Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Leave the Army out of this...

It had to happen - when will it happen, was really the question..I refer to the decision of the Government to use the Armed Forces - the Army and the Air Force to combat the Maoists and the Naxals who have played havoc in various parts of the Country, in recent times.

Now here's where I think we are making a mistake. Once again. Like we have so many times in the past. We are once again asking the Army to do what is positively NOT its role, and to do something it has NOT been trained to do.

The role of the Army is primarily to guard the frontiers of India. Likewise, for the Air Force it is to guard India's air space.

Over the years, these forces have been used for a wide variety of purpose other than the one they are exclusively supposed to serve. The intervention of the Army or the Air Force in times of National calamities of various kinds - floods, drought, cyclones etc. cannot be questioned. Because saving the lives of thousands of human beings is the unquestionable purpose.

But the Army was inducted into large numbers in other roles like counter terrorism in the Punjab, North Eastern India and J&K. Take just one State - J&K - where large numbers of battalions comprising of hundreds of soldiers were removed from their critical role - defence of the land, and moved to the State, and have been operative since the last fifteen years or more, in counter insurgency operations.

And now, the Army might be moved to fight maoists.

The armed forces like the army and the air force, due to their very specific role are generally aloof and away from the civil population of the Country. During peace times, they are confined to their Cantonments away from the civilian world, where they continuously train. When there is no war, they train to be prepared for war.

There is enough historical evidence to prove that deploying the Army in roles where they interact with the population and the masses, has had its pitfalls. The average army jawan is not trained to control mobs during communal riots, to perform search and cordon operations in villages and small towns and similar activities, and to deal with the local population there. And when the jawans are forced to perform such roles, there are mistakes made, and allegations abound, of human rights violations.

And in all this, what we also tend to forget that we compromise our strength on the borders. Because there are that much less soldiers patrolling the border, as they are busy chasing militants, criminals and so on.

The question is - what good is the police? What I read, in this decision of the Government to use the Army for the maosists and Naxal issue, is that the State police and the Central forces together are not found good enough either in terms of number strength or capability, to perform these roles.

Take the Central Reserve Police Force. This along with its off shoot force - the Rapid Action Force are 2,00,000 soldiers, and that's a very large number, by any stretch of imagination. If these forces are not going to be used on occasions such as countering the maosits menace, then why do they exist?

The way to go is to train and equip forces like the CRPF, RAF and the NSG, much better than they are today. But the primary responsibility and accountability for countering terrorism has to lie with these forces.
Use them effectively or disband them and think of a newer more capable force.

In any case, it's time we stopped looking up to the Army for any and every civilian crisis...

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