Line of no control
The ambush of an Indian Army patrol by a Pakistani Border Action Team (BAT) near the Line of Control (LoC) in Poonch sector of Kashmir on August 6 is typical of the “small war” between India and Pakistan which flickers daily along the LoC. While the encounter and its results would have caused elation in the Pakistan Army, the lack of a rapid retributive response from India would have disappointed many. Every unchallenged provocation by Pakistan diminishes India correspondingly in the eyes of its citizens and, perhaps, more importantly, of its soldiers.
Restraint under all provocations seems to constitute the Indian government’s core Pakistan policy. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seems to have detached himself from any public pronouncements and devolved complete authority to the external affairs minister Salman Khurshid. Mr Khurshid is seen at his happiest when riding his pet hobby horse of peace at any cost with Pakistan.
Undoubtedly, peace is an important objective as long as it is kept in mind that plausible denial of provocation is a standard response of the Pakistan Army. Pakistan’s denial was seen most recently in respect of the revelations made in custody by both Indian Mujahideen co-founder Yasin Bhatkal and an expert bomb maker of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba Abdul Karim Tunda. Given that India has consciously ruled out any option of retaliation in kind, the question is: Are there now any limits on the extent of forbearance by India in respect of habitual prevarication by Pakistan?
Border incidents initiated by Pakistan along the LoC are microcosms of the active “hot peace” played out by the hardline elements controlling Pakistan. The Indian dream world of peace attempts to play down this harsh geopolitical reality under the misguided impression that a policy of unilateral forbearance by India will somehow promote goodwill with a pathologically hostile and recalcitrant Pakistan Army. But the effect is likely to be just the opposite and will, in fact, only encourage Pakistan Army’s intransigence.
The Pakistan Army has traditionally assumed an aggressive stance on the LoC. On the Indian side, the Army has always been held in strict check. Exercise of military initiatives by Indian commanders has been straitjacketed into a tightly centralised system of political control which has over the years built up cautious and defensive mindsets, hesitant to exercise the immediate initiatives required to seize fleeting opportunities without first clearing every situation with the chain of command.
“Offensive action, concentration of force, and surprise” are the key principles of war taught in all armies, navies and air forces, and the Indian Army is no exception. But their effective inculcation at human level has to commence at an early age, which requires a supportive environment, sometimes lacking in hierarchical organisations.
The pattern of small unit provocations across the LoC by Pakistan Army’s BAT of regular special service group (SSG) forces working with jihadi auxiliaries is likely to intensify as American withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 approaches. The Pakistan Army may well have already commenced the process of shaping the post-2014 battlefield in Afghanistan to its own advantage.
It is, therefore, important to carefully analyse from an Indian perspective just how Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s rhetoric regarding India-Pakistan friendship plays into the post-2014 scramble in Afghanistan. India must assess Mr Sharif’s likely intentions. Given his earlier record, could this be a new siren song to beguile the Indian leadership into complacency at a critical juncture?
Meanwhile, it is being stated, on good authority, that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), the covert action wing of the Pakistan Army is awarding monetary rewards allegedly ranging between `2,000-`12,000 (depending upon degree of difficulty) for guides bringing BATs across the LoC, `5,000 for placing mines in the Indian territory, `10,000 for killing an Indian soldier, and up to `5 lakh for beheading an Indian soldier like the Mendhar killings in January this year.
In the instant case, Anwar Khan, resident of village Barmoch Galli near Tatapani in Poonch, a member of a 15-member composite BAT comprising both jihadis and Pakistan Army soldiers is said to be the person who carried out the actual act of beheading as part of an operation to ambush an Indian patrol in the Krishna Ghati area of Poonch and carry out a “terror operation” to weaken the morale and motivation of the Indian troops positioned on the LoC. The same Anwar Khan is said to have been involved earlier in a similar atrocity. Anwar Khan was said to have been awarded `50 lakh for the Mendhar massacre by Col. Siddiqui of the ISI, who is said to have planned and directed the entire operation.
It is definitely heartening to see that the Indian Army retaliated swiftly to the atrocity involving the beheading of its two soldiers in the Mendhar-Poonch region, and hit back hard to extracting a blood-price for the outrage.
Geography apart, the LoC is a separate military biosphere distinct from the rest of the country, where the iron rule was that enemy transgressions must not go unpunished.
The Indian government, through its ministry of defence, should by now be aware of the identities of specific Pakistani individuals involved in the Mendhar incident. Does India possess the determination, even at this late stage to take retributive action? In the national interest, (as also its own), the government has to come up with some answers.
The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former member of Parliament