recent events have raised questions about its role. General Rawat has made a number of provocative statements. In one, he called for Kashmiri protestors to use weapons instead of stones so that his men could respond with force, and he has also questioned the state’s education policies. Such political interventions from serving military personnel are unheard of in India.
The army officer in the leaked video invokes religious scripture to defend his narrative and says “we are all Arjun,” in reference to a warrior from the epic Indian poem ‘The Mahabharata.’ “Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi Tak Bharat hi Bharat ho (From Lahore to Karachi to Rawalpindi, it should be India alone),” he says in the video.
Meanwhile, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) alliance in J&K is divided on the issue of the police case against the army personnel involved in the deaths of the two young men. The BJP has staged protests in the legislative assembly to demand the complaint’s withdrawal, but Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti told the assembly on January 29 that investigations would be taken to their “logical conclusion.”
The main opposition party, the National Conference, has demanded the army personnel be arrested while the police investigate the case.
Conflict goes online
A month before the human shield controversy, three videos of alleged torture by Indian Army personnel went viral on social media. One clip depicted three youths with bruised faces being tortured by masked men in uniform. “Tell me the truth or I will kill you right here and no one will dare ask me why I shot you dead,” a gun-toting interrogator is heard yelling. A similar video, shot inside an armored vehicle, shows a group of visibly scared Kashmiri youth being forced to shout slogans against Pakistan.
According to a serving police officer, the “prima facie and circumstantial evidence” of such provocative videos suggests they are often the “handiwork of armed forces themselves.” Observers say the videos have undermined the federal government’s efforts to resolve the conflict in the state. Dineshwar Sharma, a former head of India’s Intelligence Bureau, was appointed by Narendra Modi’s government as an interlocutor in J&K, tasked with reducing tensions by holding talks with the various factions. So far, however, separatist leaders have been reluctant to meet him, saying “dialogue and killings cannot go together.”
In his Independence Day speech on August 15, 2017, Prime Minister Modi said the people of J&K needed a “hug.” But his army chief has labeled Kashmiri protesters “over-ground workers” for the militants: on February 15, 2017, he said civilians obstructing military operations would be dealt with as such. The last 15 months have witnessed at least 18 civilians being killed during gun battles between the army and militants.
Professor Hameeda Nayeema Nayeem, a Kashmir University academician and analyst, says the purported army officer in the leaked video is merely echoing the army chief. “There’s no discrepancy in video of the army man and army chief’s statements. A militarized approach is the hallmark of this regime,” he says.
Terming the civilians killings unfortunate, Lieutenant General Deependra Singh Hooda, who was the Northern Army Commander during the Surgical Strike against suspected militants in Pakistan-administered Kashmir in September 2016, insists the army always exercises maximum restraint. “Doctrine has not changed, people are the center of gravity,” the former army commander told Asia Times in an exclusive chat.
Hooda agreed that there has been a lot of “orchestration on social media” – but mainly by Pakistan. “Though I haven’t seen (the new video), I don’t see this as an isolated event. Even in 2016 a lot of provocative content was coming out (from Pakistan). Forget the video, the content what comes out on social media is orchestrated.”
Whether that charge is true, it’s clear that right now the Indian Army is serving to complicate and heighten the conflict in the fractious state.