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Provocation on the LoC merits a befitting response

Last updated on: August 12, 2013 15:56 IST

A Indian soldier along the LoC

The Indian Army must be given a free hand to retaliate at one or more places of its choosing on the LoC.

The aim should be to cause maximum damage to the Pakistan army, says Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (retd).

In blatant violation of the mutually observed cease-fire on the Line of Control, the Pakistan army has once again engineered a brutal incident that resulted in the death of five Indian soldiers in the Pooch sector of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Pakistan army has denied that its personnel were involved. Presumably, the army implies that so-called Kashmiri terrorists sneaked across the LoC and ambushed the Indian patrol. This preposterous statement lacks credibility as every military professional familiar with the LoC environment knows that incidents of this nature can occur only with the direct involvement, wholehearted operational planning and full logistics support of the Pakistan army.

According to past experience, it has been seen that such complex operations by Border Action Teams are invariably led by personnel of the Special Services Group (Pakistan’s Special Forces) and comprise specially selected regular soldiers.

A large-sized terrorist group simply cannot get through the army’s well-coordinated defences, navigate the anti-personnel minefields and then come back safely after several rounds of firing have taken place with enough noise having been generated to wake up the sleeping soldiers of the Pakistan army -- that is if they were asleep in the first place. They are more likely to have been waiting eagerly to welcome back the raiding party. In short, explicit connivance is an inescapable prerequisite for a trans-LoC raid to succeed.

So, why did the Pakistan army orchestrate such an incident at a time when the Nawaz Sharif government wishes to reach out to India and the army chief has himself admitted that India is not Pakistan’s number one national security threat and that the danger lies within? Several reasons can be adduced for such irresponsible behaviour.

Quite obviously, the Pakistan army is not in synch with Prime Minister Sharif about his policy of normalising relations with India and would like to keep the pot simmering in Kashmir.

Apparently, though it has carefully calibrated the number of incidents of violence and the targets to be attacked, the army considers it necessary to keep the machinery created for terrorism and insurgency well-oiled so that the so-called jihad can be ratcheted up when needed.

Perhaps the Pakistan army is of the view that the jihad in Kashmir is flagging and needs to be revived through a series of spectacular incidents designed to raise the morale of terrorists already inside and those waiting in Pakistan occupied Kashmir.

The Indian army has successfully eliminated many hard core terrorists recently and the security situation in Kashmir has been relatively calm. Approximately 500 terrorists now remain, including sleeper cells, and about 2,000 are waiting in Pakistan and POK to be infiltrated across the LoC, but the Indian army is making it difficult for them due to sustained counter-infiltration operations.

This summer has seen a major increase in the number of attempts that are being made to infiltrate newly-trained terrorists. According to a statement made by Defence Minister A K Antony in Parliament, there have been 57 violations of the cease-fire agreement so far this year compared with 93 in 2012. Most such violations are of small arms fire to aid and facilitate infiltration across the LoC.

On another plane, the incident on the LoC has come close on the heels of the ISI-sponsored attack on India’s consulate in Jalalabad. Is the Pakistan army sending a message to India to reduce its involvement in Afghanistan, particularly its military aid and training support to the Afghan national army? It is well known that the Pakistan army is deeply concerned with India’s continuing commitment to Afghan reconstruction and the support India enjoys in Afghanistan and would like to limit India’s presence. No matter what the real reasons for the incident on the LoC might be, it has the stamp of the Pakistan army all over it.

Besides its primary responsibility of ensuring the territorial integrity of Pakistan, the army considers itself the protector of Islam and the guardian of the idea of Pakistan. In this capacity it has intervened several times to take direct charge of the day-to-day affairs of the country by overthrowing lawfully elected civilian governments.

The Pakistan army’s clearly stated objective is to wrest Kashmir from India at all costs. It calls this endeavour the “unfinished agenda of partition”. Given its present vulnerability due to extensive internal security commitments, the army may have temporarily shelved the military option, but is unlikely to give up on continuing its proxy war at low ebb.

Therefore, the real question is whether the Pakistan army has had a genuine change of heart about the futility of prolonged hostility towards India. The answer is very simple. Pakistan’s recent overtures towards India are a tactical ploy to tide over the army’s current difficulties, rather than a paradigm shift in grand strategy and should not be seen as a change of heart.

What should be India’s response? Should India continue to engage Pakistan and discuss peace and stability? Even during war it is always advisable to keep a channel of communication open with the adversary. In the case of India and Pakistan this is even more important as the two nuclear-armed nations have a long history of conflict and have come close to war at least twice in the last decade. Hence, it is important to continue the dialogue process, but after first giving a befitting response for the Pakistan army’s grave provocations on the LoC.

The Indian Army must be given a free hand to retaliate punitively at one or more places of its choosing on the LoC. The aim should be to cause maximum damage to the forward posts of the Pakistan army, particularly those through which recent attacks have been launched, thereby raising the cost for the army and the Inter Services Intelligence to continue to wage their proxy war.

The selected instrument should be the firepower of the artillery -- guns, mortars, multi-barrel rocket launchers -- supplemented by infantry weapons like medium machine guns. Every single bunker visible on the targeted Pakistani post should be razed to the ground. Every time acts of similar provocation are repeated, the quantum of punitive retaliation must be correspondingly enhanced. Sooner or later, the Pakistan army will get the message.

Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal is a Delhi-based strategic analyst.

Gurmeet Kanwal