Ahead of the state assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir and the upcoming parliamentary polls, the army has decided to change guard in its Srinagar-based headquarters by bringing in an “old hand”, officials said on Monday.
An army officer told Greater Kashmir that the name of lieutenant general KVS Dhillon has been cleared to replace the incumbent chief of the 15 corps headquarters, lieutenant general AK Bhatt, less than a year after he was appointed as the general officer commanding in February 2018.
“Yes, the army headquarters has cleared the appointment of lieutenant general Dhillon as the new GoC of 15 corps. The present GoC A K Bhatt will move back to the army headquarters in Delhi,” the top officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding that Dhillon was an “old hand.”
“He was the head of army’s 7 sector Rashtriya Riffles based in Handwara. He has also served the army in 15 corps. Dhillon fully understands the security dynamics of Kashmir given his capability in leading the forces in challenging situations,” the officer, privy to Dhillon’s appointment, revealed.
The army’s Srinagar-based 15 corps headquarters is the main nerve center of security and military operations in Kashmir and along much of the Line of Control.
Army officials assert that the change of guard is a part of revamping the security set up in Kashmir involving multiple sensitivities, including the US pullout from Afghanistan, as well as prevent militants from fresh “recruitment and to go for re-grouping” before the elections.
New Delhi recently said it was ready to hold elections in Jammu and Kashmir, saying a final call for the dates however would be made by the Election Commission.
The decision to appoint Dhillon for the top military post in Kashmir comes barely two months after the State Administration Council (SAC) cleared Dilbag Singh as the full-time police chief of J&K.
The incumbent GoC took over in February 2018. His appointment was marked by a massive crackdown on militants in Kashmir, especially in the southern districts, ending the year as the deadliest in a decade with the killing of 250 militants including 17 top commanders of Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad and Ansaar-Gazwatul-Hind.
The usual term of GoC 15 corps is two years but lieutenant general Bhatt is being recalled to the headquarters after less than year.
“It’s the sole prerogative of army headquarters in New Delhi. At times, it depends on the situation,” the army officer said.
“For Kashmir situation, one needs to keep in mind the recent pull-out of US forces from Afghanistan. There were reports that Jaish-e-Muhammad may rope in Taliban commanders for training militants in Kashmir. There are multiple factors when transfers of senior officers are ordered.”
He said Lt Gen Dhillon is expected to take the reins of 15 corps in the first week of February.
“The present GoC will be joining army headquarters in Delhi soon after handing over the charge to his successor.”
The top officer said: “Army will ensure peaceful atmosphere for the upcoming two important elections and for that curbing the local militant recruitment and the re-grouping of those who survived last year, are topmost priorities.”
Another officer said a collective approach by all forces and security agencies was needed in Kashmir.
“The hard work put in by the army in 2018 should result in peace dividends. A close watch is needed to ensure peace prevails,” he said.