Despite ceasefire, Line of Control will always remain a flashpoint - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 9 August 2013

Despite ceasefire, Line of Control will always remain a flashpoint

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 10th Aug 13

Defence Minister A K Antony's statement in Parliament on Thursday does not backtrack substantially from his heavily-criticised explanation on Tuesday, which held Pakistani "terrorists" primarily responsible for killing five Indian soldiers on the Line of Control (LoC) near Poonch.

While Antony has implicated "specialist troops of the Pakistan Army" in his statement, he conspicuously avoids placing primary blame on the Pakistan Army. He merely states that Pakistani specialist troops were "involved" in the attack, and that such attacks involve "support, assistance, facilitation and often, direct involvement of the Pakistan Army".

Intriguingly, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has accepted this just two days after it attacked Antony for "providing an escape route" to the Pakistan Army. On Tuesday, the BJP had accused the defence minister of watering down the army's initial statement blaming "approximately 20 heavily armed terrorists along with soldiers of the Pakistan Army". Antony had changed that statement to "approximately 20 heavily armed terrorists along with persons dressed in Pakistan Army uniforms". However, a day after the government met senior BJP leaders, the principal opposition party is content with a statement that the Pakistan Army was "involved" in the attack.

If Antony were correct, this would be the first instance of Pakistani Army regular troops playing second fiddle to jihadi elements in a confrontation with Indian troops. Since the 1990s, the Pakistan Army has often fired on Indian posts to facilitate jihadi infiltration. However, the Pakistan Army has avoided operating alongside jihadis, who lack discipline and training. It remains unclear whether the Poonch attack, if it were indeed a joint operation featuring primarily jihadi fighters, was local tactical expediency, or a strategic shift in the Pakistan Army's employment of its longstanding, non-state instruments.

While jihadis often cross the LoC, that de facto border has always been held by regular army troops from both sides, with low-threat areas held by paramilitary "Mujahid" battalions on the Pakistan side, and Border Security Force (BSF) battalions on the Indian side, both functioning under the army. Effectively, many tens of thousands of heavily armed soldiers, backed by heavy weaponry, are deployed eyeball-to-eyeball, at hair-trigger alert, along the 776-km LoC.

Before the 2003 ceasefire, both sides occupied themselves in an unending, unprovoked duel to gun down or kill with mortar and artillery fire as many opposing soldiers as possible. Tens of thousands of bullets were fired everyday, and the casualty count on either side often crossed a hundred soldiers each year. To put the current year's count of 57 ceasefire violations in context, each day before the ceasefire would see those many exchanges of fire.

Bizarrely, an occasion like an India-Pakistan one-day cricket match would see soldiers get killed or wounded. Each wicket taken or boundary hit would see intense celebratory gunfire - directed at a nearby, or especially vulnerable, enemy post.

Even with the current ceasefire, the daily operational routine on the LoC carries the risk of confrontation and conflict. Military ethos demands that a unit in contact with the enemy - and the Indian and Pakistani armies certainly view each other as that - conducts aggressive patrolling, ambushes, and operations to establish "psychological and moral dominance" over the enemy. This game flashes out of control, when casualties occur and retribution follows. The Indian Army will almost certainly retaliate for the Poonch killings.

Confrontation is also inherent in the counter-infiltration deployment posture that Pakistan has forced on the Indian Army by training and infiltrating jihadis to sustain the Jammu & Kashmir insurgency. To block jihadi infiltration, India has fenced the LoC with hundreds of kilometres of razor wire, floodlights, surveillance cameras, and seismic and audio sensors that are monitored from control rooms. But the fence must be physically monitored and so, small groups of Indian soldiers patrol the gaps between posts. These "area domination patrols" are particularly vulnerable whilst in the sliver of Indian territory ahead of the LoC fence. In Poonch, the patrol was ambushed ahead of the fence.

For carrying out such ambushes and for attacking small enemy posts in tactically favourable terrain, both India and Pakistan have contingency plans worked out and rehearsed. When one side needs to send a signal, or to retaliate, one of those plans is implemented at short notice.

During the Kargil conflict in the summer of 1999, an Indian Army platoon had crossed the LoC at the Munawar Tawi River near Jammu and wiped out an entire Pakistani post, triggering a vicious cycle of revenge killings and counter-killings. At that time, Pakistan refined the concept of "border action teams", or BATs, specifically earmarked for sneak killings along the LoC. Some BATs feature commandoes from Pakistan's elite Special Services Group (SSG), while others are constituted from local forces. The beheading of an Indian soldier in January has been ascribed to a BAT.

Ultimately, only LoC de-militarisation can eliminate the ever-present danger of an escalation of tensions. For India, de-militarisation would require a double assurance - first, that Pakistan would not ingress across the LoC, something it did in 1999, leading to the Kargil conflict. Second, Pakistan would need to assure India of an end to cross-border infiltration.

For now, neither assurance seems likely or tenable. Antony has sounded a warning: "Naturally, this incident (in Poonch) will have consequences on our behaviour on the Line of Control and for our relations with Pakistan." And if the Pakistan Army is now operating alongside the jihadis on the LoC, it could become even more of a flashpoint.


  1. Wow! Col Shukla. Wordsmithery at its best. Sometimes I wonder that I am reading the works of an agent of some part of the Government, at others, I wonder whether the author is missing his days at the Messes.

    Whatever, your blogs have turned entertaining most times, informative at times and at others, such as this piece, best ignored.

  2. it needs 2 hands to clap, anyways is there a precedence to Pakistan sticking to any of its commitments it made to India before? no, for that matter muslim invasions of yore were based on deceit with a gullible Hindu ruler sacrificed everytime. It was Vajpayee during Kargil, why is MMS keen to travel the same slippery path?

  3. A play of words. What can be said in a line, the author has taken a whole page. But this must be the price to pay for being a journalist. Bet, Colonel Ajai Shukla is missing his army days of - ACCURACY, BREVITY and CLARITY.

  4. I understand that both sides engage in cross-border firing and the Pakistani side usually uses this tactic to push militant in.

    If such is the case, how come the Indian Army has not made plans to use precision artillery or some such weapon to destroy Pakistani border posts that initiate unprovoked firing to push terrorists in - while simultaneously hardening Indian bunkers along the LOC ?

    Further with extensive technology like radars and sensors on the Indian side, how come India has not achieve tactical superiority along the entire LOC despite having greater situational awareness along with better co-ordination ?

    With the amount of firepower, money and technology at the LOC one would imagine that no Pakistani posts could possibly exist in an eyeball to eyeball position with Indian positions as India should be able to destroy posts faster than the Pakistan's can build them.

  5. "However, the Pakistan Army has avoided operating alongside jihadis"...

    Paki army and terrorists, one and the same thing. AKA was right.

  6. Your fundamentals that PA does not operate in conjunction with Jihadist is flawed and incorrect. That is the art they perfected during Mujahidin operations in Afghanistan and inside J&K. Then it culminated in Kargil operations.

    You do not know that on LOC, no one is seen in uniforms. PA soldiers operate in civil clothes, in Pathan suits, kurta Payjama. No one can distinguish them from terrorists or civilians.

    You only harp on demilitarization as if India is responsible for militarization of this LOC.

    Wish to earn some brownie points for friends across.

  7. @Anonymous.

    MMS thinks that a nobel is the least that India owes him after the kangressi are done with him.

    The light at the end of the tunnel is turning out to be a locomotive heading in the opposite direction.

    The venal babu sees the sands of time running out in a deluge and that puts paid to his place in history.

  8. Quite an interesting read linked to this article

  9. GhusPetiya Gabbar11 August 2013 at 06:22

    The killing of five Indian soldiers on the Line of Control (LC) in Poonch sector of J&K received shrill, jingoistic media attention in India for precisely two days. The habitual Opposition jibes and rhetoric by the BJP in view of the ongoing Parliament session, an embattled Congress facing a prospective electoral whitewash and amateur news anchors on Indian electronic media playing to the gallery for TRP ratings - all fueled an Indian public frenzy for a disproportionate response.

    Not for a moment did any defence 'analyst' from the dozens of retired (or tired) brass buzzards who gather in herds to be heard on primetime TV, or any of the anchors for that matter, pause to ponder on the curious turn of events in the immediate aftermath of the incident. Notwithstanding the tragic loss of the lives of our brave soldiers, the incident and its manifestations clearly indicate that the Pak establishment had warned the Indian establishment, well in advance and at the appropriate level, of an impending terrorist operation by a section of the Pakistani Taliban or their Jehadi cronies against Indian troops on the LC. The preemptive warning would have been specific as to the likely period and even general area of the likely operation.

    The assumption that we had been forewarned is based on the
    following circumstantial observations :-

    * The unusually benign statement by the Indian Defence Minister in Parliament on the incident, and the remarkable surety of his attribution of the same to 'terrorists in Pak Army uniforms' and the Ministry of Defence's immediate rebuttal of a contrary statement put out by the Indian Army's Northern Command Headquarters that attributed the operation to Pak Army regulars. Notwithstanding the absurdity of subsequent statement(s) by all and sundry in the light of the statement of the surviving soldier that the attackers were all dressed in Pathan-style salwar-kameez.

    * The Indian Army Chief (COAS) rushing off to Poonch on 07 Aug, barely a day after the incident with a mandate to, as it turned out, to rap knuckles of the chain of command for embarrassing failures of the troops on ground despite some form of 'premonition'.

    * The studied silence of the PM and his unusual step to meet and 'brief' the BJP top brass on the whys and hows of Indo-Pak relations. Sharing the apparent fact of having received advance Pak intel of the impending LC operation shut-up the BJP anti-Govt tirade in its tracks. The abject silence of the BJP and their 'gracious' acceptance of the Defence Minister's revised statement coupled with the pedestrian status of BJP panelists who appeared on primetime TV debates that night instead of the big guns that had roared and thundered in Parliament earlier in the day.

    * A gag order apparently imposed on Indian Army against speaking or issuing any 'official' statement or aggressive media response unlike the previous occasion in the aftermath of the beheading of Indian soldiers.

    * The scheduled talks between the PMs of both nations on the UN General Assembly sidelines remain on-track and unaffected despite the 'blood frenzy' whipped up in India. Lower-level talks have been called-off to keep up facades.

    * The muted Pak response to Indian media frenzy and the almost instantaneous denial of any involvement by the Pak Army - almost in duet with the Indian Defence Minister's statement in Parliament.


  10. Ghuspetiya Gabbar11 August 2013 at 06:27

    ... (contd)

    Despite the warning, Indian troops were caught off-guard and paid the price, regrettably. It is said that the five boys who died were asleep around a 'sigri' while a lone sentry kept watch as a part of a protective patrol position. Press reports today indicate that of the five, three died due to GSW in the chest, one sustained GSW to the head while the fifth soldier died from blood-loss owing to GSW on his limbs. Amazingly, no gunfire was heard leading to the inference that 'silenced' weapons were used and attributing the same to SSG elements. It can easily be inferred that the one-sided firefight was short and swift, weapons being aimed using night sights or laser spots or both - again favoured by special forces. Equally amazing is the fact that not one shot was fired by the troops that were 'ambushed' - clearly indicating that they were caught absolutely unawares and were probably asleep. The surviving soldier is said to have hidden himself behind a bush as per media reports that have not been denied till date. A mere burst of his weapon would have triggered a response by the closest Indian Army troops - hopefully. This act speaks volumes about his personal courage, the morale of his battalion, the state of his training and readiness.

    If, as a result of the advance warning, Indian troops had managed to knock-off a few attackers, the Pak Taliban or its cronies would have lost face. In case of a successful Pak operation, as was the case, the Pak Army would take due credit and use it as leverage over the Taliban. Either way, it is a win-win situation for the Pak military establishment.

    Word of this unprecedented cooperation will never be acknowledged as it will undermine the Pak military as well as the ruling political establishment. And it will also show the Indian Army establishment in poor professional light of responding poorly despite preparatory warnings. Collateral losses will be deemed acceptable by both nations by way of tit-for-tat actions on the LC to assuage national constituencies and political expediency.

    Looming ahead is the emerging influence and armed potency of the Tehrik-e-Taliban that has had no compunctions in attacking military and para-military establishments. There is also the prospect of a violent struggle for influence in Afghanistan post NATO withdrawal. For Pakistan to remain relevant and viable as a State, and in the Afghan scheme of things, the Army has to assert its supremacy over the TeT and other Jehadi non-state actors. It can do this attritionally, by fighting them, or by imposing strategic control using ISI machinations. Simultaneously, the TeT and Jehadi demons will have to be kept occupied lest they start biting the hand that feeds them.

    (contd) ...

  11. Ghuspetiya Gabbar11 August 2013 at 06:29

    ... (contd)

    Kashmir and Indian Army offer targets of choice for diverting the attention and energies of the non-State actors. The Indian Army, in particular, plays the dual role of a bait as well as a potent antidote to cut the rampaging TeT/Jehadis down to size. Knocking off a score of Indian soldiers has tremendous propaganda value for these rogues while it simultaneously avoids the collateral risks associated with hitting civil (soft) targets within the Indian mainland.

    Hence the LC will continue to be highly active as a battleground for very different reasons.

    The Pak Army is undoubtedly orchestrating the militant activity of the so-called non-State actors in an effort to exert due control on these rogues, and 'endear' itself to a cultivated strategic asset. It would have selected the target for the incident in question and facilitated the same in every way except active participation. At the same time a word would have gone through the grapevine warning the Indians of the imminence and broad location. This astute move, and the fact that there were no mutilation or beheadings indicates counter-escalatory precautions on part of Pak.

    Yes, heads must roll in the Indian Army's chain of command for making us look silly and vulnerable everytime. While the media is gleefully pointing out that the Indian COAS air-dashed to Akhnoor to 'pull-up' Indian commanders for screwing things up, it should be known that the Indian COAS own tenure as a Commanding Officer of a Sikh Light Infantry battalion on the LC was particularly pacifist and insipid. In one incident his battalion lost 20-odd boys in an IED explosion under vehicle that was conveying troops to attend a Gurupurab function in the battalion gurudwara. The IED(s) were planted by trans-LC elements but then-Colonel Bikram Singh avoided any retaliation or riposte. His three tenures with UN missions has cemented the docility in him leading to his tenure as DG Staff Duties at Army Headquarters where he supervised Indian participation on UN military duties. By the nature of peacekeeping mandates, UN Rules of Engagement are utterly pacifist and Gandhian. And General Bikram's four tenures serving the UN flag would have made him risk-averse and a stickler against auto-escalation of armed response - something he is now demanding from his field commanders.

    Well, there we have it - 'Zero-Error Syndrome' at its best as practiced by pro-rata champions! They are, surely and steadily, turning the Indian Army into a national laughing stock.

  12. Interesting to note that Israel always puts the pressure on its neighboring countries to ensure that no enemy activities originate at all and views all firings/provocation as an act by the government of that country itself irrespective of the fact whether the regular forces or non-state forces were responsible. Israel fires back to cause so much disproportionate loss that every neighboring country tries its best to ensure peace with Israel. If Indian Army could also cause disproportionate loss to Pakistan army for every bullet fired from across LOC(whether it kills or does not kill Indian soldier)then it should force Pakistan army on the back foot. tit for tat is not an option....let the cost of each Pakistani bullet, mortar be known to Pakistan army….the Indian government should have directly accused the Pakistani government and its army for this killing…..

  13. Israel can do this because it faces no opponent like PA. Kargil taught the IA what 600 men can do. IA had almost a corp there. PA are a professional outfit and their focus is IA. As the IA is going downhill PA is improving its professional abilities, merit is order of the day (most of the time). This is especially true since they had to operate on their western border. They do not have soft officiers!!! PA is the tough skinny kid on the play ground. You can hit him but there is only one certainty he will hit you back with all his might. You will beat him but he will make you bleed, cry out in pain and when you think you have beated him he will come back again.

    Ask any that have served on the front. Patrolling against PA is something you try to avoid. Also ask how many come back in wet trousers. It is very easy for arm-chair generals to say, lets do this or that. If there is a war now, even if it doesnot escalate beyond say 20km of LoC, you will get thousands of dead.

  14. Ajay, I agree as long as there is no demilitarized zone, these incidents will happen.

    I remember the fireworks that followed the last ball six of Miandad.

    my post on that incident


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