Representational image for the Indian Army | Photo: ANI
Representational image for the Indian Army | Photo: ANI
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On 20 November, General Angus Campbell, Australia’s Chief of Defence Force, set an example for all militaries to follow in upholding human rights. On Twitter, he apologised to the people of Afghanistan and Australia for the human rights violations committed by the Australian Special Forces during their deployment in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2016.

In a 21-minute televised address, Campbell said, “To the people of Afghanistan, on behalf of the Australian Defence Force, I sincerely and unreservedly apologise for any wrongdoing by Australian soldiers. I have spoken directly to my Afghan counterpart, General Zia, to convey this message…..And to the people of Australia, I am sincerely sorry for any wrongdoing by members of Australian Defence Force. You’re right to expect that your Defence Force will defend our nation and its interests in a manner that accords with our nation’s values and laws.” He further said that apart from the personnel who committed the alleged acts, the chain of command would also be held accountable and liable for disciplinary action for complicity or moral failure, in case they remained ignorant. A redacted version of the inquiry report has been put in public domain.

What the Chief of Defence did was a course correction, as for nearly a decade the Australian media had been reposting about the alleged human rights violations. A combination of public, media and political pressure forced the military to course correct. In a sharp contrast, President Trump granted pardon to soldiers accused of human rights violations, much against the advice of his military and media outrage.

Ten days earlier, on 10 November, the Chairman of the United States’ Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said, “We are unique among armies, we are unique among militaries. We do not take an oath to a king or queen, or tyrant or dictator, we do not take an oath to an individual. No, we do not take an oath to a country, a tribe or a religion. We take an oath to the Constitution, and …… every sailor, airman, marine, coastguard each of us protects and defends that document, regardless of personal price.”

Milley’s assertion, however, of the US forces being “unique among militaries” is not true because many other militaries in democracies do the same. It has been speculated that the General’s statement was a veiled message for President Donald Trump to forestall him from ‘using’ the military in any form while challenging the electoral verdict. A few days before this statement, Trump had sacked Defence Secretary Mark Esper and appointed three loyalists to senior Pentagon policy positions. Earlier in June after being present with Trump for a photo op outside a church he had publicly said, “ I should not have been there. My presence in that moment, and in that environment, created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”

The two recent statements from the top brass of the Australian and US defence establishment hold a lesson for the Indian military. In the last few years, its reputation with respect to human rights has taken a beating and its apolitical status is under threat from politically inspired neo-nationalism.


Also read: Shopian encounter is Manoj Sinha’s litmus test. Justice can act as bridge to Kashmir


Human rights

The Indian military has a stellar record in upholding human rights in both internal and external conflict situations. The world recognises its success in controlling/containing insurgencies through model, people-friendly operations. It has elaborate rules, regulations and laws, supported by command guidance to deal with rogue actions or other lesser violations. And in cases where the military did not measure up in the past, the media and the higher judiciary acted as excellent watchdogs — intervening and ensuring action.

A convoluted sense of honour is largely responsible for this reputation getting sullied over the years. On one hand, the desire to protect unit/regiment/formation/personal reputation leads to cover-up/condoning of violations. On the other hand, the zeal to enhance the same through successes and decorations leads to rogue actions. The pattern has become too familiar — denial, obfuscation, delay, opacity of investigations and shelter of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Internal corrective mechanisms have been diluted to the point of becoming dysfunctional.

In cases where action is taken, the conduct of the court martial is so shoddy that it does not withstand the scrutiny of the Armed Forces Tribunal and the Supreme Court. A case in point is the court martial of the accused in the Machil fake encounter case — the sentence of the accused was suspended by the Armed Forces Tribunal. In the Dangari fake encounter case, the Supreme Court was deliberately misled by the government/Army to take over the case. They were well aware that a court martial was categorically time-barred under Section 122 of the Army Act. If that was not enough, the court marital too was conducted and stiff sentences awarded. The authorities knew well that it was illegal the accused will be acquitted during review by the Armed Forces Tribunal/Supreme Court.

A politically inspired neo-nationalism has further compounded the problem. The military has been deified and put on a pedestal. As it often happens, ethnic/ religious minorities on the periphery of the nation are mostly responsible for secessionist insurgencies. The anti-minority sentiment of the majority supports a no-holds-barred military solution to the problem. This sentiment rises in unison to defend even the rogue actions of the Army. With the exception of some local journalists, the media also seems to have been carried away by the ‘mood of the nation’. Judicial activism, which in the past had forced reforms in the armed forces, suddenly seems to have taken a back seat.

Nothing exemplifies this case more than the infamous ‘human shield’ case. A gross violation of human rights by a rogue officer was covered up, condoned and rewarded by the Army with overwhelming support of the public, media and the government.

Neo-nationalism is fast creeping into the military through social media. An army in which human rights violations are condoned, covered-up or overlooked, starts decaying from within due to the cascading effect on all other facets of military ethos and discipline. A classic example of this is the fate of the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan.


Also read: Shut down canteens, relieve sahayaks — here’s how the armed forces can really cut costs


Politicisation

The Indian military, like the United States’, also takes an oath to the Constitution and functions under the civilian government in power. It is bound by law to remain apolitical. This facilitates rendering of impartial advice with respect to matters of national security.

Traditionally, the armed forces as the guardians of the security of the nation are revered by the public. By nature, politicians tend to exploit this sentiment. In well-established democracies with strong institutions and constitutional civilian control over the armed forces, the military is able to advise the government to refrain from such exploitation. This was done by the Chief of Army Staff in 1999 when posters highlighting the Kargil War appeared during elections rallies.  However, in a political environment dominated by neo -nationalism of which military prowess is invariably an integral part, it tends to get sucked in to become part of it. More so, if the military hierarchy does not render firm advice in this regard. This is what has been happening to our military since 2014.

The military has been deified and identified with every facet of national life. The distinction between the government and the military has got blurred and neither is being held accountable for serious lapses with respect to national security. Military budget is shrinking, government-owned holistic national security/military reforms have not been carried out and yet a picture of exaggerated military prowess is being painted for public consumption. What is happening in eastern Ladakh is only a manifestation of the rot that has set in.

It is time for the military hierarchy to course correct to resurrect its reputation with respect to upholding human rights and stand up to its oath to the Constitution. History is replete with examples of militaries coming to grief for failure to do so.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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25 Comments Share Your Views

25 COMMENTS

  1. Messrs KB Singh & K Manikandan: I find it mind boggling that you both seem to be so ignorant of something as basic as the role of the Armed Forces in democracies. You are also ignorant of the International Conventions that India has ratified and the codes of conduct that apply to the Indian Armed Forces in both international and non-international conflicts. Although India has not ratified Additional Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions pertaining to the use of human shields in domestic conflicts, it has generally been the custom that professional Armed Forces do not use civilians as human shields. Indeed, most serving officers in the Armed Forces are critical of Major Gogoi’s cowardly actions. My own father, an old school IAF retiree who had seen action in 1962, regarded Major Gogoi’s actions as conduct unbecoming of an Indian soldier.

    In this specific case from 2017 which made headlines all over the world and stained the reputation of the Indian Armed Forces internationally, Major Leetul Gogoi took Mr Farooq Ahmad Dar an unarmed civilian as a human shield in 2017 in Budgam district in Kashmir. Mr Dar was tied to the bonnet of an armoured car and remained tied for 5 hours, ostensibly to prevent stones being pelted on the military convoys. Maj. Gogoi’s actions were an unexpected propaganda godsend for Pakistan which made sure that the world at large came to know of Indian handling of the crisis in Kashmir. Things did not become better when Gen. Bipin Rawat gave a commendation to Maj. Gogoi, apparently to raise the morale of Indian soldiers stationed in Kashmir.

    Besides, the illegal use of human shields, an equally important issue is the role of Armed Forces in domestic conflicts. In most democracies the Armed Forces are used for guarding the external frontiers of a nation and dealing with threats that emanate from enemy powers. And more importantly, the Armed Forces of a country are no substitute for the police and politicians. It is only in tin pot dictatorships and autocracies – and India is gradually becoming both under Modi – that you find the military saddled with the unenviable task of maintaining law and order. And no, for the record, that role for the military actually predates Modi. However, under Modi, the military has been shanghaied into becoming an instrument of BJP and RSS policy and a tool for implementation of the invidious, corrosive and violent ideology called Hindutva. Clearly with the backing of India’s Manikandans and KB Singhs.

    When a nation directs its own Armed Forces and asks them to train their weapons on its own citizens, a line is somehow crossed. Even when these citizens are pelting them with stones or using violence, there are lines that must never be crossed by a professional Army – such as using human shields or pellet guns. The litmus test of the success of these tactics is best answered by the question below:

    “Did Maj Gogoi’s tactic of using Mr Farooq Ahmad Dar as a human shield make Mr Dar more loyal to India?

    In the aftermath of the 2017 incident, two additional events are worth noting
    1. Maj Gogoi has since faced disciplinary action for other acts that reveal that he is an out-of-control individual.
    2. The Indian Army does not use human shields anymore, a tacit acknowledgement of the gross mistake of Maj. Gogoi.

    Not that these would make the KB Singhs and K Manikandans regard Maj Gogoi as anything but a hero. But then, for Serbs, butchers like Slobodan Milosevic, Radko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic from the Yugoslav civil wars are still heroes…

  2. Panag Saab, with due respect, I doubt you were stone pelted and hammered with fists on the haversacked rashion bag from behind whilst takling unrully mob on the streets. You were fortunate to have retired before this mob culture bacame a trend. Soldiers and policemen are only human they are bound to react in frustration and self defence. They need a leeway. It is easy to sit in the comfort of retirement and issue sermons. Attacking men in uniform should tantamount to terrorist act and dealt with accordingly. Major Gogoi did the right thing ! Human rights are for normal law abiding citizens.

  3. Mr Rattan Chand Goel: I thoroughly disagree with your claim:

    “.. There is no such thing as human rights for those who don’t have respect for .. human rights of .. public ..”

    That attitude Mr Goel, is a bloody slippery slope – literally speaking. It will lead to a descent into authoritarianism, hit squads, knocks at night on doors of political opponents, people settling scores by denouncing their enemies as terrorists, disappearances, kangaroo courts, torture and abuse of power, especially executive power in the country. These methods were used by the Stalins, Hitlers, Idi Amins and their ilk. And such barbaric methods have no place in a democracy. Assuming, of course, that you want India to remain a democracy.

    In India, one saw the punish-first-ask-questions-later philosophy in action during the Emergency that then PM Ms Indira Gandhi implemented from 1975-77. Then, as now under the Modi regime, anyone questioning the Indira Gandhi government was anti-national, terrorist, Naxalite, Pakistani agent and so on and the rule of law did not apply. And then as now, people vanished, were forcibly castrated or were thrown into jail on the flimsiest of charges. During the Emergency, the middle class hailed PM Gandhi and her wayward son Sanjay Gandhi’s brutal methods as much needed bitter medicine for a country weighed down by the rule of law. Just as they today hail the violent methods of Modi & Amit Shah and their out-of-control, Godse worshippers in the VHP and Hitler worshippers in the RSS. And then, as now, the middle class – you Mr Goel being a prime exemplar of one – harkens for the benevolent dictator who will do away with the checks and balances of the law and deliver swift justice.

    Don’t get me wrong Mr Goel – there are undoubtedly situations where deadly force is the only option on the table. Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab and his gang of thugs shooting at innocent people in Bombay had to be taken down with brute force, no questions asked. Hostage takers, snipers, hijackers and other such elements wielding force and threatening innocent people cannot be read their rights under the law but must be dealt with swiftly and often violently. But these are exceptions and not the rule.

    But more importantly, one cannot claim that since the rule of law takes time, it needs to be dispensed with, cf. your claim:

    “.. our legal system is so lengthy and cumbersome, that the culprits are seldom booked .. only way left to deal such elements is to kill them ..”

    What if someone, were to falsely claim that you Mr Goel were a terrorist or spy for completely selfish motives? Would you then accept that you should be tortured and killed as the legal system is lengthy and cumbersome? Heard of the case of ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan (ref: bit.ly/37lt0et) and how he was tortured on the flimsiest of allegations?

    Additionally, when dealing with domestic violence or terrorism, force may actually prove counter-productive. For instance, despite the use of force over many decades, Naxalites are still around and going strong; the insurgency in Kashmir has not abated; the Punjab is not entirely devoid of Khalistan sympathisers; the North-east still simmers and so on. In many instances of domestic terrorism such as the one in Kashmir or the Naxalite movement, political solutions anchored in rule of law and respect for human rights is more likely to result in lasting resolution of the underlying grievance and the terrorism that it begets.

    Yes, terrorists rightly evoke disgust in all of us. But when governments use the same violent logic of terrorists, both sides lose credibility. And in India, where government violence and misuse of power is rampant, by advocating more of that, you too could end up hoist by your own petard.

    As Earl Warren (1891-1974) , Governor of California said:

    “The police must obey the law while enforcing the law”

  4. I am appalled at this General castigating that Major’s action of using a terrorist as a human shield. I wonder whether he was a General in Indian Army or Pakistani.

    • Mr K Manikandan: Do read my response to your comment above. I have jointly answered you and another tribesman from your Hindutva fraternity Mr KB Singh …

  5. Please stop enlightening us with such gross articles..
    Ambitions to climb political ladder should not be mounted on a reputed organization like army which you are disgracing now.

  6. The Author despises the present Government.That is why he refers to the decline of human rights in the Army since 2014.With such a prejudiced outlook this retired General can-not be expected to be objective in his comments.After-all it is this Government that implemented the One Rank,One Pension.This Government has recognised the role of the Army in national security. and has been most supportive.The Author should know the quality of political leadership is crucial in the performance of the Army.The Second World War lionised Winston Churchill ,Franklin Roosevelt and Stalin for their inspiring leadership.The Author should realise that the Defence Forces obey the Government of the Day. By the way,the Armed Forces have more than held their ground in Ladakh..By occupying strategic positions we are certainly in a strong negotiating position.

    • Mr Iyer Radhakrishnan: What were you smoking when you brayed :

      “.. the Armed Forces have more than held their ground in Ladakh. ..” ?

      Although the great Gujarati genius will not tell you so, fact is, India has lost more than 1000 sq. kilometres in Ladakh to the Chinese. It is only blinkered, blind Modi worshippers like you who refuse to read the writing on the wall.

      I suggest you go back to inhaling to Arnab Goswami’s hot air and learning that Pakistan is the main enemy !

    • Dear Sir

      What you say is true. But being a man from within, I can assuredly tell you, the present dispensation is precipitating the politicisation of the Armed Forces. All politicians would want to gain mileage from Armed Forces’ actions, but the present lot is taking it too far

  7. The only armed conflict which has been successfully put down was in Punjab and the man responsible for doing that never apologized to people of Punjab.
    Was is he neo-nationalist?
    Is the use of IEDs and human bombs a respectable way to fight a war with full regards to human rights.
    Anyone trying to disturb the authority of the law cannot do so with fair means and it would be stupid to fight that war with all the rules on one side and none on the other.
    STRONG GOVERNMENTS RESPECT THEIR SOLDERS AND THE WEEK GOVERNMENTS RESPECT THE GENERALS ONLY

    • Mr Vijay Galande: When you bray:

      “.. The only armed conflict which has been successfully put down was in Punjab ..”

      one wonders if you ever read the newspapers and keep yourself abreast of what happens in in India.

      Fact is Mr Galande, there are many simmering conflicts all over India and they cannot be wished away by your Gujarati pracharak or his blind worshippers like yourself. These conflicts take place along class, caste, language and religious dimensions. We have a Naxalite conflict that no government has been able to put down; we have a conflict in Kashmar; one sees a conflict in the North East; the Khalistan movement still simmers; Dalits are in perpetual conflict with upper castes and so on. India, like Pakistan is a collection of many parts or regions held together by force as opposed to having come together voluntarily. Indeed, if a referendum were held today, some states would have even left the Union. Thus, nation-building and development of an Indian identity must necessarily be an incessant activity in a place like India. Something the BJP and blinkered Modi bhakths like yourself give short shrift to.

      You go on to talk about tactics such as IEDs and suicide bombers employed by terrorists. Abhorrent though these, the more pertinent question is: should the military be involved in resolving political conflicts? Should the Armed Forces of a country be deployed against its own citizens? And when that cardinal rule of not deploying your own soldiers against your own citizens is violated, do you expect both parties to follow normal rules of engagement?

      Strong governments respect their soldiers and civilians and do not pit one against the other; weak governments who are unable to find political solutions to domestic conflicts respect their silly politicians.

  8. Disclaimer: I stand for Human Rights and have always strived for it.

    The guy with the gun is always the fall guy. He is not human. Being armed against the unarmed is an unequal fight. When the enemy is invincible (your own family) he is always “unarmed”. There are unfortunate incidents in all the armies. I will recommend a movie on Netflix (they are not paying me for this) ”The Liberator”, to get an idea of conflicts and human rights.
    And of course, such incidents grab headlines more than anything else.

    Note: When “human rights” (which should always be a priority) in conflicts was founded and propagated, terrorism was unknown. Just saying

    It is great that veterans (including me) have opportunities to express views – and in the process, like many “experts” in various fields most of the time make a fool of ourselves!!!

    • There is no such thing as human rights for those who don’t have respect for the human rights of the public. The terrorists never think when they kill and bomb public. They kill the nation’s armed forces by planting bombs and attacking army conveys. And then when forces go to arrest them, the locals, either by kinship or fear, give them human shield. And our legal system is so lengthy and cumbersome, that the culprits are seldom booked. The prosecution lawyers and judges too prefer to delay the matter due to fear of reprisal by the terrorists and their followers. Now only way left to deal such elements is to kill them. And for this action of forces, human right activists should go to hell. If they make much noise, consider them too as terrorist sympathiser and supporters.

  9. A veteran has tweeted that serving officers are travelling to Nagpur, lobbying for placement as army commanders and other similar postings / promotions. If true, this violates two virtues that have always been associated with the armed forces – Political impartiality and Secularism. 2. General Mark Milley’s inspiring words that the loyalty of the armed forces is to the Constitution induced a sense of realism in the losing candidate. Precluding what the Editor calls the C word.

  10. With ex-soldiers like this officer, who needs third party attacks from enemies? It seems that this gentleman cant see beyond his political & ideological dislikes. He is willing to run down that institution where has spent 40 years. It also seems that till this officer was in the army everything was great. Now since he has left everything has turned rotten. Really shocking in my opinion. Who does that? You dont like Modi & Jan Sangh & hindutva ideology of bjp, keep your hand on your heart & come againt it openly, like an ex-soldier. Stop finding fault in our Armed forces. I am sure there are many others as capable, if not more, than yourself in the army. They will take care.

  11. A Leftist in Indian Army is more dangerous then a Naxalite and Islamic Jihadi, Ex Major General Panag is more dangerous then both of them.

    • Mr reddy when we lose our temper, and use intemperate words, these wolves at print, ndtv, india today will pounce upon you. Thats their strength. Modi has beaten them black & blue because he never loses his temper. I understand your anger, but we must protest against this gentleman in a logical & temperate language. Otherwise he wins.

  12. “Clean human rights record is the key”, it proclaims in vaccum.

    Key to what, whom, how ,why?? Blank.! To get pat from the west, foreign media ? Colonial mentality.

    “Human rights”is the biggest bogey that murderous Jihadists and Urban Naxal malcontents use as a camouflage and cover to carry out their nefarious activities in India. There is no direct reference or definition to this concept called HR specifically in Constitution , as all individual/ group rights are subsumed in Fundamental rights and other Constitutional rights.
    The vague, self inflicted commitments by Indian state to HR as described by the west is borne out of our membership in UN, where this phrase was coined and charters formulated. But ironically , those who make maximum noise on it are themselves worst abusers in the world. India gets itself singled out unwittingly by the same rogues. Indian army and state, in comparison to these rogues are most humane and considerate.

    Panag seems to be a compromised man today, his loyalty under suspect, his past status not withstanding. He has lost it. He doesn’t know even though retired as an Army cdr that the oath he and others in org took is “to uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India” and hence all actions subsumed under it without pity or remorse. It has been given the Constitutional mandate to defeat external and internal Enemies that threatens it sovereignty/ integrity through physical Force. If there is no India left, there is no Constitution to defend too. That’s why “shoot to kill” for a soldier is s legit motto sanctioned by same Constitution. That Indan army is organically, operationally humane in its conduct / approach is over and above the stated Constitutional commitment.
    He is mixing it with that of executive , legislative and Judiciary. Also, bringing in his own strong political bias against current regime ( primary motive of this crappy piece) and his racist comments against Majority ( Hindus) for Minorities where are truth is other way around.. Kashmir where he commanded NC was testimony of KP pogrom by islamic jihadist during his service time, yet he has the gall to lie through his teeth.

    In fact there is a strong case to keep him under active surveillance by the Intel agencies for covert subversive activities against the state.

  13. Over thirteen years back, when I visited Leh, our host told me “Hum army se darte hi”. As people living in town, their bad experience was that some rouge soldiers would snatch away goods from shops and they could not complain to anyone, as none wood heed their complaints. But, a laudable aspect of Army was that in remote villages like Da Hanu on the way to Kargil, I saw that they had provided radios, lead acid batteries and inverters to hourseholds, as power supply was erratic and they would have to without power for very long hours.

    There is no doubt that there is whitewashing of deficits and short comings. Under the shelter of surgical strikes on Naga insurgents, PoK and Balakot, inadequacies of our armed forced, especially the army have been hidden. When Pakistan retaliated a day after Balakot strike, our response was shockingly poor, though Abhinandan’s personal skill and bravery saved the day. Our equipment are outdated. Period.

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