The Election Interview/Lt Gen V G Patankar
Lieutenant General V G Patankar isn't one you could call an interviewer's delight. Without any emotion -- on his his face or in words -- he narrates the deadly game between Indian security forces and militants in the Kashmir valley in a matter-of-fact manner.
As security advisor to the state government, the commander of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps and the senior-most security officer at the Unified Headquarters, General Patankar has held several crucial posts, including that of commanding the crucial Kupwara-based division during the Kargil war.
He spoke to Chief Correspondent Josy Joseph at his fortified headquarters recently.
What is your reaction to reports of coercion of voters by the army?
I had no such reports coming from my officers. The army's task is to create a safe environment for the elections, and that is exactly what we are doing. There is no question of the army getting involved in coercion, or forcing people.
But I saw soldiers tell villagers to go and vote. What was the kind of brief given to security personnel in the state?
What we told the people is we are here, have no fear. You don't have to fear anything. That is where it ended.
Given numerous complaints and wide media coverage of coercion, are you looking at a more democratic way to use security forces, especially the army in future phases of the election?
We will stick to our brief. In the remaining places we will stick to our brief of making the environment as free from terrorist violence as we can. The other part is part of the democratic processes. There is lot of fervour, people want to come out and vote. I know for a fact because that fervour has been visible right up to the run-up to the election.
There is always a conflict between the army structure that has a deep sense of secrecy and a democratic process like the election where transparency is the motto. What steps did you take to make your decisions and actions as transparent as possible in the run-up to the polls?
The proceedings of the UHQ (Unified Headquarters) -- there have been press statements about what has been discussed. You are also aware that the Chief Election Commissioner himself came here and took a meeting. The UHQ also briefed him about the ground situation. He is very keen that elections are free and fair and conducted in a credible manner. Beyond that, as security advisor, on my part, I have conveyed to all security forces that this is our job to ensure that people are able to come out and vote in a safe environment.
Did you have a high per cent of interception of infiltration in recent days?
I am glad you asked the question because this was also expected that infiltration would go up because that was to be one of the ingredients for disruption of the polls. Therefore, we were on a high alert as far as our counter-infiltration posture is concerned. And we were successful. In fact, in the last six weeks, in fact as of September 16, starting from August 1, we have had as many as 75 kills in counter-infiltration alone.
Is it the highest number of kills in such a short period?
Yes, yes. We were able to foil a large number of them as the kills themselves would indicate.
A large number of paramilitary forces came in from outside without proper acclimatisation or orientation for the polls. How successful have you been in integrating them into the existing security grid in the state?
To a very large extent, yes. You are right when you said they came from various parts, not fully acclimatised in more sense than one, to the level of threat perception, to the level of violence, to the modus operandi, but we were able to integrate them into the overall security grid. Therefore, by and large we were successful.
During the election, by what percentage did the security presence go up in the valley?
It is difficult to put a number on it. You see the entire process contributes to a safe environment -- what we do along the Line of Control, what we do in terms of our counter infiltration efforts and what we do in terms of our counter terrorist activities. It is an amalgam of the whole thing.
The troops that came in from outside were largely into election support. That certainly did help in terms of the larger numbers being available. But one can't put a figure, because it is a total effort. Even the ability to deter infiltration at times contributes to a safer environment for the elections. Because so many people are able to come and disrupt the process. Some of these guys are definitely coming with a specific brief of causing trouble during the elections, with the kind of systems, weapons etc.
How do you assess the situation in the valley?
First, let me tackle the post-mobilisation situation. Things improved particularly along the International Border. The army has been on a high state of alert. The mobilisation of the army really affected the rest of the International Border. Along the Line of Control, there has been a close, eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation. Therefore, it didn't make much sense at the LoC, we had to maintain the level of vigil, mobilisation or no mobilisation.
The second part is the overall situation. In a way, the situation is under control. Yes, the violence goes up and down. I would only go to the extent of saying that the other side seems to be calibrating the level of violence. You had many comparatively violence-free days and weeks.
Suddenly you have a Kaluchak, and then the graph goes up so drastically that when you look at an average it looks as if you had violence all through.
Again, you find there is a period of relative quiet and then suddenly you have the Karim Nagar situation. This happens at a particular time when there is a specific visit to this country.
This calibration of violence is certainly done from the other side. But when you look at a common denominator of the situation, in a word it is under control, because many of these steps are anticipated. Therefore, our efforts on the part of all security forces taken together has always been to maintain that level of confidence among the people, which I am glad to tell you we are ready to do so.
Do you foresee an improvement after the elections if they go off peacefully?
Certainly. I have always said the security forces can kill terrorists. Terrorism will have to be killed by all of us together: People, security forces, every citizen of the country has to play a part in killing terrorism. And the way people are now coming out to vote, I think people want this thing to end and peace to return to the valley.
Post mobilisation, what has been your major achievement in counter-insurgency?
The major successes have been in counter-infiltration which itself is a major contributor to bring in normalcy. Why does infiltration take place in the present context? It takes place because terrorists here need to be replenished with men, material and funds. If you foil infiltration bids, then you are denying them a chance to recoup or replenish. It is an ongoing process. Last month we had major success. Over 100 terrorists have been killed.
Is it a comparatively high number?
What is the situation across the LoC after mobilisation? Have they lowered the guard?
The Pakistan army remains on very high alert. We see the concentration of troops. It has been reported and we have confirmed that there are terrorists who are camping close to the Line of Control. Some of them indeed are at their posts. At certain posts we see people who are unaccounted for, wearing combat uniforms.
Do you have an assessment of militants across the border?
The estimate is really very, very large, more than 2,500. Specific information is of at least about 800, in specific areas right across the Line of Control. It keeps changing, they keep shifting.
India has claimed that foreign terrorists dominate militancy in Kashmir. What is the kind of foreign presence?
By and large, the percentage of foreign terrorists has been going up. It is as high as 70 per cent or more, when you take it across the board, in the valley sector as well as Jammu sector. And the answer is not very far to find. The local youth do not join this any more, it is only that remnant which is still there. Particularly the foreign tanzeems have a very high percentage, anything up to 80 to 85 per cent in case of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.
Hizbul, the percentage is low. They are, I would say, 50 to 55 per cent.
A very large number of people surrendered this year. They are largely locals, not many foreigners. Earlier, it was an exception that foreign terrorists surrendered. Now they do surrender, but their numbers are smaller compared to locals.
What is the number of surrenders this year?
For the last so many years, we have had more cases of apprehensions than surrenders. In the past if we drew a map the largest graph would be of kills, then apprehensions and surrenders would be the least. But for the first time apprehensions have exceeded kills, that shows they don't want to continue with this any more. They have seen the plot, so to say. They are disillusioned with the whole process. Yet, the number of kills has gone up. Security forces have also been active to such a level that a large number of people are apprehended or surrendering.
If I remember the statistics right, we have had kills in the region of 650 since the beginning of this year, and apprehensions in the region of 700. And we would have surrenders in the region of 80 to 90. I was here a few years earlier, they would never want to surrender. They would go down fighting. They now surrender, or get apprehended.
Simultaneously, what steps are you initiating to improve the army's interaction with local societies?
Operation Sadbhavana has developmental projects. It could be construction or renovation of schools, or getting water supply, electrification, vocational training centres.
We have now taken one more step. Operation Ujala.
Ujala is asking the private sector to come and assist the people of Kashmir. Our focus is on four areas: Education, healthcare, cooperative and self-service schemes and cultural activities. The army comes in only as an interface. We are only going to be a facilitator. We will help in terms of providing a safe environment, may be a little bit of logistics.
For Sadbhavana projects we receive funds from the government and we execute the projects. In case of Ujala, the funds are going to be put out by industry and they would be executed jointly by industry and the people.
What has been the response of industry to your proposal?
We are just unfolding the scheme. The response has been extremely good. We are looking at setting up an information technology institute. We have had three interactions, in Pune, Mumbai and Delhi. We want to expand this perhaps to Banglaore, somewhere in Punjab and maybe in Kolkata.
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