Lieutenant General BS Raju has served in Kashmir for a long time. He has commanded a formation right on the Line of Control in the Nowgam sector, and led the strategic brigade of Uri. His last two stints have been that of General Officer Commanding, Victor Force, and currently GOC of the prestigious 15 Corps at Srinagar. Lt Gen Raju will be relinquishing his office in Srinagar later this month, to become India’s next Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO). He spoke to News18 on the fresh ceasefire agreement with Pakistan, Valley militancy and how the Army and security agencies have been able to stop Pulwama-like attacks. Excerpts:

Q: As someone like you who has vast experience of the LoC areas, do you think the ceasefire would stick, looking at the past? Will this truce deal be durable?

The agreement that has been reached between the two DGMOs is a step in the right direction. I have reason to believe that it will bring peace and stability in the area. I think the big advantage will come to the local populations living on the borders. They want to see some respite. A lot of civilian casualties have been there. I am of the opinion that some of it will have an impact on the management of infiltration also.

Q: How difficult is it for the Army to follow the fresh ceasefire announcement in letter and spirit, given that infiltration bids from across are unlikely to abate?

Infiltration will be a challenge if it takes place. I have every reason to believe that the people who have signed the agreement, especially Pakistan, will take stock and ensure measures in place to check infiltration. As far as we are concerned, yes, it is a challenge. The Indian Army will face this challenge of management of the infiltration and management of the agreement that has been signed upon in the most appropriate manner. The people on the ground have been instructed to ensure that they are able to abide by the new conditions placed and simultaneously ensure they are alert and prepared at all times for any contingencies. And, yes, in case of infiltration, we will give ourselves the best chance to ensure that we don’t abrogate the ceasefire. We will use the existing mechanisms which are in place both at the LoC as well at Delhi and see how to take this process forward.

Q: In the wake of fresh developments, do we see the graph of militancy going down this year?

Yes, I think peace in the Valley will be a second order if I can call it that. There is peace on the LoC and we will have immediate beneficiaries, the civilians living on the LoC…and prevent infiltration if the foreign terrorists try to come in and we block them, we will automatically have some impact on the situation in the hinterland. I can say this with conviction that today we are able to manage the level of violence in the Valley. The number of terrorists in the Valley is probably the lowest in one decade… and we would like to keep it that way so that people have some respite. The Valley people had been impacted by the Covid situation, tourism, education, and now if we are able to contain violence, it will bode well for the people.

Q: Are military measures alone sufficient to curb militancy in the state?

In my opinion, the military reduces the levels of violence from where the civilian administration starts to function. I have reason to believe that we have reached that stage. There is a lot of activity which has been generated by civil administration to the people in a large way and we also are working in close synergy and doing our bit to ensure good governance is delivered.

Q: Do you think there is a need to have a comprehensive surrender policy? Because earlier ones started by former chief ministers have been literally forgotten or discontinued.

A surrender policy definitely is in the offing. We have made a draft and it is being looked at by appropriate authorities and I am sure they will come up with a holistic policy which will facilitate surrender, not only at the time of surrender by the management of surrenderee subsequently. But I must also say surrender can also happen when we build an environment for it of which a civil society is a very important component. They have to create an environment where there is a change of attitude of people who have joined militancy and want to come back, and more importantly the civil society must be able to accept the surrenderee in a positive manner. He is not boycotted and we need to come together so that the surrender issue becomes a success. I am happy to note there have been many surrenders this year. Policy will give it more strength and more potency.

Q: How many terrorists are operating in Kashmir? What is their outfit-wise strength, arms and modus operandi…the foreign component?

I think we have been able to get militancy down in fair numbers. As on today, we are looking at 125 plus local militants and 90 foreign militants. The total number of militants is one of the lowest in the past one decade. And we will like to keep it that way or reduce it further for peace to prosper in the Valley.

Q: What is the update on the Shopian alleged fake encounter? The Army admitted it was a mistake. In which stage is the probe?

Firstly, when the incident happened, we were very forthright in the way we handled it. We proactively ordered an inquiry and once prima facie some culpability was found, we went for recording of evidence. That process of recording the evidence is completed and along with our recommendation we have sent it to the command and I have every reason to believe that it has gone to Army headquarters who will give their direction and subsequent proceedings will start. So I don’t want to pre-empt…there are some legal issues. Suffice to believe in just conduct. If there are infractions there, appropriate action will follow. And we will be proceeding ahead in this case once we get directions. And there has been a slight amount of delay because of forensic evidences which are due to come.

Q: Given that fresh land laws have made acquisition easier in J&K, is the Army encouraged to acquire more land for its operations? How much of land does it need in J&K to further buttress its defences vis-à-vis the internal and external operations?

There are a lot of apprehensions in the air regarding the process which is involved in acquisition. I will clarify here that the process of acquisition of land has not changed. The new land laws only provide for acceleration of construction which I, as a corps commander, call strategic area. So if some area is strategic, I am able to accelerate it. Otherwise there is no change in policy, and secondly we are not in need of land. We have adequate land and that is how it will be.

Q: In case of any Pulwama-like attack, will the Indian Army go for a strike bigger than the surgical strikes or bombing of Balakot?

This is a question which cannot be answered directly. It will be contingent on a lot of things that translate on the ground. But suffice to say we have set a precedent and in case we find that we need to respond, we will respond at a place and time of our choice. And more importantly, the job for me presently is to prevent an incident of that nature. You are aware we have been able to neutralise a lot of IEDs prepared locally or modules have come from across…and through timely action by security forces we have neutralised them. The effort as on today is to deny the capability to people who want to generate that violence.

Q: Has the targeting of Jaish bases caused any deterrence to Pulwama-like terror attacks? Has it forced Pakistani agencies to rethink?

I have reasons to believe that some deterrence is in place. It is a combination of some actions we have carried out. It is also a consequence of pressure from across the world against Pakistan including the FATF and a lot of actions across the border are ensuring that we are seeing some peace in the area. I am sure people who need to learn the lessons have learnt.

Q: A recent conversation between the Victor Force chief and local youth in Pulwama perhaps suggests that the level of alienation runs deep in the Valley. What would be your strategy to bring a change?

Right now we are looking at establishing a good connect with the youth. This process of consultation with the youth was a step in this direction. And I must say that as GOC I went to a Pulwama town hall and more than 150 youths told me that we have moved forward. That we are able to face each other and debate, and difficult questions were asked and answered. We are taking it up by holding sports events, debates, and the latest being a day with a company commander, which is a very unique idea, where we are breaking a barrier. The wall between the Awaam and Army is broken. Actions to connect with the Awaam are the most important thing for the Army.