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Magical gunsmiths?

Editorial |

Some 60 years ago the acerbic VK Krishna Menon had members of the US delegation at the United Nations Security Council squirming in their seats when he asked if American technology was so advanced that it produced guns which fired in one direction only — his way of flaying Washington DC’s line that the weaponry it supplied Pakistan could not be used against India.

Reason to recall that caustic brilliance has just been provided by the eve-of-retirement contention of the Director General of the Central Reserve Police Force, that a modified version of the much-slammed pellet guns will soon be issued to his paramilitary personnel deployed on mob-control duties in the Kashmir Valley.

The guns could no longer shoot “upwards”, thereby reducing the likelihood of people being hit in the face and blinded by the supposedly non-lethal weapon that has been roundly condemned for its maiming “qualities”. That soon-to-be senior ex-official has reposed much trust in “deflector” cones to be attached to the muzzle of the guns, they will direct the pellets downward.

The modifications will not be carried out at a unit of the Indian Ordnance Factory Board which produces the weapons: the outgoing CRPF chief has entrusted technical personnel of the Border Security Force with “doing the trick”.

While CRPF officials argue that there will be a “less than two per cent” chance of someone getting a blast from a pellet gun in the face, they simultaneously lay emphasis on the prescribed procedure that specifies shooting “below the belt only”.

What they carefully avoid is responding to the frequent charge that the policemen — albeit under severe pressure in difficult situations — often ignore instructions and shoot “directly” at stone-pelters. Can a deflector “deliver” in such situations? Is it not time to abandon the hypocritical “non-lethal” argument — or authenticate it by using pellet guns outside the Kashmir Valley?

The sustained argument over specific weaponry, and issuing “threats” to people allegedly impeding counter-insurgency operations by throwing stones at the security forces, only underscores the bankruptcy of the prevailing policy that lays stress on a “military solution”.

A policy now reinforced by the sustained bid by several ministers in the central government, and their countless trumpet-blowers, to condemn as “anti-national” anybody who advocates a political settlement to the problem that has remained thorny for some seventy years.

Four wars have been fought over Kashmir without a permanent solution having been forged on the battlefield. So what cause is there for confidence that yet another exercise of arms will yield lasting results? Atal Bihari Vajpayee did try to re-write the script, alas his “descendants” have opted to march in an opposite direction. And think that pellet guns will “speak” the last words.