Indian Army chief Bipin Rawat on Sunday defended the controversial use of a "human shield" In Kashmir, saying his force is grappling with a ''dirty proxy war'' in Jammu & Kashmir which has to be fought through innovative means.
In an interview to PTI, Gen Rawat once again defended the use of a "human shield" by Major Leetul Gogoi, who tied the youth to the front of an Army jeep in Budgam district last month.
He said the commendation card from the Chief of Army Staff to Major Gogoi even before finalisation of the court of inquiry into the episode was meant to boost the morale of young officers and soldiers engaged in counter-terrorism operations amid stone-pelting mobs in the Kashmir Valley.
"This is a proxy war. 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 ... you fight a dirty war with innovations," Gen Rawat told the news agency.
"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 the chief? I have to maintain the morale of my troops who are operating there," he added.
As reported, Gen Rawat has held that the COAS commendation card to Major Gogoi recognized his " sustained efforts in counter-insurgency operations as well as his presence of mind and initiative to prevent bloodshed" by trussing up a Kashmiri on his jeep's bonnet as a "human shield" to rescue security and election personnel trapped in a polling booth at Beerwa in Budgam district on 9 April.
The Army chief has brushed aside stinging criticism from human rights activists, J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and even some retired Generals like former Northern Army commander Lt Gen H S Panag, among others.
The J&K police even lodged a First Information Report in the incident on 13 April, but as The Times of India reported, it can do little since soldiers cannot be prosecuted without the union government's sanction due to the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act being in force in the state.
Gen Rawat further told PTI, "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) ... 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."
Gen Rawat, who was made Army chief by the NDA government superseding two lieutenant generals senior to him due to his extensive counter-insurgency experience, said the country was doomed if people lost their fear of the Army. But he also asserted that maximum restraint was being maintained while handling the deteriorating situation in the Valley.