The Indian Army is facing a "dirty war" in Jammu and Kashmir which has to be fought through "innovative" ways, Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat has said, stoutly defending the use of a Kashmiri as a 'human shield' by a young officer.
In an exclusive interaction with PTI, Rawat said the main objective of awarding Major Leetul Gogoi, when a Court of Inquiry was finalising its probe into the incident, was to boost the morale of young officers of the force who are operating in a very difficult environment in the militancy- infested state.
"This is a proxy war and proxy war is a dirty war. It is played in a dirty way. The rules of engagements are there when the adversary comes face-to-face and fights with you. It is a dirty war.... That is where innovation comes in. You fight a dirty war with innovations," Rawat said.
The Army Chief's Commendation medal to Gogoi, who had tied a man to an army jeep and used him as a human shield from stone throwers last month was criticised by human rights activists, Kashmiri groups and by a few retired army generals.
A video of the incident had triggered a row with many condemning it.
Gogoi was awarded for his sustained efforts in counter- insurgency operations.
"People are throwing stones at us, people are throwing petrol bombs at us. If my men ask me what do we do, should I say, just wait and die? I will come with a nice coffin with a national flag and I will send your bodies home with honour. Is it what I am supposed to tell them as chief? I have to maintain the morale of my troops who are operating there," Gen Rawat said.
Talking about the complexity of the security challenge in the state, he suggested it would have been easier for the armed forces if the protesters were firing weapons instead of throwing stones.
"In fact, I wish these people, instead of throwing stones at us, were firing weapons at us. Then I would have been happy. Then I could do what I (want to do)," he said.
Gen Rawat, who had served in Jammu and Kashmir extensively, said if people in any country lose fear of the army, then the country is doomed.
"Adversaries must be afraid of you and at the same time your people must be afraid of you. We are a friendly army, but when we are called to restore law and order, people have to be afraid of us," he said.
At the same time, he asserted that maximum restraint is being maintained while handling the situation in the Valley.
Gen Rawat said that as the Army chief, it was his duty to lift the morale of the army personnel in Jammu and Kashmir and he did it by awarding Major Gogoi.
"As Army Chief my concern is morale of the Army. That is my job. I am far away from the battle field. I cannot influence the situation there. I can only tell the boys that I am with you. I always tell my people, things will go wrong, but if things have gone wrong and you did not have malafide intent, I am there," he said.
Gen Rawat said there was a ploy to break the trust between various security forces, and Major Gogoi could not have refused to provide security when polling agents had sought security assistance.
"Tomorrow elections have to be held in Anantnag and similar things may happen. If the army does not respond to call for assistance, then the trust between the people whom we are protecting, police and army will break.
"That is something I cannot allow to happen. This is what the militants want. It can create a divide between the army and other security forces," he said.
The Army Chief said he had a broad idea about what was going on in the Court of Inquiry into the Gogoi incident, and that is why he went ahead with awarding the Major. "I know what is happening in the COI. It is being finalised. What do we punish him for."
He said armed forces have the right of self defence and Major Gogoi could have opted for firing at the crowd but he chose not to resort to it.
Farooq Dar, who was tied to the jeep, says he is not a militant or a stone thrower, and was only returning home after casting his vote in the by-election when he was hauled away.
He says he still suffers from physical and mental trauma after being paraded on the jeep's bonnet with a sign slung around his neck, warning stone pelters of the consequences.
The Army Chief said just four districts of South Kashmir were disturbed and it was incorrect to say that entire Kashmir has gone out of control.
"It will have to be a composite solution. Everybody will have to get involved. Army's role is to ensure that violence does not take place and the common man who is not indulging in this (violence) is protected," he said, when asked about the solution to the Kashmir issue.
He also emphasised on the need for taking harsh measures to stop infiltration and counter-terrorism.
The Army Chief also wondered why not much noise was made when young army officer Lt Umar Fayaz was killed by militants when he was on leave.
Asked whether there should be a political initiative to reach out to the Kashmiri people, the Army Chief said it was for the government to decide, adding such initiatives were taken in the past as well.
"Has political initiative not been taken in the past? What was the result, you had Kargil...," he said. To a separate question, the Army Chief said he does not anticipate a "limited war" with Pakistan.