gfiles magazine

February 9, 2011

FIRST STIRRINGS | lt gen dattatray balajirao shekatkar

‘ The government’s mistake is not talking directly with the adivasis ’
A soldier looks back on tackling Naxalism, terrorism and insurgency, and occupying the Sialkot-Lahore highway area 
I was commissioned in June 1963 and was posted as Second Lieutenant in the Maratha Regiment. My battalion had seen action in tackling insurgency in Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura. Insurgency in the Northeast began with infiltration in 1952. The Naga rebels were actively supported by Pakistan and China. The insurgency spread to neighbouring Manipur and Mizoram. I was stationed there for five years.
Thereafter, in 1970, I was posted in Andhra Pradesh to tackle the Naxalite problem in the Telangana region. Naxalites, or Maoists as they now so fashionably call themselves, have control over territory from Nepal to Andhra Pradesh. They famously call it “from Pashupati to Tirupati”. Now, in their next big phase, they want to target big urban cities. For that they are slowly infiltrating unions in the industrial belts of the country.
They have been able to spread their roots far and wide with help from the CPI (M). The spread of Naxalism in Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and now Tamil Nadu has been possible because of the CPI(M) supporting the UPA-I government. They are now in touch with the ISI in Pakistan, insurgents in the Northeast and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
They are fooling the poor adivasis with false promises of fighting for their cause against the government. They have their own land, forest and mining mafias. The government’s mistake is that it has not talked directly with the adivasis. For the adivasis, “government” represents BSF and CRPF jawans with guns chasing them. They have never known any health centre, post office, school or any other infrastructure or civic amenity. The Communists have taken full advantage of the situation.
What do Naxalites from Bihar and Jharkhand have to do with Andhra Pradesh? And what does Home Minister P Chidambaram have to say? His words are, “There is a trust deficit and there is a confidence deficit amongst the people.’’ My first real experience of warfare came as a Major on December 3, 1971, with Pakistan declaring war on India. I was stationed with my 9 Maratha battalion on the western front in the Samba sector, along the Pathankot-Jammu border. In retaliation, India attacked Pakistan and our battalion bulldozed all their defences. We occupied their Sialkot to Lahore highway region for almost two years!
The area was as large as that of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. On December 16, the ceasefire was declared. We met some senior Pakistani Army officers. They were angry with their junior officers and jawans for letting us “kafirs’’ in. They told their men that, had they done 50 percent of their work honestly, the kafirs would not have reached there. That’s how humiliated they felt. After two years we handed back their territory.
There may not be any such examples around the world of an army handing back occupied territory to the enemy. During the Bangladesh war, I was entrusted with the task of training the Mukti Bahini. Again, within six months of the war ending, we left Bangladesh.

Maoists are fooling the adivasis with false promises of fighting for their cause against the government. They have their own land and forest mafias.

I was again posted in Mizoram between 1973 and ’76. During 1976-77, I joined the Counter Insurgency and General Warfare School. I trained there with foreign cadets. Between 1978 and ’80, I was posted in the Northeast as insurgency raised its head there once again.
Insurgency is still on in Manipur and Assam. It has become a way of life. Government servants in Manipur, Nagaland and Assam have to pay 10 percent of their salaries to insurgents. Even contractors and industrialists are not spared. People are fed up. All that the Prime Minister does when he visits the Northeast is announce packages. All these packages end up in the pockets of the insurgents. In the army we have always opposed these packages.
IN 1980, I joined the Defence Staff College for a year’s training. I was then posted at Ahmedabad as a Colonel. The city often witnessed bitter communal violence. The Army had to be called in to control the situation.
Between 1981 and ’84, I commanded my 9 Maratha battalion, posted along the border in Jammu and Kashmir. Thereafter, I did a one-year course in Defence Management at the College of Defence Management. Between 1986 and ’87, I was Chief Instructor at the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School at Vairengte, Mizoram.
I was promoted to Brigadier in 1989 and posted in Punjab. The next two years were among the worst as terrorism was on the boil. Terrorism did not survive in Punjab because of the excellent cooperation between the army and the local police. Most important, the people of Punjab realized that they did not stand to gain from terrorism.

Terrorism did not survive in Punjab because of the excellent cooperation between the army and the local police.

In 1992, I attended the National Defence College in New Delhi. Here, we from the Army rubbed shoulders with the best foreign officers and our own IAS and IPS officers. Thereafter, I was posted as Deputy Director General, Military Operations, at Army Headquarters. I was part of the Joint Working Group that was set up between India and China to resolve the boundary dispute. The efforts of the group led to the Sino-Indian boundary agreement signed in 1993-94 during the tenure of Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao. I was then made Major General and posted as Additional Director General, Military Operations.
In 1995, I once again commanded the troops in Jammu and Kashmir. It was then that the Charar-e-Sharif incident took place. Trouble quickly spread to Pulwama, Baramullah and Sopore. Assembly elections were held. Pakistan, some Western powers and some of our Opposition parties did not want polls to take place. To establish the supremacy of our Constitution, the elections were held despite the opposition.
For the first time since militancy began, a record number of militants – more than 1,200-odd – surrendered arms. Our intention was not to kill these people, but to give them a chance to reform. Since the thought of surrender was unacceptable to them, we gave them the third option of going back to their own people and joining the mainstream. In Assam also, we applied this theory with success – resulting in 700-odd ULFA militants surrendering.
The main reason for militancy in the Valley has been lack of governance on the part of the political establishment. In 1989-90, the elections were rigged. Promises of good governance were never kept. It enraged the people. Unemployed youth revolted. Be it the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war or the 1971 war, the local people did not support militancy or, for that matter, Pakistan. The Pakistanis only took advantage of the prevailing circumstances and we are now paying for our mistakes.
The general populace has never been in favour of independence. It is just a handful of 200 families in the Valley, the Hurriyat leadership, sections of the judiciary, and politicians in power as well as in the Opposition who want the situation to continue. Terrorism has become a “cottage industry’’ for them to make money.
As for the government, it is fooling us. If terrorism does not continue, the people will seek accountability. The government does not want that. In the past 12 years, the Centre has pumped Rs 98,000 crore into the Valley. These are the figures of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Where has all the money gone?
THESE 200-odd families creating trouble are mostly in Kupwara, Sopore, Baramullah, Badgaum, Pulwama and Srinagar. Close to 23 percent of the population is Shia. Even during the Kargil war, the Shias did not support Pakistan. The Bakarwals and Gujjars do not support Pakistan at all.
For these people, militancy must go on in order to keep their business thriving. The US, in 2001, gave a billion dollars’ worth of aid to Pakistan for the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Pakistan’s economy is totally dependent on US military and other aid which it invariably uses against us. If terrorism is finished in Pakistan and Afghanistan, will the US still give aid to Pakistan?

As for the government, it is fooling us. If terrorism does not continue, the people will seek accountability. The government does not want that.

The thaw in Indo-US bilateral relations dates back to 1997-98, when defence cooperation started. I was part of the Indo-US Defence Cooperation Group that was set up then. The Americans used to hate us like anything, for they believed we were pro-Soviet Union. Until then, US diplomats and defence officials used derogatory terms for our Prime Minister. Now I am amused to see US leaders and diplomats shaking hands with Indian leaders.

The general populace has never favoured independence. A handful of 200 families in the Valley and politicians want the situation to continue.

Between 1997 and ’99, I was posted as Additional Director General, Strategic Planning, at Army Headquarters. Here, the Army plans its growth for the next 25 years. All aspects are taken into account, including the need to acquire modern weapons and what weaponry the US is developing. That is because most of those weapons after some years are given to Pakistan in the name of its anti-terror activities. China too supplies weapons to Pakistan. Our task was to prepare ourselves for this challenge.
In 1999, I was promoted to Lieutenant General and posted in Assam to tackle the ULFA and the Bodoland movement. In 2001, I was posted as the Commandant at the Infantry School in MHOW, Madhya Pradesh, which imparts commando warfare training. The next year I retired and settled in Pune.
I have co-authored 11 books on counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, counter Naxalite operations and psychological warfare.
-(As told to Prashant Hamine)

No comments:

Post a Comment