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|June 10, 2002||
Major General (retd) Ashok K Mehta
Can infiltration be checked?
India's recent proposal for joint patrolling with Pakistan of the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir is one of the means -- though by no means a satisfactory one -- of monitoring infiltration.
It has been welcomed in the West as it puts a punctuation mark on the military option and over the exaggerated spectre of a nuclear exchange. But what is actually required on the ground and in the air is a foolproof verification and authentication mechanism to end cross-border terrorism.
This involves surveillance of infiltration launch pads and passageways as also the actual support and logistics provided by the Pakistan Army and the ISI in guiding terrorist groups across the LoC under the traditional barrage of artillery fire. Assuming that Pakistan's cooperation is cent per cent and surveillance is failsafe, infiltrators can and will still get through.
But there are difficulties in the concept. Ask any infantryman. Given the terrain, vagaries of the weather and Pakistan's conditional acceptance, if at all, the idea is neither practical nor feasible.
The joint patrolling of the 740 kilometre long LoC and nearly another 350 kilometres of the international border and the working boundary in J&K alone will require the most elaborate and composite human and technical force backed by mind-boggling logistical support. Yes, while it will provide some comfort, no confirmation of doubt about the durability and sincerity of the exercise is likely for the Indian Army.
There will be myriad difficulties in organising and setting up such a verification task force. There are hundreds of infiltration routes and each has subsidiary passageways. Human ingenuity, determination, and mountaineering and stealth skills cannot be blocked by soldiers and sensors. That is why the army has assessed and calculated through a scientific process that for every infiltration bid that is foiled, two or three attempts succeed.
It has been empirically established that around 150 to 200 terrorists get through during the infiltration season from April to October. For the rest of the year, the picture is not so clear. But incidents of infiltration decline dramatically north of the Pir Panjal while a steady trickle continues south of it.
The idea of joint patrolling is not new, but contrary to reports in the media and official statements, it has never been implemented, as far as I know, at any time anywhere along the border with Pakistan. In the run-up to Agra last year, India floated this very idea and its director general of military operations, Lieutenant General Sarabjeet Chahal, was all packed to leave for Islamabad to discuss the proposal. But his counterpart, Major General Pervez Qaini, kept him on hold. Pakistan said any such confidence-building initiative must follow the political dialogue.
The army is rather sceptical that the concept can work, but will no doubt, once ordered, give it a damned good try -- provided Pakistan co-operates. Both the US and UK, who endorse the concept, have welcomed the proposal as it has diverted attention from warmongering to tentative confidence-building.
Having allowed Musharraf to try and nuclear-blackmail India and the world, the global coalition against terrorism must make him do what he has promised. He has already done his periodic volte-face on the use of nuclear weapons and conventional capabilities. He has noted that "because of conventional deterrence, there will be no situation where resorting to the nuclear option could ever be contemplated". He has also said: "We do not think of these things because I consider it unthinkable that ever a moment will come where we have to launch nuclear attacks." These are brand-new but reversed thoughts.
In response to the heightened tension in the region, this time around the West has tried to blackmail India and Pakistan into stepping back from the brink by issuing travel and evacuation advisories to its nationals and embassies, which are bound to dislocate the economy. And they have succeeded.
Our leaders are spreading confusion. It is clear that Atal Bihari Vajpayee pulled out the rabbit of joint patrolling in Almaty almost coinciding with his defence minister, George Fernandes, saying the idea was unthinkable. While L K Advani was insisting on the list of 20 as a litmus test, he said the possibility of war still remained. Rural Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu in Chennai observed that India would take back Pakistan-occupied Kashmir when a conducive atmosphere arose.
The only man who kept his mouth shut during this was Jaswant Singh. Thank God for that!
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