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  Opinion   Edit  28 Dec 2023  AA Edit | Rajnath advice to Army to avoid ‘mistakes’ welcome

AA Edit | Rajnath advice to Army to avoid ‘mistakes’ welcome

Published : Dec 28, 2023, 11:40 pm IST
Updated : Dec 28, 2023, 11:40 pm IST

It is not quite normal for the powers-that-be to acknowledge publicly even the possibility of troops going wrong.

Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. (PTI File Image)
 Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. (PTI File Image)

Defence minister Rajnath Singh’s exhortation to the Indian Army troops stationed in the troubled Jammu and Kashmir region to win the hearts of the people, and not to “repeat the mistakes” that might hurt any countryman, marks a welcome change from the usual way people at the helm of the defence forces speak.

Mr Singh’s remarks makes an obvious reference to the highly condemnable incident in which three villagers were allegedly tortured and killed in a border village in Poonch district last week. The Army is alleged to have picked up eight of them while investigating an encounter in the region in which four soldiers were killed. Three of them were later found dead while five others were brutalised. Both the state government and the Army have ordered investigations into the dastardly incident.

The import of Mr Singh’s statement is way too significant. While asking the soldiers “not to repeat the mistakes”, the defence minister admits to the suggestion that something has gone wrong with the way the Army functioned in the border village. It is not quite normal for the powers-that-be to acknowledge publicly even the possibility of troops going wrong. It may be remembered that the Army’s court of Inquiry had in 2017 found an officer who tied a civilian to the Army truck while passing through a troubled region in Jammu and Kashmir not guilty of what was generally perceived as a gross violation of basic human rights. The Army had not stopped at that — then Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat had awarded the officer with “Chief of Army Staff commendation” for “his efforts in counter-insurgency operations”. Reports now suggest that the Army has taken senior officers, including a brigade commander and a commanding officer of a unit, off their posts and attached them to a local army unit while it is conducting an investigation into the murders in Poonch.

The defence minister’s advice to the defence personnel that while winning wars against the enemies for the country, which they indeed do, they should also work closely with citizens of this country even in adversarial conditions, is equally important, for it quite aptly cuts out the task for them. The fact is that the Army is trained to fight the enemy and hence the use of force is a very legitimate tool. But when they are drafted to fight their own brethren within the country, they are in fact ill-equipped to do the job. Defence and security experts have long pointed out the multi-dimensional risks involved in the deployment of troops for the maintenance of law and order for long periods of time, but governments have found the Army a captive force which they can put to use at will. The defence minister's statement points to the difficult terrain, mental as well as physical, in which the troops operate.  

The defence minister’s words and the Army’s proactive steps against the officers responsible for the alleged transgression are sure to send the right message to the Army personnel that such incidents will be taken seriously. Once can only hope that the people concerned take it with the seriousness it calls for. 

Tags: aa edit, j&k's poonch, custodial deaths, defence minister rajnath singh