Originally Published 2013-01-29 00:00:00 Published on Jan 29, 2013
After the initial fire and fury at the LoC, there is now a belief that the situation is relatively under control. This assumption may be misleading, unless the dynamics of the LoC and its violations are fully comprehended.
India sends the right message to Pakistan
The recent barbaric act by the Pakistani Army has evoked a legitimately angry response across the country. The disappointment is heightened by the fact that India and Pakistan were working towards normalising relations. After the initial fire and fury, there is now a belief that the situation is relatively under control. This assumption may be misleading, unless the dynamics of the Line of Control (LoC) and its violations are fully comprehended. The drivers of this act and their motivations have also to be clearly identified and a comprehensive response enunciated. Failing this, such tragedies will continue to recur and may even spin out of control beyond redemption.

The (LoC) owes its origin to the ceasefire that came into effect in the State of Jammu and Kashmir on January 1, 1949. The two opposing armies then dug in their heels where they were and have stood confronting each other since then. It is a unique situation with no parallels worldwide. The (LoC) is 740 kilometres long and runs through undulating, forested and mountainous terrain with heights ranging from 5,000 to 20,000 feet and temperatures becoming as low as minus 20 degrees centigrade. To give a sense of scale, the (LoC) has more than a lakh of armed men in uniform manning it 24x7. While the Pakistani Army, along with its "strategic assets" defends the line, the Indian Army has to not only defend it, but also prevent infiltration through gaps in between the border outposts (BOPs). Much of it is in bad weather, difficult terrain conditions and in proximity to each other. It does not follow a well defined tactical alignment for the most part and is therefore, subject to military vulnerabilities.

A fence has also been constructed on the Indian side of the (LoC). It is a formidable anti-infiltration obstacle system, but does not run exactly along the (LoC). It is in fact, anything from a few hundred meters to two-three kms behind it. There are BOPs and small villages across the fence towards the (LoC), which make counter-infiltration measures less effective. Recent incidents have taken place primarily via this space because herein transgression is more feasible.

The resultant "(LoC)ked ín’’ deployment, hostile environment and mutual suspicion have often resulted in violations, either by design or by default. At its peak, and prior to the current ceasefire effective from November 2003, more than a lakh of small arm rounds were fired on a virtually daily basis, with the escalation ladder sometimes climbing up to the exchange of artillery fire. There have also been occasional physical raids across the (LoC) by small teams, but the threshold has remained relatively manageable. So it’s fair to say that despite all the confidence building measures (CBMs)s and standard operating procedures (SOPs), occasional clashes do take place and are perhaps unavoidable. But the recent decapitating of two Indian soldiers by the Pakistani Army is different. It is an uncivilised, unsoldierly and dastardly act. It would be simplistic, almost naïve, to bracket it as another case of the action-reaction syndrome. This development needs to be analyzed in terms of why the Pakistani Army did it and what response is merited.

A multitude of developments in Pakistan during the last few years have brought the stock of the Pakistani Army low within its country. It is no longer seen as the saviour of the nation within or without. Post the Lal Masjid incident, terrorists have repeatedly attacked the military. It is also bogged down in ethnic and sectarian violence and fighting insurgencies in most parts of the North-Western Frontier Province and Ba(LoC)histan. Its helplessness against repeated drone attacks by the US and the killing of Osama Bin Laden inside Pakistan by US forces (independent of the Pakistani Army and the Inter Services Intelligence) have eroded the aura even further.

These factors have resulted in a newly found assertiveness in the Pakistani government vis-à-vis its army. A prime example of this is the uncertainty about the extension of the tenure of present Pakistani army chief, Gen Ashfaq Kayani and the change of the ISI Chief against his advice. As a counter, the Pakistani army has fielded a belligerent Chief Justice, a "dual nationality" cleric and players like Imran Khan in order to unsettle a corrupt and beleaguered government. The one comforting news for the Pakistani Army is the American ’Draw Down Plan 2014’. It has once again made the US mollycoddle the Pakistani army, thereby emboldening them. As a quid pro quo, it expects the US to perhaps overlook its aggression against India.

In the past, had overall circumstances been similar, the Pakistani Army would have exploited the internal situation and taken over, but General Kayani knows the pitfalls of such a move only too well. Out of all the emerging scenarios, the Pakistani Army is probably looking at continuing to rule the country by proxy. It aims to remove the present political dispensation and replace it with a new element of its choice. If the planned formulation is "tweaked right", then the army’s confrontational agenda of raising the India bogey falls into place. However, it is also fairly possible that if the military thinks that the proposed national election will not yield a "suitably" functional system, it could hijack democracy once again. Given the mercurial and volatile history of Pakistan, the jury is still out on the final outcome.

History has made it abundantly obvious that in essence the Pakistani Army views the progress of any peace track with India as undermining its own relevance. It is perhaps no coincidence that whenever peace initiatives are gaining momentum, provocative attacks from the Pakistani Army derail the process. We need look no further than the 1999 Kargil conflict that was foisted upon us soon after then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s grand peace gesture.

There is yet another narrative that has been proffered, wherein Pakistan is viewed as a nation in the throes of an existential transition marked by uncertainty, violence and instability. It is argued that at the core of it all is change in the role and mindset of its military, which no longer sees hostility with India as its raison d’être. General Kayani’s recent statement that the real threat to the country comes from internal sources and not external enemies is seen to imply a nuanced shift in focus from conflict-mode to normalisation-mode with India. However, the ground situation and trust deficit between the two countries make it difficult to accept this hypothesis. Instead of paying lip service to the cause of peace, the Pakistani Army needs to prove its credentials. Shedding denial and accepting the folly of its recent savage act, adhering to ceasefire regulations and freezing of cross-border infiltration of terrorists are the first set of steps that must be taken in this direction. Till then, the safe premise has to be that Pakistan the country, and its army, are two separate entities. The Pakistani Army is not yet on the same page with regard to the peace process, as hostility with India continues to be in its DNA.

With this as the historical legacy between the two neighbours, recent events have obviously outraged our nation. An appropriate tactical response by the Indian Army to this gruesome act will come at a point and place of its choosing. To prevent escalation and safeguard national interests, our resolution to employ the full spectrum of options, both at the tactical and strategic level, should be clearly discernible and misperceptions, if any, removed firmly.

The Indian media, in general, has done well to steer the recent incident to the centre stage and create enabling public opinion. However, trying to drum up war hysteria or jingoism, as on display on some of our TV channels, is irresponsible and counterproductive. That said, overall the Indian approach has been quite measured and mature. The statement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sent an unambiguous message to Pakistan and its impact is already discernible. Going forward, for sustainable resolve, credible military deterrence is essential. The gaps in our operational capability need to be filled in expeditiously. The proposed defence reforms are behind schedule and cannot be overlooked anymore. On this one issue, consensus across the political spectrum must emerge, as national interest is always supreme.

To sum up, for the immediate, the Indian response has reined in the Pakistani Army. However, statecraft demands a calibrated use of all tools, ranging from diplomatic to military in tandem and not just in lieu of one another. The country would do well not to forget that military is the last argument of the King and must be kept in a state of constant readiness. Ultimately, confident strength is the context in which a just and enduring peace can take root.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)

Courtesy : The Tribune,

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