Operational effectiveness, as always, will be determined by the realities of the situation on the ground. So only “developments” in the Kashmir Valley will testify to whether the stern caution from the Army Chief will deter sections of the civil populace from hampering the efforts of the security forces when tackling militant activity; or, whether they will provoke even more determined bids to hinder the troops in their bid to preserve national security by bringing the militants to book. There is reason to suspect that those master-minding the unrest (not necessarily from across the border) will exploit General Bipin Rawat’s no-holds-barred warning and observations to further the feeling of alienation that has spread across the Valley after the killing of Burhan Wani, and further the resentment against what they viciously project as an “occupation army” committed to denying the people of J&K the right to self-determination. The Chief’s use of “soldier talk” could also be cited as evidence that the security forces were “hurting”: further encouraging the recent trend of some “locals” complicating, possibly derailing, the anti-militant missions of the Army and paramilitary. It is also possible that the Chief’s warning will be used to “sell” the international community the mischievous theory that India was using excessive military force to subjugate the folk in the Valley.
It is rather apparent that once again has been exposed the vastly different interpretations that could be given to comments made in and “outside” the Valley. What is music in one place rankles in the other. Gen Rawat’s plain-speaking would certainly serve as a morale-booster to his men who have been facing severe difficulties in having to thwart militants, yet also having to keep an eye on what may be happening behind their backs. The increasingly jingoistic electronic media certainly “played up” the remarks. That Gen Rawat’s tough talk came at a homage ceremony also attended by the Prime Minister also lends itself to questionable interpretation. Since actions “speak” louder than words, the various counter-measures the Chief mentioned might have paid better dividends if implemented on the ground rather than articulated in New Delhi. The “audience” he was addressing could not “hear” him, and media accounts have hardly deterred those bent on “keeping up the heat” through a harsh winter. The larger question that keeps “popping up” is whether military action alone (restrained and professional though it is) can reverse the ugly trends in the Valley. There are few signs of a game-plan to turn the economic situation around, defuse tensions, foster peace and tranquillity, and win over minds and hearts. Gen Rawat and the men in uniform are paying a heavy price for the sustained incompetence and indifference of the political leadership in New Delhi and Srinagar.