There is enough space for us to innovate between regular pinprick-type LoC actions and a low-intensity conflict limited to J&K.
Four Indian soldiers of 15 Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry have been martyred, including a young officer. On 4 February 2018, the Line of Control (LoC) in the Bhimbar Gali sub-sector of Rajouri erupted with gunfire between the Indian and Pakistan army troops.
We retaliated with vigour and in a few days, we will hear of a possible trans-LoC operation or heavy fire assault which will lay low a couple of Pakistani soldiers in the vicinity of BG.
This has routinely been our response ever since Pakistan chose to brazenly breach the unwritten ceasefire accord of November 2003. That response by us is essentially tactical in nature. Tactical operations have a local and temporary effect and are good only for quid pro quo; they give a chance to flex muscles and rhetoric.
In the prevailing environment, anyone experienced in the complex dynamics of LoC operations will tell you that unless tactical operations are innovative, and planned for a larger effect, the strategic outcome is questionable.
To have a strategic effect, we need clarity on just what Pakistan is intending to achieve by keeping the LoC alive.
It’s been explained many times that for Pakistan, turbulence in the Kashmir hinterland or the LoC is a part of its strategy to keep the pot boiling and remind the international community of the existence of the Jammu and Kashmir issue. Since the Indian Army manages time and again to restore stability in the hinterland, and negates Pakistan’s ability to calibrate terrorist operations at will, the LoC remains the only location where Pakistan can exercise a degree of higher initiative.
After all, its operations are launched from across the LoC, from an area under its own control. The heat along the LoC with ceasefire violations and targeting of Indian patrols is also Pakistan’s way of messaging its support to the people of Kashmir.
Fresh thinking must emerge on the basis of experience so that the damage inflicted on the adversary becomes difficult for them to absorb. We must ensure that the adversary can no longer keep its losses under wraps. The cost of misadventure must be made unacceptable.
It is clear that General Pervez Musharraf’s ceasefire of November 2003 never met the approval of his corps commanders. The policy is now completely in reverse since 2014. In the ten-odd years when the ceasefire became less effective since 2008, our emphasis and focus should have been on hardening defensive infrastructure along with necessary countering of terrorist infiltration. However, the former was comparatively ignored.
The fine art of LoC operations was also partially compromised. The institutional knowledge which existed since 1971, and included that indefinable notion—’moral ascendancy’—as a battle-winning factor, somehow eroded as the Army was on an overdrive of sub-conventional operations outside the domain of the LoC.
Most experienced veterans are unified in their opinion that graduated response to Pakistan’s continuing misdemeanor only contributes towards keeping our strategy tactical. To escalate it to the operational-strategic domain the following specifics are almost mandatory.
- An acceptance that the ceasefire has now ceased to exist.
- Vertical escalation through employment of coordinated fire assaults over extended periods employing heavy weapons without remorse. This would involve an escalation many notches higher.
- Horizontal escalation to extend the scope to different areas along the LoC, especially in areas where we exercise total domination such as the entire Neelam Valley. Let the threat to Pakistan’s defences escalate enough for it to majorly consider a hurried redeployment of its internal security formations. It can even escalate to Kargil.
- Sufficient trained resources to strike at will at multiple targets beyond the LoC.
- Adequate preparation for adversary response, including caution against border action teams targeting patrols and logistics.
- Immediate infusion of funds for transformational execution of hardening of defensive infrastructure, including the fast track construction of civilian bunkers for border villages. Such management was done by the NDA government in 2003 too. LoC infrastructure must become impregnable. It has been ignored over the years.
There will surely be differing opinions with doubts on India’s ability to keep a tight control over the possibility of escalation into a possible full blown war. But Pakistan is neither wanting a war, nor is it prepared for it. Its ploy about tactical nukes must be taken as a bluff and our nuclear response must be spoken about more often.
There is enough space for us to innovate between regular pinprick-type LoC actions and a low intensity conflict limited to Jammu and Kashmir. Without a well-considered response, a half-baked quid pro quo will keep the situation in Pakistan’s advantage. There is an opinion that DGMO talks should be held at the earliest to de-escalate the situation. Such talks in the past have produced temporary reprieve and must be looked upon as a parallel response if they do materialise. The window towards engagement can always be open but from a position of strength and not weakness.
Lt. Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd), a former GOC of Srinagar-based 15 Corps, is associated with the Vivekanand International Foundation and the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.