In recent months, the Pakistan army has been behaving in a rather aggressive manner on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir in blatant violation of the mutually observed cease-fire. Following closely on the heels of the beheading of an Indian soldier in January 2013, on August 5th, the Pakistan army once again engineered a brutal incident that resulted in the death of five Indian soldiers in the Poonch sector. Since then, there have been daily incidents of trans-LoC firing and thousands of small arms rounds have been fired. The Indian Army has responded appropriately to this unprovoked firing.
The Pakistan army has denied that its personnel were involved in the latest incident. By this, the army implies that so-called Kashmiri terrorists sneaked across the LoC and ambushed the Indian patrol. Or, worse, that the incident took place between Indian army personnel and Kashmiri insurgents entirely on the Indian side. This preposterous denial 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 (BATs) are invariably led by personnel of the Special Services Group (SSG, Pakistan’s Special Forces) and comprise specially selected regular soldiers. A large-sized terrorist group simply cannot get through the Pakistan army’s well-coordinated defences, navigate the anti-personnel minefields and then come back safely after several rounds of firing have taken place and plenty of noise has been generated. In short, explicit connivance is an inescapable prerequisite for a trans-LoC raid to succeed.
Why did the Pakistan army orchestrate such an incident at a time when the Nawaz Sharif government wishes to reach out to India and its Chief of Army Staff 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 sync with Prime Minister Sharif about his policy of normalising relations with India and would like to keep the pot simmering in Kashmir. 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 POK to be inducted across the LoC. The Indian Army has successfully eliminated many hard core terrorists of late 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 already 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, there could be a connection with the situation in Afghanistan. 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 is 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 guarantor 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 can ever have 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 at the strategic level.
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. Edward N Luttwak, well-known military strategist, said a few days ago, “Be good to Nawaz Sharif, be harsh with the army.” This advice is appropriate under the circumstances. However, the immediate aim of the peace talks should be to get Pakistan to end terrorism directed against India from its soil, bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks to justice and stop the army’s ‘rogue’ acts on the LoC.
The Indian Army has been given a free hand to retaliate punitively at one or more places of its choosing on the LoC by the Defence Minister. 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. This will raise the cost for the army and the ISI 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.
Planning for these fire assaults should be carefully undertaken so that collateral damage is avoided and civilians are not hurt. For example, precision-guided munitions should be used to the extent possible. Every time acts of similar provocation are repeated in future, the quantum of punitive retaliation must be correspondingly enhanced. The dose should be repeated as often as necessary even while peace talks are underway. Quite soon, when it bleeds and hurts, the Pakistan Army will get the message that wanton acts of violence do not pay.