In Flood-hit J&K, 'occupation Force' Hailed As Saviour

9 September 2014
Times of India
Rajat Pandit

New Delhi: Moriam Nessa (Monday, 11.09am): My sister is stranded in Srinagar. She is 9 months pregnant. We have been desperately trying to get through but nothing is working. She is stuck on the third floor of her house in Jawahar Nagar with others...three houses have collapsed in their neighbourhood... Army (Monday, 3.24pm): Jawahar Nagar is heavily flooded. Rescue teams will be going there. So, don't worry, they will be all right. Indian Army is there. Moriam (Tuesday, 8.27am): Thank you so much for your relief work and in helping out people. My sister has been rescued. All thanks to you and your team. They wouldn't have made it without you. This exchange over Facebook between a stranded victim's sister and the Army's additional directorate general (public information) is just one of the over 9,000 'distress messages' received by the force over social media for help in the flood-ravaged Kashmir Valley over the last three-four days. Desperate calls for help on the ground, of course, have been much, much more. From being perceived by many in Kashmir valley as an 'occupation force' in the 1990s to a 'humanitarian agency' now, which on Tuesday even airlifted seven tonnes of 'baby food' during its ongoing massive rescue and relief operation there, the Army has come a long way in the militancy-hit state. With close to three lakh soldiers deployed to guard the long unresolved borders with Pakistan and China as well as for counter-insurgency operations in the hinterland in J&K, the 11.8 lakh strong Army had the requisite manpower and wherewithal to swing into action when the flood fury wrecked havoc in the state. At a time when most of the civil administration and others seem relatively paralysed, the Army has directly deployed 20,000 soldiers in the ongoing Operation Megh Rahat, with 215 columns, 80 medical teams and 15 engineer task forces, and thousands others providing back-up, in one of its largest disaster rescue and assistance operations. Army chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag, in fact, will once again be visiting J&K on Wednesday to oversee the rescue and relief operation. 'The Army alone has rescued 38,700 people till now. Of them, 23,900 were from Srinagar, including a Nepalese delegation and a Pakistan golf team. We are also running 12 relief camps in the state and setting up a field hospital, apart from transporting 150 tonnes of rations, one lakh ready-to-eat meals, two tonnes of medicines etc etc,' said a senior officer on Tuesday evening. The Army has also been running Operation Sadbhavana in remote areas of the militancy-hit state since 1998 to win the 'hearts and minds of the local populace' after facing wide-spread accusations of heavy-handed behaviour and human rights violations. 'The aim was to wrest the initiative back from the terrorists, who were backed by proxy war from Pakistan, and re-integrate the 'awaam' with the national mainstream. Under Op Sadbhavana, we have spent over Rs 500 crore in various welfare and development projects,' said another officer. Many officers, in fact, contend that while militancy has been brought under firm control militarily, and the Army has thinned down its 'visibility' in heavily-populated areas, there have been platry political initiatives to consolidate the hard-earned gains. 'Pakistan has also kept the terror infrastructure directed against India alive and kicking. The separatists are also there to stoke the fires. We cannot let down our guard,' he said. Amid all this, Operation Megh Rahat is yet another opportunity for the Army to further burnish its credentials in J&K. Whether its massive effort will translate into changing hearts on the ground remains to be seen, but the Army is soldiering on regardless.