What an Angry General's Unwarranted Admonition of Kashmiris Says About the Army and Politics

Mosques in Srinagar have broadcast appeals to defend the minorities and Kashmiri leaders have voiced their protest at the terrorist killings but what the Kashmiris say is never enough for those who seek to blame them for the violence.

Listen to this article:

The director general of the Defence Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General K.J.S. Dhillon, recently asked  why the ‘silent majority’ among Kashmiris is”silent” in the face of terrorist killings in Kashmir. He made these remarks during a seminar at the Army Management Studies Board (AMSB) in Srinagar.

Though he appears not to have made specific reference to the targeting of Hindu and Sikh civilians, it is likely that the recent shootings provided the context for his remarks.

Ignoring the fact that he too was being selective about what he chose to vocally condemn, the general cautioned that not only would Kashmiris lose their right to be heard for being ‘selective’ about what they condemn but that the very term ‘Kashmiri’ might end up as a pejorative, quite like the racist term, ‘Paki’, is in the west.

To him, the failure of Kashmiris to protest against lethal attacks on their fellow Kashmiris can best be referred to as “selective dementia”. Perhaps he meant ‘selective amnesia’, a more familiar phrase. Or – uncharitably – he may have meant ‘collective dementia’, wherein Kashmiris, most of whom are Muslims, maddened by prejudice, did not condole publicly enough the killings of Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs, as violence spiked over the last one month.

Also read: As Terrorist Violence in Kashmir Turns More Communal, the Majority Must Not Forget its Duties

The general’s plainspeak is a departure from a standard that guides civil-military relations, and cannot be allowed to go unremarked. True, a precedent has already been set by his boss, the chief of defence staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat, who has done so repeatedly over the years since his elevation to the post of army chief. Since that has become Rawat’s trademark, it is somewhat normalised, perhaps, allowing his subordinates to take a cue.

However, to give ‘Tiny’ Dhillon (as he referred to in the Army; ‘Tiny’ alludes to his 6 feet 4 inches height) the benefit of the doubt, he may have been acting in his official capacity. After all, at the apex of the intelligence set-up of the military, he may well be playing his part since infowar is part of the intelligence domain.

The intent of his remarks appears to be to shame the majority in the Valley, i.e. Kashmiri Muslims, into registering their disapproval of the change in insurgent tactics with regard to terrorism, especially the targeting of members of the minority community.

In strategic terms, this may help deter the terrorist minders sitting across the Line of Control from ordering more such murders since it would set the majority – the sea – against the insurgents – the fish. But there is an obvious downside to this public scolding of Kashmiris too. Apart from amounting to victim-blaming – ordinary Kashmiris have borne the brunt of the insurgency and counter insurgency for some three decades now – the message that they are failing in their ‘duty’ as a people can easily be (and is) turned into another stick to beat them with.

Kashmiri Pandits take part in a candle light protest against the killing of 3 persons including pharmacist ML Bindroo by militants, at Ghanta Ghar in Srinagar, Wednesday evening, Oct. 6, 2021. Photo: PTI.

Apparently, the general believes he has the moral authority to lecture the people of Kashmir since his last tenure – of the five tenures he has served in Jammu and Kashmir, was as commanding general in Badami Bagh. His profile on Twitter claims he has “worked for peace in Kashmir in Chinar Corps”, adding, “(N)ation first always and every time”. The two statements put together explain his going voluble on Kashmir and in Kashmir.

When the general commanded the 15th corps out of Badami Bagh, Operation All Out was in full swing. The state, rattled by the protests in the aftermath of the killing of Burhan Wani, had set its security forces to go about killing militants with renewed vigour.

The figures for years 2018 and 2019 are of zero surrenders. This was when those signing up were at best impressionable youth, not quite hardened jihadis. According to the general, their lifespan as militants was less than a year. Sans training and weaponry, they could not have made credible insurgents.

So, does a ‘take no prisoners’ approach explain the figure of ‘zero’ surrenders in years 2018 and 2019, followed by a meagre nine beginning only later in 2020, after the general had departed Srinagar for New Delhi? Though credited with having parents persuade sons abandon the ‘militant fold’, resulting in some 50 youth coming back ‘quietly’, this is unverifiable for obvious reasons.

As it turned out, Operation All Out was the preparation of the cake for the icing that was to come. Lt Gen Dhillon lent his credentials, and the dignity of uniform, for a bit of drama that preceded the launch of the Modi-Shah assault on Article 370. Knowing that the reading down of Article 370 would set off protests, the security establishment needed to have Kashmir vacated of soft targets.

Also read: Armed Forces’ Officers Must Think Twice Before Making Their Political Views Public

The general went on primetime television claiming that the army, having found an anti-tank mine with Pakistani marking on the yatra route, had uncovered a Pakistani plot to target the yatra, leading up to it being called off. White lies in the line of national security duty being de rigueur, the general’s performance enabled the government to blame Pakistan for the extensive crackdown that followed, even as it went about despoiling the constitutional provision for autonomy.

A woman being checked during a surprise check in Srinagar in the aftermath of the civilian killings. Photo: PTI

The fact is, however, that whatever Kashmiris may do, it would never be taken as ‘enough’. Mosques in Srinagar broadcast appeals to defend the minorities.  Kashmiri leaders have voiced their protest at the targeted killing of civilians, especially Hindus and Sikhs, even though the state has gone out of its way to marginalise mainstream politicians.

Also, the general needs to remember that not all civilian killings can be attributed to terrorists. Of those killed this month, two Kashmiris evidently unconnected to militancy have been killed by security forces, who command immunity. No one has admonished the ‘silent majority’ in the rest of India for its silence in the face of these incidents.

Equally, the state has failed the people of Kashmir by keeping the conflict alive, allowing for the Right Wing experimentation with solutions such as the dissolution of the state. It bears asking what the army input from its operational level commander in Badami Bagh was when that measure was at the discussion stage.

Also, now that statehood is to be restored, but only after elections, has the Defence Intelligence Agency  indicated the security implications of the chronology being followed: delimitation, elections and only then statehood?

It is an open secret that the ongoing constituency delimitation exercise is aimed at shifting the balance of seats in favour of the Jammu region, making it easier for the Jammu belt to vote in the Bharatiya Janata Party. Since ‘scenario building’ is in his agency’s ambit, Lt Gen Dhillon needs to answer what will happen if this expectation does not materialise. But by then he might perhaps have retired.

It is important to challenge the general’s remarks. This is particularly so since his admonition is directed at a particularly vulnerable Indian community, the Kashmiris, who also happen to be overwhelmingly Muslim. On two prior occasions, senior army officers have had an exchange of words with Muslim politicians on matters regarding Muslims in India. Unless called out, the trend might become a norm.

Ali Ahmed was, till the time of his retirement, an infantry colonel in the Indian Army.