Comment

Looking beyond a tattered truce  

OVERWATCH: It needs to be brought to public attention that the Indian Army is not trigger-happy, but neither is it unprofessional not to respond. Its response is focussed and for effect. Picture shows a border patrol unit at Suchetgarh near Jammu. Photo: Nissar Ahmad

OVERWATCH: It needs to be brought to public attention that the Indian Army is not trigger-happy, but neither is it unprofessional not to respond. Its response is focussed and for effect. Picture shows a border patrol unit at Suchetgarh near Jammu. Photo: Nissar Ahmad  

Following the numerous border violations, India must consider that there are enough areas astride the LoC where its Army can hurt Pakistan much more effectively than it can perceive

Incidents instigated by the Pakistan military along the frontlines in Jammu and Kashmir are as predictable as the seasons. It is never too difficult to ascertain when they will begin and end. This year too, they are panning out in a similar manner. Over the years, the public has always believed these to be outside its domain of interest and something for only the Army to handle. But some things are changing this. First, because of social media, there is more information in the air, though insufficient for informed opinion. Second, the images from West Asia are all over, causing apprehension about the play of violence nearer home. Third, there is concern about how events in Afghanistan will turn out once the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withdraws. Finally, the so-called information revolution regularly points out chinks in our armour and the supposed weakness in our defensive capability, thus creating a perception of imminent danger.

But why does the Line of Control (LoC) go “live” from time to time and remain “under control” at other times? For their cause to remain effective, the separatists in Jammu and Kashmir and their sponsors across the border need turbulence of any form: street protests, criminal acts, terrorist strikes, or attacks on the security forces. The Army has brought the hinterland militancy in Jammu and Kashmir under total control. Twenty-five years of violence calibrated at will is dwindling to levels below the required threshold. The >security establishment of Pakistan fears the consequences — normality in Jammu and Kashmir — immensely.

Pakistan’s strategic priorities

On its side, it is working overtime to control a raging internal militancy even before the U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan, so as to initiate endeavours to fill the strategic space vacated by the ISAF. Therefore, Pakistan has three strategic priorities in order of importance: first, its internal security; second, Afghanistan, and third, Jammu and Kashmir. The third priority would have remained just there, had it not been for a couple of spoilers: the unexpected emergence of political stability in New Delhi, the inability to induct or sustain sufficient terrorist cadres and leadership in Jammu and Kashmir’s hinterland, and the coming election in November in Jammu and Kashmir. No less, the India-focussed Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) are demanding their pound of flesh from the Pakistan security establishment, to keep the Jammu and Kashmir situation in prominence lest it becomes history.



The contextual difference this time to how the Indian Army responds to LoC violations is the public demand to be informed how the Pakistan establishment’s actions are being punished


When the Jammu and Kashmir hinterland is closed to them, it is inevitable that their area of choice would shift to the LoC. Here, calibration too is easier; the choice of violent activity resting with the initiators. It ranges from low-level activity such as planting landmines on routes of Indian Army patrols in the immediate vicinity of the LoC, to sniping, small arms firing, use of high trajectory weapons, which could go up to the employment of artillery, and the last and the most intense trigger, the employment of Border Action Teams (BATs) to cause intense casualties on our troops.

The firing this time has apparently been most intense not on the LoC but along the International Border, which Pakistan calls the Working Boundary. Infiltration through this sector is easier due to shorter distances to the population centres. However, diversions are necessary through firing. The Kathua and Samba terrorist strikes were perceived as successful and Jammu remains extremely vulnerable. This is also happening because the >anti-infiltration posture along the LoC fence has proven to be a major success in the Valley and Rajouri sectors.

There is a misperception that the Indian Army only takes casualties and does not respond in kind to such provocation. This is incorrect. It needs to be brought to public attention that the Indian Army is not trigger-happy, but neither is it unprofessional not to respond. Its response is focussed and for effect. It has a history of spectacular achievements on the LoC. However, the more it gets itself embroiled in LoC violence, the more it will disengage from the current prime task of counter-infiltration and that is one of the aims of the adversary.

Mechanisms for stability

There is an existent mechanism to stabilise the situation in areas where exchanges have occurred. This is restricted to the Director General Military Operations-level through the routine Tuesday calls or special communications in emergent conditions. It usually leads to >flag meetings at the rank of Brigadier but these become occasions to place stated claims in front of each other. For any meaningful mechanism, there needs to be progressive communication links up the channel, proper empowerment and regular confidence-building meetings between commanders in areas prone to a frequent breakdown of ceasefire. But denial will still be at the core of Pakistan’s game.

It were the violent exchanges on the LoC in 2013 which resulted in two major incidents leading to the loss of lives of Indian soldiers and the resultant negativity about the lack of an effective response from our side. For long the Indian Army has effectively responded in its own unstated way, reserving the time and the place for such response. It has never brought this to the public domain in the >time-tested way of keeping military actions outside the public gaze. The contextual difference this time is the public demand to be informed how the Pakistan establishment’s actions are being punished. The Indian Army’s leadership will have to think this through. It very well knows there are ways to respond to Pakistan, which will involve taking the threshold of the ceasefire up by a couple of notches. With 95 violations along the LoC and 25 along the International Border (in “recent months” according to the Director General of the Border Security Force), this is anyway a tattered truce. Perhaps the new government in New Delhi will be in a better position to take hard decisions just as it did while calling off talks between the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries. In doing so it must consider that there are enough areas astride the LoC where we can hurt Pakistan much more effectively than it can perceive. The resultant cost will have to be borne by Pakistan even as it struggles to achieve its security objectives on multiple fronts.

(Syed Ata Hasnain is a former General Officer Commanding of the Srinagar based 15 Corps and currently senior fellow with the Delhi Policy Group and Visiting Fellow with the Vivekanand International Foundation.)

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 6:13:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/looking-beyond-a-tattered-truce/article6367256.ece

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