The illusion of accountability

 Indian Army, Cadets, Indian Army, Armed Forces

Indian Army Cadets in a parade

Source: PTI

We suddenly seemed to have discovered our inherent aggressive nature as everybody and his Uncle seems intent on baying for Pakistani blood in the aftermath of the incident at the LOC. That an Army JCO and a BSF Head Constable were killed in an ambush on our side of the LOC is certainly a matter of concern, but this is neither the first time this has occurred and nor is it likely to be the last.

This is the very reason why “Field Area” tenures in “active areas” are considered dangerous, and as we have seen time and again, any error of judgment, carelessness, or for that matter, even bad luck can turn out to be extremely costly, resulting in fatalities. In any case, such actions are a two way street and one can rest assured that appropriate retaliatory action will be undertaken by the Army.

But, of course, what has caused offence and immense outrage among all sections of our society is the fact that they were subjected to unspeakable atrocities even in death. An act of brutality that regular soldiers of any army are legally expected to refrain from. It is this upholding of honour and chivalry that sets them apart from rabble like the Daesh, Al Qaeda, Taliban or the Jaish-e-Mohamed. It is even more unexpected when the Armies involved have long history of shared traditions.

While it is a rather sad fall from grace for the Pakistan Army, their actions should not have come as any surprise because we have witnessed them indulge in such brutal and uncivilized acts time and again, be it their abhorrent repression of Bengalis in erstwhile East Pakistan, during the Kargil War or incidents along the LOC. What should be surprising is that they have been permitted to get away with such acts of criminality time and again.

While outrage and calls for retribution, especially from the relatives of the victims, is to be expected and somewhat understandable, the hyperbole indulged in by politicians from all sides is not just hypocritical but downright immoral. If they were so incensed by such crimes against humanity, what stopped them from taking action when these earlier instances came to light? If accusations of war crimes had been brought against the perpetrators and they had been forced to face trial at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, would such actions have been repeated?

The fact is that in 1971 we were busy treating the very leadership of the Pakistan Army, which was responsible for ordering rape and massacres of innocent civilians, as officers and gentlemen and protecting them and their goons from facing the wrath of those who had suffered.

Why go so far back in time, even today the family of late Captain Saurav Kalia is fighting a long, lonely and arduous battle in our Supreme Court to force an extremely reluctant Government to take his case to The Hague. Most may recall that Captain Kalia and his patrol had been captured by the Pakistan Army on our side of the LOC at the start of the Kargil Conflict. They were subsequently subjected to the most horrifying acts of brutality and torture and murdered in cold blood before their bodies were returned to our Army. Neither the Government of the time, nor the subsequent ones went beyond platitudes and semantics, despite sufficient evidence to ensure conviction.

What stopped the then Government from refusing to accept a ceasefire, which then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief so desperately pleaded for on bended knee at the White House? One of the terms could surely have been to force Pakistan to send the perpetrators of those unspeakable acts to face prosecution at the ICJ. What stops it now?

The dishonesty and subterfuge of our Governments, through the years, just does not end there, as their treatment of the separatist lobby shows us. Take the case of Yasin Malik, as Mr. Mohan Guruswamy writes elsewhere, whose trial for the alleged murder of four unarmed Air Force personnel has been kept in abeyance while he has been allowed to travel the world. This, despite the fact that he has openly admitted to this act of murder on TV. The Hurriyat too has been at the receiving end of government munificence, at the tax payers cost obviously, as they have been given grants of Crores of rupees over the years to sustain their antagonism and hostility towards India.

In a Public Interest Litigation launched by lawyer ML Sharma being heard by the Supreme Court, he alleges that the Central and State Governments have spent Rs560 Crores over the past five years on grants to separatists. Compare this with the manner in which the Delhi Police were let loose on our Military Veterans protesting against the Governments’ refusal to honour its commitments on OROP just about a year ago.

The Government in a democracy reflects the will of the people, so why hold just politicians to a higher standard or responsible for this hypocrisy? There is little doubt that as a polity we are only moved to action when we see body bags of our soldiers being brought home with media coverage.

Sadly, other than a few jingoistic platitudes the vast majority of our citizens are uncaring and unmoved by the treatment meted out to our Forces routinely. Nobody wonders, let alone holds the Government of the day accountable, for any of their acts of commission or omission that hurt the ability of our Forces to perform to their optimum. For example, take the present instance in which the Government has now promulgated the Pay Rules for implementing the 7th CPC for the Armed Forces under Article 309 of the Constitution. This has been done for the first time as earlier this was done through the medium of the Special Army Instructions, which while issued by the Ministry of Defence, were forwarded to units through Services chain of command implying that Service Chiefs were in agreement.

While there may be no legal restrictions in the manner the Government has now proceeded with the matter, it does indeed lead to speculation that it was followed because it has allowed the Government to circumvent the Service Chiefs who have consistently opposed the implementation of the new pay scales because of its bias and unfair treatment of the Armed Forces. Whatever be the truth of these speculations, the manner in which the Government has proceeded without giving cogent explanations to those affected has certainly not helped matters.

It is not difficult to understand why our Armed Forces are treated so callously and shabbily. Also little attempt is ever made by the political establishment to resolve issues with those of our citizens who have resorted to armed rebellion because they feel unfairly treated. Because neither our political elite nor their progeny have ever served in the military, they thus have little interest in its well- being. They are fully cognizant of the fact that in all these years of relentless conflict and unremitting stream of casualties to the military only some of those responsible for the 1962 disaster were held to account. They are certain that they will always be able to talk their way out of taking responsibility for whatever ill befalls this great nation of ours.

This commentary originally appeared in Indian Defence Review.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).




Deepak Sinha

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