17/02/2017 11:15 AM IST | Updated 17/02/2017 11:56 AM IST

EXCLUSIVE: We Need To Reach Out To Kashmir's Youth, Says Former Army General DS Hooda

His statement contradicts Army Chief General Bipin Rawat's views.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The government needs to reach out to Jammu and Kashmir, especially to its youth, immediately, General DS Hooda, who just retired as the Northern Army Commander, told HuffPost India.

General Hooda's remark comes a day after Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat said those obstructing military operations or pelting stones will be considered as over-ground workers for terrorist groups and terrorist sympathisers.

Asked to explain what he meant by an outreach,

General Hooda said there is no doubt that "Jammu and Kashmir is ours, but we must also underline that people of Kashmir are also ours. If there are genuine grievances, we must address them."

General Hooda's remark is in sharp contrast to Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat's. Besides warning stone-throwers and villagers who obstruct operations, General Rawat said, "People who have picked up arms, the local boys, if they want to continue with such acts of terrorism and display flags of ISIS and Pakistan, then we will treat them as anti-national elements and go helter-skelter for them. Our relentless operations will continue."

General Hooda commanded in the valley during one of the most difficult times, between June 2014 and December 2016, and also carried out the surgical strikes last September that destroyed several terror launch pads in Pakistan. The Northern Command is one of the largest formations of the Indian Army. It is responsible for defending the Jammu and Kashmir border on both the Pakistan and China fronts as well as maintaining the internal security of the state.

Besides an outreach, General Hooda also said there is need for a refined and more practical surrender policy to allow Kashmiri youth who have joined terror groups a chance to return to normal life.

The current surrender policy suffers from several deficiencies. For instance, rehabilitation of the surrendered militants is only possible if they return to India either through certain designated points like the Wagah-Atari Border and the Aman Setu in Kupwara. Rarely, if any at all, have any of militants been able to return through these routes.

General Hooda also said there is need for a refined and more practical surrender policy to allow Kashmiri youth who have joined terror groups a chance to return to normal life.

About 70-odd Kashmiri boys are suspected to have joined terror groups like the Hizbul Mujahideen last year. General Hooda's call for a more refined surrender policy indicates that a section of the security forces feels that many of those who have joined militancy have been misled and can be weaned away.

Four soldiers, including an officer, and four terrorists were killed in Jammu and Kashmir last week. A huge cache of weapons were recovered from south Kashmir.

The winter is drawing to a close. Infiltration drops during winter and picks up during spring and summer, when passes are more negotiable. There is apprehension that the upcoming summer will be as hot as last year's. According to the security establishment, there are at least 250 terrorists — primarily belonging to the Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashker-e-Toiba — still holed up in Jammu and Kashmir.

In 2016, nearly 100 people were killed when security forces fired to control mobs; several thousand forces were also injured. Protests erupted across the valley after Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani was killed. Violent protests forced security forces to impose curfew across the valley. Immediately after the curfew was lifted, separatists enforced a lockdown of the Kashmir valley for over three months. Internet and telephone services had to be suspended for months too. Hundreds of youth were blinded by the pellet guns used by the CRPF to control mobs.

Security forces are apprehensive that the unrest and turmoil of 2016 may revisit valley in the summer of 2017. They have also warned the government that terror attacks will be frequent in the coming days.

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