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Is the LoC attack part of America's plan B?

January 16, 2013 16:34 IST

The US will be secretly happy if Pakistan is forced to fight on two fronts (Indian and Afghan) in 2014, says Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

'Terror struck into the hearts of the enemies is not only a means, it is the end itself,' Brigadier S K Malik writes in Quranic Concept of War, a virtual textbook for the Pakistani military doctrine.

The desecration of an Indian soldier's body by Pakistanis should come as no surprise. Have we forgotten what the Pakistanis did to Captain Saurabh Kalia in Kargil in 1999?

Pakistan has a history of desecration of dead Indian soldiers even during the 1965 war. Barbaric behaviour by the Pakistanis is neither new nor a planned strategy, it is their habit!

But that still leaves open the question: Why now?

It is this that opens up intriguing possibilities. By all accounts relations between India and Pakistan were on the upswing, thanks to the perpetual sway of the 'peace at any (mostly our) cost' lobby's all pervasive presence and influence and the ruling dispensation that had its eyes set firmly on consolidating its vote bank before the 2014 general election.

It is quite likely that the Pakistan army at this point in time saw no benefit in escalation of tensions on the Indian border when it is readying to reclaim its 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan post the US withdrawal.

First, a few facts about the area of the recent clashes. The Nangi Tekdi area was captured from Pakistan in the 1971 war and has been a thorn for them ever since.

Also, this is the area of the LoC that has the maximum number of divided families, unlike the Uri sector or the Kashmir valley. This makes infiltration that much easier.

But given all that, the LoC is accurately demarcated on maps signed by both countries, so there is very little chance for ambiguity on its location. The terrain is wooded and undulating hills and effective patrolling is tough.

Traditionally in this sector, Krishna Ghati, Balnoi and Poonch has been always volatile.

One must also remember that the Pakistan army is no longer a professional and monolithic body. The Islamism of the Zia-ul Haq days has percolated down to its junior ranks and individuals are quite capable of acting at the behest of Mohammad Saeed of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba.

It must be clearly understood that many jihadis now on the US terror list were creations of the Americans themselves. From Osama bin Laden to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the current American 'baddies', were all much admired mujahideen heroes.

In April 2012, the United States announced a bounty of $10 million on Saeed for his alleged role in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

But the same Saeed was sent to Saudi Arabia in 1980s by Punjab University for higher studies where he met Saudi sheikhs. They inspired him to join his colleague, Professor Zafar Iqbal, in taking an active role supporting the mujahideen in Afghanistan.

Saeed is an admirer of the West. While Pakistan's political elite were 'living like kings and princes in palatial government houses,' Saeed wrote in a petition, Britain's prime minister lived in a 'four-bedroom flat.'

'When the sun never set on the British Empire,' he wrote, 'the chief executive of that great country lived in the same house in a small street. That is truly Islamic, that is like following the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet.'

Saeed's venom is reserved for India and not the West. The American bounty on him is mere window dressing to assuage the Indians, for despite this he roams around freely in Pakistan and addresses public meetings openly.

The Americans have never tried to do an 'Osama bin Laden' on him. One must assume that Saeed's old ties with the Americans are intact. Saeed seems to have successfully engineered tension between India and Pakistan with the help of his admirers in the Pakistan army.

If this tension is to continue, then the Pakistan army will be forced to keep substantial strength on the border with India, directly affecting its attention on the Afghan border. The US, under the influence of its next Secretary of State John Kerry, has already sweetened the deal with Pakistan by releasing a large amount of military aid.

The Americans hope this would keep the Pakistan army happy. But should that not happen, tension on the Indian border will help rein in the Pakistan army from helping a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

The basic logic of guerrilla war is that guerrillas cannot take on regular armed forces in open warfare. The power of modern weapons is such that the guerrillas cannot match it. Examples of this are a-plenty in modern history.

In Afghanistan, the Soviets made Mohammad Najibullah head of State in 1986. They withdrew in 1989, leaving him in charge.

Najibullah surprised the world by defending Kabul from the mujahideen for another three years. He fell only when a major part of the Afghan forces under Rashid Dostum defected and the Pakistan army helped the Taliban with tanks and guns. It would be accurate to say that it was a joint Taliban-Pakistan force that ousted Najib.

In the 1971 Bangladesh war, the Mukti Bahini played a major role, but it was regular Indian armed forces that defeated the Pakistanis.

Even the 30-year-long Vietnam war ended only when the regular North Vietnam army invaded the South. On January 15, 1973, after pressuring South Vietnam to accept the peace deal, then US president Richard Nixon announced the end of offensive operations against North Vietnam.

The situation worsened in December 1974 when the United States Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974, cutting off all military aid. This act removed the threat of air strikes if North Vietnam broke the terms of the accords.

Shortly after the act's passage, North Vietnam began a limited offensive in Phuoc Long province to test Saigon's resolve.

The province fell quickly and Hanoi pressed the attack. Surprised by the ease of their advance, against the largely incompetent republic of Vietnam forces, the North Vietnamese stormed through the south, finally capturing Saigon. South Vietnam surrendered on April 30, 1975, following the fall of its capital.

Most recently, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was wiped out when the LTTE confronted the Sri Lankan armed forces in an open war.

All in all, the American game plan appears to be to try and 'bribe' the Pakistan army with aid to make it desist from helping the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But should that fail, as is likely, keeping Pakistan engaged with India will help the survival of the Hamid Karzai-led regime in Kabul.

This goes against the conventional logic of the talking heads on television channels, but one must remember in international affairs the 'real' as opposed to open strategy is very different.

The US will make appropriate noises about peace between India and Pakistan, but will be secretly happy if Pakistan is forced to fight on two fronts in 2014.

Colonel Anil A Athale (retd) is coordinator of the Pune-based Indian Initiative for Peace, Arms-Control & Disarmament. He has studied guerrilla wars in Kashmir, the North-East, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Northern Ireland and India's Naxalite-hit areas for the last 25 years.

Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)