From Lieutenant General DS Hooda, who oversaw the cross-border surgical strikes in September 2016 as the former Northern Command chief of the Army, comes a key clarification on the Congress saying in its manifesto that it will amend the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA. "There is no mention of AFSPA as far as my report is concerned. Nor is there any reference to the number of troops who are required to be there in the (Kashmir) Valley because I think these are steps which will come after we have a broad strategy in place," the Lieutenant General told NDTV today. He had presented a 42-page national security document to Congress president Rahul Gandhi last week.
Just yesterday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at an election rally in Kolkata, hit out strongly at the Congress for downplaying national security concerns in Jammu and Kashmir.
"The Congress in its manifesto, which is full of lies, has promised to remove the law that protects our forces in terror-affected areas," the Prime Minister had said. "Removing this will actually help Pakistan. The Congress has always bowed down to terrorism," the PM added.
AFSPA gives special powers to soldiers in insurgency-hit areas - allowing them to arrest, use force and even open fire on anyone breaking the law. The Congress in its manifesto said it would amend the law "to strike a balance between the powers of security forces and the human rights of citizens and to remove immunity for enforced disappearance, sexual violence and torture."
Lieutenant General Hooda has made it clear that it was time for AFSPA to be reviewed.
"I think the way AFSPA is today, it is not providing enough security to our soldiers," says the General, adding, "there are major problems in it and we need to seriously review it. But as I said, I won't use the word 'dilution,' I won't use the word 'removal'. But certainly a review of the act is required."
Denying that he had any interest in joining any political party, Lieutenant General Hooda said that he presented his vision of national security to the Congress because he believed a holistic notion of national security is presently missing.
Details have also emerged on the national security document prepared by the Lieutenant General. NDTV has learned that the report is based on five pillars. These include:
- India's rightful place in international affairs and what can be done to secure this.
- Improving relations in the neighbourhood and a further look at India's 'Act East' policy.
- Internal conflicts, which looks at Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast and significantly focuses on the threat of transnational terrorism.
- Protecting our people, where the document looks at themes of economic security, energy security, the dangers of climate change and other impending risks.
- Finally, the document looks at capability building - intelligence, police, cyber threats, technology disruption and military modernisation.
The report comes weeks after Lieutenant General Hooda was picked by the party to head a task force on National Security and prepare a "vision document" for Congress in the run-up to the national elections.
According to Lieutenant General Hooda, long-term strategic goals cannot be based on going from one strategic strike to another against Pakistan. "Going from one surgical strike to another surgical strike is not going to give us any long-term dividends of what we want. And what we want is that Pakistan should stop cross-border terrorism. Therefore, I've always said that we need a long-term consistent policy as far as Pakistan is concerned which combines economic pressure, diplomatic pressure, political pressure and where required, military actions."
Echoing the views of several officers across the armed forces, Lieutenant General Hooda said remarks made by leaders such as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath who referred to the Army as "Modiji ki sena" were unacceptable. "I think some of the statements that have been made are most unfortunate. The military should not be dragged into political debates, which is increasingly happening, and that is what the unfortunate part is."