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June 1, 1999
The Rediff Special/ Lieutenant General Ashok Joshi (retd)
'If we get provoked we will give Pakistan the leverage they require'
The essence of winning this battle is close coordination between activities of troops on the ground and the aircraft. This close coordination implies not only the evolution of the plan of action, but the ability to react to the actual situation on the ground when it reveals itself in real time.
Low-flying, earth flying aircraft like MI-17 can stay on target longer. They have a better ability to locate targets and a greater chance of finding the target and neutralising the sangars or the stone shelters that the infiltrators have built. They must act in unison with the troops on the ground.
MiGs can spend a limited time on target and are constrained by mountain terrain as well as the compulsion of remaining on our own side of the LoC. Their advantage is that they can remain outside the reach of missiles and can make swift passes and co-operate with the helicopters and the troops on the ground. The exact mix of aircraft to be used depends upon a particular time, location and conditions and one cannot speculate.
The killing of Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja in this brutal manner was unfortunate. For whatever reasons they did not take him as a prisoner of war. We have lodged a diplomatic protest, which has limited efficacy. Retaliation in kind is not the best method. The current policy being followed by the Government of India appears to be to keep the conflict localised.
If under provocation the nation makes changes in its policy it is not likely to prove successful. We must stay on course. If we do get provoked then we will give Pakistan the leverage they require. We must use as much force as is needed. We must do this in a calculated way.
This campaign will be very long and expensive. My experience of these mountains tells me that very conservative assessments of time and very deliberate actions will produce results. We must give ourselves enough time reserves to accomplish the task. Hurried actions will not produce results. The terrain is very difficult and our men are climbing up.
To remain invisible our men will have to use longer routes. And then there is the question of fatigue. Ordinarily soldiers travelling on the plains, in full kit, can cover three kilometres in one hour. It takes an additional hour if there is a 300 metre gradient.
To travel one kilometre in the mountains can take two to three hours. This is mountain warfare. It takes time to arrive in a place and stock up. In order to get an element of surprise you need more time. I feel the campaign will not take less than six to eight weeks.
It is very likely that the infiltrators moved by night and used snowmobiles. But that does not mean that they could not have reached there on their feet. In the days before snowmobiles these areas were traversed. It is not that they could not be traversed. Helicopters, however, may have been used too. The helicopters may not have crossed into Indian territory, but helicopter lifts could have brought them closer.
We will finally capture these posts at great cost. Once these posts are reoccupied/captured they will have to probably be held all year round by deploying additional troops and at a great expense, considering the altitude at which these operations take place.
We will have to give up the practice of leaving these posts in winter. The gaps will have to be closed. And once this 200 km is held actively around the year by us, Pakistan will have to take reciprocal measures. They will have imposed substantial costs on themselves also. This will burden us. But Pakistan has imposed a similar penalty on themselves.
Lieutenant General (retd) Ashok Joshi, who has served in the Punj-Rajouri sector of Kashmir, spoke to Vaihayasi P Daniel.
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