Army fears losing its 'popular image' in Jammu

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Jammu, Aug 7 (UNI) With the deployment of troops to control the popular agitation on Amarnath land row, Army fears losing its highly regarded image among the people in Jammu region, who have a rich history of soldiering for their nation since time immemorial.

''Troops' deployment for curbing agitation in Jammu could be counter-productive for the country as forces can lose support of locals who share information in anti-militancy operations. It may discourage young generation in joining the Defence forces,'' a senior army officer dealing with internal law and order situation in the winter capital said while talking to UNI on condition of anonymity.

Army, which is fighting militancy in the state and manning the Line of Control (LoC), has been called out to meet the situation in the curfew-bound Jammu region, which is witnessing a mass movement for restoration of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) in south Kashmir.

''In the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Army has always been given extraordinary support by the people of Jammu, the land of the Dogras who have a tradition of soldiering. It strengthens India's claim on the whole of state after last Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh signed an accession in favour of New Delhi,'' the officer added.

Terming the deployment of Army in Jammu as ''unnecessary and uncalled for'', Col Virendra Sahi (Retd), a Veer Chakra awardee of 1971 Indo-Pak war, said it could be a well-thought conspiracy to malign the image of Indian Army which is fighting a low intensity war in the state.

''Many cases of human right violations were made against Army in Kashmir valley to tarnish its image there, despite it being always first in helping people during their hard times, like natural disasters,'' he said, asserting that same game may have been planned to damage the ''clean image'' of forces in Jammu region.

Citing a picture of a girl in a procession published in a newspaper, Col Sahi said, ''No soldier can react with bullet on seeing this little girl holding a flag in her one hand and a flower in the other. But he (soldier) is always bound to obey the orders which are given to the Army.'' ''However, the prolonged deployment of Army in Jammu, where people are defying curfew restrictions to take out peaceful processions for their popular demand, could result in serious repercussions,'' the Army veteran cautioned.

Until now, eight people have lost their lives in the ongoing agitation, of which one person was killed when Army fired to disperse an unlawful assembly blocking national highway in Kathua district.

Despite Defence Minister A K Antony's declaration that Army should not be made ''an extended paramilitary force,'' troops were deployed in Jammu to tackle a serious prolonged agitation over the Amarnath land row.

UNI VJ RP BD1550

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