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Army guns down
Lower, please

New Delhi, Feb. 1: Hold your guns down, General Joginder Jaswant Singh, who took over as the chief of the army on Monday, was today set to order his troops.

Signalling velvet reforms within the force, the chief has also told his corps commanders to discard the crude practice of totting up 'kills' and 'captures' to reward troops.

The first Sikh to rise to the rank of a four-star general in the army, the battle-hardened General 'JJ' said the army will order longer and specially made shoulder slings for guns so that barrels point towards the ground. 'The idea is not to intimidate people,' he said.

Any number of people in the insurgency-prone states from Kashmir to Manipur have felt intimidated by the sight of a soldier holding a carbine at waist level, the barrel pointing outwards with the forefinger on the trigger.

JJ wants to scrap this image of the army.

The army chief will also award citations to units deployed in operational areas after inspecting their record with local civic authorities such as the superintendent of police and the nambardar (head) of a panchayat.

The current practice for gallantry awards and rewards to troops is to base their claims on records of 'kills' and 'captures', usually of 'terrorists'.

'I want to eliminate 'kills' from the army's vocabulary,' the army chief said. 'I will give a citation to a unit even if it has no record of 'kills' but if the local people say the troops have behaved well and courteously.'

These are but two reforms that were high on the army chief's list of priorities.

Senior army commanders routinely talk about the importance of 'winning hearts and minds' in counter-insurgency situations. So frequently is the phrase used that it has become part of the jargon in army establishments. It is called 'WHAM' for short. But it is rare for a general to categorically spell out so early into his tenure the specific steps he will take.

'I think it is important to realise that one can be polite while being firm. When I was a company commander in Kashmir, I used to address meetings of local people during patrols. It is important to talk to the local people because they will listen. They also understand that their children are often used as cannon fodder,' he said.

'Army units will be directed to use minimum force and avoid collateral damage,' the general said today after a ceremonial guard of honour.

'But it is also important to realise that about 3 lakh of our million-plus troops are on duty in the field. Also, on any given night about 1.5 lakh troops are on patrol or are laying ambushes or are being attacked by terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir and in the Northeast,' he said.

General JJ, the 22nd occupant of the office, is uniquely placed as army chief because he assumes command when a ceasefire with Pakistan along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir has held for 14 months despite minor aberrations. He said he would attempt to dovetail confidence-building measures at the military level with Pakistan into the overall peace effort. In his first public utterances, uniquely for an army chief, the general has not used one harsh word against Pakistan.

He said the army's reduction of troops was constantly reviewed. It was assessed that the level of militant activity would be low through the winter, when passes in the high mountains are snowed under till March. If more troops needed to be withdrawn, a conclusion would be drawn after studying the situation a few weeks later.

JJ, who prepared the army's recently accepted war doctrine, was also reorienting priorities from the immediacy of combat to the technological upgrade of information systems. He would, he said, like to see the battlefield of the future on his television screen. Such transparency would be achieved through an intensive use of satellite communication.

'One of my key result areas would be to see the transition of the army into a 21st century futuristic battlefield force and this would include carrying out mechanisation of logistics and bringing in rapid use of information technology,' he said.

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