Indo-Pak border in the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is a line of violent uncertainties. In 1947, it was to be an International Border (IB) but soon turned into Cease-fire Line in 1949, which later became Line of Control (LoC) in 1971. Once India and Pakistan occupied Siachen in 1984, another line, the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) demarcating entrenched positions of two warring neighbours sprang up. Starting from Indira Col in Siachen, India and Pakistan share 110-km-long AGPL, which terminates at much referred to map coordinate, NJ 9842. Thereafter, a 740-km-long LoC passes through a tapestry of challenging mountainous terrain to demarcate the most fortified boundary between two nations in the world. As per India the LoC culminates at Akhnur sector in J&K and from this point the IB runs south-westward to the Arabian Sea. Pakistan differs with Indian view and maintains that entire border in J&K is disputed. Pakistan therefore, calls this 199-km-long stretch from Akhnur to border between states of J&K and Punjab as “Working Boundary”.
Trans-LoC firing is a recent phenomenon. In early 1980’s, there were very few such incidents. There was peace and bonhomie. At places Indian and Pakistani troops fetched water from a common spring located in the ‘no-man’s land’ at different timings. Firing resulted due to extreme provocation or as a mark of jubilation after Pakistan won a cricket match against India. There were very few reasons to resort to firing. Only smugglers, spies, cattle lifters and yearning lovers flitted across the LoC.
Even in those days Pakistani troops were more trigger happy than the Indian troops. Whenever Indian post commander warned the Pakistani post of dire consequences, common retort from the Pakistani soldiers was, “We can fire at will; but you cannot. To open fire you have to receive orders from New Delhi.” This perception was correct. Indian commanders maintained a strict control over the activities of troops deployed on the LoC and never permitted firing. Even the discretion to retaliate with small arms fire was vested with the divisional commander.
In 1984, Operation Meghdoot was launched by India to occupy Siachen. India had pre-empted Pakistan and moved troops to occupy dominating heights on the glaciated terrain. Firing in Siachen glacier became a regular feature between the two warring sides. Soon sniper rifles, medium and heavy machine guns, grenade launchers, flame throwers, anti-tank guided missiles, shoulder fired surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft guns, mortars and artillery guns were belching fire at each other. Still the hostilities remained confined to Siachen sector. The LoC sector was relatively calm. There were occasional repercussions on LoC whenever either side suffered setbacks in Siachen sector.
In early-1980s, Pakistan stoked militancy in Punjab. By mid-1980s, Punjab militancy had achieved dangerous proportions, which lasted till early 1990s, before it was effectively curbed. To support Sikh militants Pakistan had used porous IB in J&K, Punjab and Rajasthan sectors to infiltrate militants and smuggle weapons and drugs.
Calm along the LoC proved to be a façade. As India was gaining upper hand in Punjab militancy, Pakistan orchestrated proxy war in J&K in 1989. Droves of young men fired by the secessionist ideology crossed over to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to receive training in guerrilla warfare and use of fire arms and improvised explosive devices. Pakistan also sent in hundreds of its army personnel and foreign mercenaries to fight a jihad in Kashmir. Kashmir was on the boil. Porous LoC and violent actions by Pakistan Army to facilitate infiltration could not be handled by para-miltary forces guarding the LoC at that time. Army was moved in to occupy counter-infiltration posture to check unbridled move of militants and misguided youth. Entire segment of AGPL, LoC and IB in J&K became active. Heavy exchange of fire between troops became a regular feature. The attrition caused loss of life, damage to property and loss of livelihood to both sides. Each side marshalled more lethal and accurate weaponry to destroy fortifications and interdict line of communications across the LoC.
In mid-1990s, trans-LoC raids by selected troops, commandos and militants started taking place, which became a common place in the activities of LoC domination. Pakistan had a distinct advantage. Trans-LoC raids could be executed by well-trained and motivated cadres of militants and mercenaries on its behalf. Despite extreme vigil by troops and heavy volume of fire all night long, many daring raids took place along the LoC and IB.
India, in order to prevent cross-border infiltration initiated fencing of LoC and IB, which was completed in 2004. Now a 2050-km-long stretch of IB and LoC has been fenced. It is so well-lit that it is visible from the space. The fencing proved very effective as it reduced the infiltration considerably.
Guarding nation’s borders is a solemn duty. A field commander attempts to control all that he surveys. It is a tedious task, which involves manning of guard posts, patrolling along the fencing and in-depth areas and laying of ambushes on suspected routes of infiltration. It is manpower intensive job and is to be done round the year in most trying terrain and weather conditions. Conflict along LoC helps Pakistan, because it can create conditions conducive for infiltration. A calm LoC is in India’s interest so that troops can carry out counter-infiltration task better. Here lies the conflict of interests.
Nature of terrain along the LoC is such that no side enjoys domination everywhere. At tactical level, it is very tempting for junior leaders to dominate the other side. In most of the cases, loss of life or domination from other side, leads to LoC flare-up in other sectors. In the recent case similar thing appeared to have happened. It is said to have started in Uri sector, against a Pakistan Army post resulting into a trans-LoC raid in Punch sector. An unmanageable flare-up along the LoC creates a ‘no war no peace’ situation, which after the initial euphoria subsides, impinges on both sides as civilian life is badly affected. Aggressiveness on LoC proves counter-productive in the long run. There are no winners in this contest.
Pakistan is grappling with serious internal turmoil. Its Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Baluchistan are in the grip of insurgency. Situation is so grave that Pakistan Army recently conceded that country’s internal threats were far more dangerous than its arch enemy, India. A sizable portion of Pakistan Army has been withdrawn from Indian borders for carrying out counter-insurgency operations and sealing its western borders with Afghanistan. Pakistan is clearly worried by this strategic imbalance. Since 2001, Pakistan Army had undertaken many large-scale counter-insurgency operations in South Wajiristan and Bajaur in FATA and Malakand and Swat in KP, with little success. Pakistan-Afghanistan border is also active; regular firing between troops has been reported.
Due to sustained counter-insurgency operations by Indian security forces Kashmir insurgency has lost its steam. Infiltration and terror incidents have receded. Public support to movement has waned. Among the militant groups in Pakistan, only Lashkar-e-Taiba and Kashmir-centric militant organisations remain loyal to Pakistan Army and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Pakistan wants to kickstart Kashmir insurgency again and whip up anti-India hysteria in Pakistan to unify secessionist forces. A turbulent LoC suits Pakistan’s design. That is why it is, despite protests and warnings from India, escalating situation on the LoC.
Nato International Security Assistance Forces’ (NATO-ISAF) withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014 will place Pakistan and its army on the centre stage. If Taliban succeed in staging a comeback to power, it is Pakistan Army and ISI, which will call the shots in Afghanistan, FATA and KP. To exploit post-2014 situation, Pakistan Army and ISI will try to broker peace with militant groups of FATA and KP with the help of Taliban and divert them on to Afghanistan and Kashmir. Sudden assertion from otherwise taciturn General Kayani should be viewed from this strategic angle.
What should be our response to such dastardly act by Pakistan? Kargil showed us that by deft manoeuvring localised operations can be carried out on the LoC. We have to develop punitive action capability to give a befitting reply to such misadventures. Mere rhetoric does not suffice.
By Col (Retd) US Rathore