Since decades, our soil has been moistened by the blood of our soldiers. A terror state unleashes its wrath time and again and vows to bleed us with a thousand cuts. Thousand cuts, which have now run into millions. Countless soldiers lost, mothers left childless, wives left alone, and children who have had to grow up never knowing why their father was taken so early.
Here’s an interview with a soldier who shed his blood so we can sleep safe. A soldier who tells us what it might take to tame the beast.
I spoke to Major Gaurav Arya, who served with 17 Kumaon Regiment from 1994 to 1999. He was posted in Rajasthan, Punjab, Tibet border, and Jammu & Kashmir. In J&K he operated along the Line of Control and was also involved in anti-terror operations.
My questions are in bold, though it’s the answers that are actually bold:
It is said that every government comes to power thinking that they can solve the Kashmir issue and the Pakistan conundrum. And somehow, every government fails. Why do you think that is?
See, there are certain facts about Kashmir which people in the opposition don’t know about. And when they come to power and are properly briefed by the intel agencies, then they realise it is not so simple. Solving Kashmir requires using immense political capital in the country, and anybody who wants to solve the Kashmir problem will have to withstand a lot of international pressure and will have to project India as a strong power.
I was recently in Kashmir and almost for a week. I was in Srinagar and I spoke to people on the road. All of them, irrespective of whether they are happy with India or not, said they were not happy with the state of affairs. But the problem is that for a small problem like the roads in Srinagar, which is very much a state subject, people blame the central government because for everything they have been taught to blame the central government. “har cheez dilli ki saazish hai“.
Now coming back to your question, there should be an intent to take hard decisions. For example, the central government has to bypass the Hurriyat. Hurriyat is an umbrella body which was created under Pakistani guidance to unite the separatists. They have not been elected by anybody. The government also has to take hard action against stone-peltors. You must have seen videos of our jawans being beaten. I spoke to CRPF and it is very disheartening why this happens with the CRPF and not the Indian Army.
They tried stone pelting with the Indian Army in two operations. In one, Major Dahiya was martyred. They tried again. And the third time, the Indian Army shot three “protestors”. Now the Indian Army does its operations and nobody comes in between. Now as callous as it may sound, the problem is that the Kashmir problem and this stone pelting has been highly intellectualised by the left-leaning liberals. They peddle this entire narrative of victimhood which is imaginary. You ask a man in Kashmir, “azadi milegi to kya karoge” (what after aazaadi?), he doesnt know. It is just something which is now too big to be questioned and that is mainly because the successive governments in 30-40 years have not had a concrete policy.
Do you endorse the use of force then?
See, when you establish the writ of the state, you have to use force. All the 5 permanent members of the UNSC are not members who are known for their perfect human rights record. We might think human rights makes the world go round, but they don’t. What makes it go round is economy and military might. We can’t take of one Kulbhushan Yadav, we can’t declare Pakistan a terror state or take hard decisions in Kashmir and we want to be the 6th member of UNSC! Who will take you seriously? It takes iron in the soul.
You brought out a great disparity in the functioning of the CRPF and the Army. You mentioned how they pelt stones at the CRPF but the Army did what it had to do and now they conduct their operations without hindrance. Why do you think the CRPF is not given the same latitude as the Army considering the anti insurgency operations are the same?
Well, when the Army functions, it functions under AFSPA. Army has certain constitutional protections which the CRPF doesn’t. The CRPF functions with the state police. For example, if there is a problem in Kashmir and the Army is called, they are not answerable to the Chief Minister or any politician. It assesses the situation and takes necessary action.
Today you see videos of a soldier armed with an AK47 being slapped by a Kashmiri youth. That itself tells you that they are under immense pressure not to react. I spoke to a young Kashmiri in Srinagar and asked him “patthar kyu phenkte ho? Darr nahi lagta?” (Why do you pelt stones? Aren’t you afraid of the consequences?) He said “kya baat kar rahe hai sahab, CRPF ki himmat thodi hai kuch karne ki, hum to unke muh pe thuk ke chale jaate hai” (What are you saying!? CRPF doesn’t have the courage to do anything, we even spit at their face and come back). And this fellow will never try this with an Indian Army soldier.
The problem is with the leadership. The Indian Army is led by General Rawat. 30 years back, he was a second lieutenant in the Gorkha Rifles. He has seen the ground reality. He owes loyalty to that institution. The problem with CRPF is that most of their top management is imported. These are IPS officers. If you are senior enough, you can become DG of CRPF. They might not have seen one day of Kashmir or any sort of counter insurgency operations. And they lead a force that is heavily involved in counter insurgency and internal security operations.
So basically, CRPF is being used as fodder by our political dispensation?
No. They’re being used as a punching bag to absorb Kashmiri anger. On 5th of April, a CRPF column was moving and they were given a school to stay in without any facilities. That’s typically how CRPF is sent in any place. There is one assistant sub inspector (ASI) who was about to retire. This ASI, because of the lack of light and stair railings, he fell down and he died. Nobody knows about it. We know 8 stone pelters were killed. How many CRPF men were killed?
Now I’ll tell you something and I insist you include this in the interview:
Today CRPF and JK police cannot be treated at civil hospitals in Srinagar because as patients they are assaulted in OPDs and ICUs. Put this down and say Major Gaurav Arya said it. I will stand by it. So they come to an Indian Army run hospital. I’ve met them. I’ve spoken to them. Doctors refuse to treat them in Srinagar because they get threatened. This is happening and CRPF is taking all this. My only fear is someday a CRPF soldier will snap because how much humiliation can a soldier take?
I’m so shocked by what you have told me, I have almost forgotten my other questions. Because none of this ever comes up in research. None of this is ever spoken about by the Media.
Media doesn’t talk about this because they want a (sound)bite from SA Geelani. They practice Dal Lake journalism. They’ll go to Dal Lake, sit on a shikara exchange sher-o-shayari and talk about Human Rights.
I’m not saying there should be no Human rights. Any soldiers who crosses the line should be put in jail. But at the same time, soldiers have human rights too. Over 3500 soldiers (estimation) were in the hospital after Burhan Wani. But the media won’t talk about them. These people are expendable.
There was a Pakistan Senate Committee report which was basically a doctrine of alternate warfare. It went to the extent of shifting the blame of radicalisation in Kashmir to anything other than Pakistan. We see that in India too. From beef to Yogi Adityanath are blamed for it. How does the state deal with such 5th column information warfare?
The problem is people in India who end up forwarding this narrative view Kashmir from the eyes of Karan Johar. This radicalisation in Kashmir started in 1989-1990 with a terrorist group called JKLF. Then there were other groups, LeT, JeM, Hizbul Mujahideen, etc. All these names are Arabic. There isn’t one group with a Kashmiri name.
The identity of the Kashmir “struggle” is now not Kashmiri but Islamic. They will never raise the Kashmir flag. They’ll use either the Pakistan flag or ISIS flag.
Pakistan wants to twist India’s neck.
So what can India do to combat the information warfare? When the PM raised Balochistan from the ramparts of Red Fort, we had an entire section say “Balochistan is not our business. Let’s focus on Kashmir” without realising how important Balochistan is for India.
We need to have a narrative which is missing right now. We keep saying “Kashmir is an integral part of India”. Stop saying it. Of course it is. So is PoK. But what is the narrative? You see some Kashmiri websites that spread poison. And The Hindu, TOI, etc, some of their Srinagar correspondents write neutral pieces in their newspaper with a tilt towards separatists but in their own Facebook pages, what they write is absolute treason. They take an image of a child killed in Syria and present it as a child killed in Kashmir.
The Pakistan supporters need to realise. We use platoon level weapons. Pakistan uses F16 fighter jets on its own people in Waziristan. Kashmir banega Pakistan? Ye saare bill main ghus jayenge.
Captain Tushar Mahajan was martyred because he wanted to save hostages from terrorists. He went inside and got killed. If it was the American Army, they would have blown up the building. We lost Tushar. We lost Captain Pawan Kumar. They were kids. They don’t realise the lengths the Indian Army goes to in order to avoid collateral damage. We care because Kashmir is ours. Its people are ours.
When narrative building is so important, why is our army so opaque when it comes to interacting with civilians. I have tried to find books etc to educate myself, but could hardly find any. Why is there this disconnect? Why aren’t civilians communicated with about the ethics and operations of the Armed Forces like may be the USA?
Nehru and his cabinet, except for Vallabhbhai Patel, was of the opinion that we don’t need the armed forces after Independence. What we need is a police force. So, the budget was cut to a point where we suffered a debacle against China in 1962. So these people have continuously devalued and humiliated the army, which is why the Army is a very shy institution. Army psychology is ‘do your job and shut up’. The army is under the civilian dispensation. But serving officers can’t be shown on camera. So it’s people like me, Gen. Bakshi etc. who try our best to educate civilians.
You are right. There is very little literature available about the Army. And it needs to change.
Ok. So coming back to Kashmir, you also said we have to by-pass the Hurriyat. But successive governments have given them special privileges. Apparently, in 2013, Asiya Andrabi was flown to Delhi in a special flight to speak to Sartaz Aziz. Regardless of the ways in which the current dispensation is trying to bypass them, somehow, even this government hasn’t revoked their state privileges. Why do you think that is?
Nupur, the problem is these are imaginary fears in our mind. Because the Hurriyat since decades has been projecting itself as the true representative of the Kashmiris. So, it’s always a notion that we can’t offend the Hurriyat warna azaadi ke naare aur bhuland ho jayenge (if we offend Hurriyat, separatist demands will become stronger), which is not true. I don’t know what these think tanks are advising the government!
You have repeatedly said that the political class needs to give the Army 3 days with respect to Kashmir and Pakistan and the issue will be solved. But there is a section of people who think that any sort of military retaliation in heavy measure will lead to unprecedented escalation that in turn might result in a Nuclear winter because we are dealing with rogue state, Pakistan. How do you think we should deal with the escalation that might happen if Army is given a free hand?
Have you seen Sholay?
There is a character called Veeru who gets drunk on goes on the water tank saying “basanti se shaadi karwao warna main mar jaunga“. The Veeru effect is Pakistan’s schizophrenia.
We are also a nuclear power. They attacked us in Kargil. What happened? Nothing. They fund Kashmir unrest. What happened? Nothing. Because they know India won’t retaliate.
Similarly, we also know Pakistan wont retaliate. These are imaginary fears in our mind and Pakistan wants you to believe that there will be a Nuclear winter if India retaliates. These are called psychological ops. They want us to believe that they will strike even if we look at them. We did a surgical strike. What happened? The best Pakistan could do was say “janaab ye hua hi nahi“.
There are so many ways to militarily teach Pakistan a lesson.
There was an article in New York post on 31st March that spoke about how India may be rethinking its no-first-strike Nuclear policy. Is that true? And do you think that’s desirable?
See, when we say we have a no-first-use policy, it’s because we are looking at Nuclear weapons through the prism of Pakistan. This entire no-first-strike policy defies logic. Why should we tie our hands? Nobody will use Nuclear weapons but we must at least have an option on the table.
Okay. So how does the Cold Start Doctrine fit in if we throw the no-first-use Nuclear policy out of the window? After the Surgical strike, there were many reports in the Pakistani media of them hyperventilating about how India might be gearing up to put Cold Start Doctrine in motion. There were counterparts even in India spoke about it. Can you tell us what it’s about?
When the Indian Parliament was attacked, 9 of our bravehearts were martyred and we took exception to the fact that the fountain of our democracy was attacked. So India launched Operation Parakram. Almost 1 million armed personnel were mobilised to the border. Earlier the Army used to follow the Sundarjee doctrine. The holding and strike cores are based in 3 different locations. The cores are huge. When the time came for mobilisation to the border, these cores took more than 20 days to reach the border. By that time, Gen. Musharraf already went on television and regretted the attack. In war, you need to be quick. Indian Army delayed it and suddenly the justification for war was zero.
The Indian Army then went and started the process of learning. They analysed old battles and they wanted to reduce the time from 21/22 days to 2 days. They studied everything from Hitler’s blitzkrieg and specially the Israeli-Arab war of 1965. Then they came up with the Cold Start Doctrine, which can slingshot Indian army into high intensity war at blinding speed.
The basic idea of Cold Start was this : Pakistan has a nuclear threshold. A point after which they will deploy. Cold Start was designed in a way that before Pakistan thinks of deploying Nuclear weapons, the war will be over and we occupy 70-80 km of Pakistan territory. This hammer is with the government. It’s like the hammer of Thor. They have to understand when it should be deployed.
There was this news of Pakistan planning to declare Gilgit – Baltistan as its 5th province. What steps should India take to counter if Pakistan goes ahead and does it?
Gilgit-Baltistan is from where the CPEC (China–Pakistan Economic Corridor) enters Pakistan. China has apprehensions about investing in CPEC that starts from a place which is not even Pakistan’s. My view is, if Pakistan wants to declare Gilgit-Baltistan as its 5th province, they should go ahead. What India will do then is, abrogate article 370, get rid of the Kashmiri flag and we send the Indian Army to Srinagar. If they say Gilgit-Baltistan is a part of so called “Azaad Kashmir”, it has its own constitution and political establishment. So even the separatists in Srinagar should condemn this move. Now if they don’t do it, China, which can be compared to Shylock, will have a problem. It they do it, they will alienate the separatists and also invite Indian action. It’s all just Chinese pressure.
Now if we talk about South East Asia dynamics, there’s obvious camaraderie between Pakistan and China. But there is also increased camaraderie between India and Afghanistan and India and Balochistan. In this situation, what role do you see India playing in Afghanistan and Balochistan because both along with India is putting pressure on Pakistan?
I think it will get interesting once Chabahar port is fully operational; once India has access to Afghanistan. Our handle in Afghanistan is if we build something North West of Pakistan. We build friends. We arm those friends. And we invest in Afghanistan so we can pressure Pakistan.
Pakistan is always skeptical because Pakistan is a very narrow country and it does not have space to fight a war and hence it looks for strategic depth. So Pakistan creates groups like Jindolla for Iran, Tehrik-e-Taliban in Pakistan and Haqqani network for Afghanistan, and for India it tries its stunts in the Khalistan movement, Kashmir etc. So, since it does not have the land to fight a war with India or other enemies it seeks to build influence, fifth column and insurgency. Today Pakistan can say that if India plans to attack through Kashmir, they will meet with a lot of resistance and stone pelting, which may not be true because when the Army moves there is generally no resistance.
As far as Balochistan is concerned, it was an independent country even before India and Pakistan. It deserves to be free. And they are also a perfect counterpoint for us as far as Kashmir is concerned. But we most give political sanctity to Balochistan. Simply going on the ramparts of the Red Fort won’t help. On ground, Indian embassies and high commissions throughout the world should hold seminars on 27th March, the day Pakistan invaded Balochistan. We should also help them in infrastructure in various countries. For example, India can fund a small building in Washington that can be called the Balochistan House. Let people ask questions. Let it have the Balochistan flag.
So what you are saying is India needs to go beyond lip service and actually have political involvement in Balochistan?
Absolutely. Have a budget and in at least 15-25 main countries build Balochistan Houses which is manned by Balochistan people.
And give Mr. Bugti political asylum?
Yes. give Mr. Bugti citizenship, get him to Delhi, give him house and protection. India did it for the Dalai Lama. That time we were fighting against China and we weren’t the power we are today. If we could do it then, then why not now?
There were talks of whether India should send troops to Afghanistan. Can we discuss its implications and whether that would be in India’s best interest?
We can certainly discuss it. Finally, it has to be Iran that permits. If Iran permits we should have Indian troops in Afghanistan.
But then there was a lot of “aman ki asha” talks of how that is none of India’s business and we end up sending troops to Afghanistan then we can’t fault Pakistan and China for their aggression in Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, etc.
True. But here’s the thing, whether you send troops to Afghanistan or not, Pakistan and China will continue their aggression. There was no talk of Balochistan or Afghanistan when 26/11 happened or when Kargil happened. So Pakistan and China will do what they have to do irrespective of all this.
So according to you, if Iran permits, India should definitely send troops to Afghanistan and also help Balochistan in their fight for liberation politically and militarily. Did I get that right?
100%. We should give artillery guns and aircrafts to Afghanistan. Afghanistan men are being trained in India but we should train more of them. The more we get involved with Afghanistan, the more loyalty and friendship will be built in the long run. Simply spending money is not enough. Everyone takes Chinese money but nobody is loyal to China because loyalty can’t be purchased. We are loved in Afghanistan.
So you endorse this?
Absolutely. I endorse a foreign policy that is on the front foot. We should bat like Virender Sehwag!
What if someone says that allying with Afghanistan or arming them could be a mistake like that committed by the USA. Especially when you agree that Kashmir problem is now more Islamic than Kashmir.
Allying with Afghanistan has got nothing to do with the Kashmir policy. Further, we are not helping Afghanistan in any “Jihad” like US did. We need access to Central Asia, which is why we should be investing in Afghanistan. Also, it is good for us that Pakistan feels pressure of a hostile regime from its North West. It is about cornering Pakistan.
So diplomatically, why do you think our current political dispensation, which has a declared hard stand against Pakistan, failed to cancel MFN status, abrogate IWT, send the Pakistani ambassador packing and reduce ties to a consular level?
Well, they are learning about international power pressure. And I think much of it is connected to domestic politics. They might fear offending Muslims if they take steps against Pakistan though I don’t think Muslims in India care about Pakistan.
But then there is the disparity. The government of the day has passed a harsh amendment law to the Enemy Property Act, so clearly they are not scared about offending minorities or any religious section.
Yes. They are doing it and doing it aggressively. But except for the English Media, there isn’t too much discussion on these things. As I said, most governments tend to get stuck in domestic agendas.
So you are saying these issues are being put on the back burner because of electoral politics?
No. Not because of electoral politics. But our priorities are different. Narendra Modi can only be at one place at one time. USA prioritises international issues. I do think what Narendra Modi is trying to do is extremely good for the nation.
Israel actually enacted a law that punishes stone pelters with 20 years in prison. Its the kind of law that India has never even considered. Do you think a law like that would help?
Sure. But we don’t even need to put them in Jail for 20 years. Imagine a stone pelter who is 17-18 years of age. Give him 1 year in a jail in Tamil Nadu or Nagaland. India is so vast. Put them in different jails for a year where nobody understands them, their language, their culture. They’ll freak out. Let them not be in Kashmir. Don’t harm them. Just put them in one jail in Manipur.
The whole situation that is being built with Kulbhushan Jadhav being handed out the death penalty, do you think it’s in response to India cracking down on ISI rings in India? That Pakistan wants to drag the Indian army and the state to their level in the international community?
Yes. It is a little of that. But also that for a very long time the Pakistani people have been told by the Pakistan army that every problem in Pakistan is sponsored by India. They don’t have any proof. Mr. Jadhav had a valid visa for Iran. He was captured by the local Taliban and handed over to the ISI. Now suddenly Pakistan had something to beat India with. They have handed the death penalty to Mr. Jadhav because they need something to show their own people as proof of India creating trouble in Pakistan. The Sunni jamaat kills Shias in Pakistan. The snakes they reared are killing each other. And all this is blamed on India but even their people had started asking questions.
This is why I asked, because the Pakistan PM has gone on record to equate Mr. Jadav’s capture to terrorism.
It doesn’t matter what he says. He probably spoke from the brief from Rawalpindi. They captured one guy from Iran, and beat him into giving a confession. Give me one Pakistani and he’ll confess to being a hologram from Russian satellite!
Final segment sir. At the end of your entire interview, once the aman ki asha gang has read it, their standard response will be that this is hyper-nationalism. What do you say to people who term your sentiments are hyper-nationalism and draw a distinction between nationalism and hyper nationalism?
They’re right. I am a proud hyper-nationalist. For me my country comes first irrespective of what happens. I am committed Hindu but when it comes to the nation, it is beyond religion. I am an ultra-nationalist. I have a belief. And for my belief I am willing to shed blood.
The liberals should tell me, what are they willing to do for their belief. I have picked up the gun and a pen for my belief. From violence to debating, I have done everything to uphold my belief because for me, my country is god.
Yes. I am a hyper nationalist and I am proud. This is my commitment. I can shed blood for my commitment.
And what do you say to the people who endorse and propagate views similar to yours but are told to pick up the gun and join the army if they are such nationalists. The sacrifice is done by the army, so civilians have no right to demand strong military action against Pakistan?
They’re wrong. It’s not just the nationalist civilians who say this. The army itself says there should be a strong military reaction. I as an Army person have been injured and have seen my brothers die. We want peace. But we want peace with honour.
The people who are on the path to martyrdom are saying they want a free hand to solve the Pakistan problem. The Army understands the consequences. Our ideology is India.
So the hyper-nationalists who don’t have the gumption or courage to pick up the gun, have the right to assert…
You are not allowed to pick up the gun. The army doesn’t have so many vacancies. The army is not a tourist spot. If tomorrow Nupur says she wants to go join the Army, she might not be accepted. Your talent may lie somewhere else. But it’s the civilian’s feeling that counts. You think the Army will allow your group of friends to go fight in Kashmir even if you want to? This is liberal silliness. The Indian Army is not Nainital.
They say if we go to war, the nation should be prepared to absorb the costs. Human and economical. Do you think it’s worth it?
Of course it’s worth it. Why do you have an Army then? But why are we talking of war? We are talking of war because there was a Pathankot, a Nagrota, a 26/11, a Yadav, a Uri. Ask these liberals, what do they want us to do? Ask these intellectuals if we should send another bouquet of flowers? If Pakistan’s question is military, shouldn’t our answer also be military? Mr. Vajpayee went with good intentions of friendships, behind his back they were climbing the peaks of Kargil. What did we do to invite that? What did we do to provoke a 26/11?
So you are saying it’s better to rip the bandaid off?
Absolutely. They are Alice in Wonderland. Even I want peace because I’m the first to die when there’s a war. But peace is the end result of war. War does not care whether we agree with it or not. I don’t want war, but Pakistan will not allow me to live in peace.
On that note sir, I would like to conclude this interview. I thank you. It was an honor and a privilege.
Major newspapers and publications refuse to publish articles by Major Gaurav Arya. They want him to tone down the truth which he refuses to do. I personally am honored to have had the opportunity to interview him. Jai Hind.
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017