Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain
This analysis has reference to the action by a Border Action Team (BAT) of Pakistan against an Indian Army and BSF post in the Krishna Ghati (KG) area of Poonch sector resulting in death and mutilation of two Indian soldiers. We can commence by saying it was waiting to happen. All the indicators had come together to indicate that the unholy Nexus between the Pakistan Army and the Pakistan based ISI sponsored terrorists, would strike somewhere to create one more event in the build up to the campaigning season 2017. What does this mean and how does such an action fit into any strategy of the Pakistani Nexus.
The campaigning season in J&K is usually from early May when the snows have melted, infiltration is possible and the Durbar is back in Srinagar. This has both tactical and symbolic value for the Nexus. The BAT action on 01 May is too much of a coincidence but the events over the last few weeks were building to a head and something drastic was expected. The Valley witnessed poor turnout in the first of the two polls slated, indicating strong anti-national sentiment and ability of the new and diffused Separatist leadership to brow beat any fence sitters or those who still favored democracy over radical separatism. This followed the series of encounters where the flash mobs interfered with operations. The subsequent video wars on heckling of the CRPF men and the jeep case helped to raise temperatures and passion. The suicide action against the Panzgam garrison has contributed to the caution. The Durbar just closed at Jammu and is due to open at Srinagar on 7 May 2017.
Some other events seemed to have instigated the selection of the timing and the location of the barbaric event. First, it has been quite openly reported that Indian businessman Sajjan Jindal was in Pakistan to meet Nawaz Sharif. Jindal is known to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the speculation was of the possibility of his having carried a message for the Pakistan Prime Minister. The Pakistan Army and its cohorts would not want to encourage any of this at a time when it feels it has the Indian establishment in a bind over J&K, especially the alienation within the Valley and the discordant notes in the political setup. Secondly, the timing with the presence of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on an official visit to New Delhi appears ominous. Turkey has mostly been a Pakistan supporter, especially on the subject of J&K. Prior to the visit Erdogan’s traditional support to Pakistan and his friendship with Nawaz Sharif was highlighted in the Indian media. What the Pakistan Army hopes to gain from this linkage and timing is difficult to establish. It is, however, clear that Pakistan’s strategic confidence is at a high following the launch of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the improving Pakistan-China-Russia equation over Afghanistan and the return of better understanding with Saudi Arabia after the low in relations in 2014. With the environment in the Valley being as negative as it is Pakistan senses some kind of pre-victory situation and this should be an indicator that the LoC and Valley will both be on fire this summer.
Coming to the events of the day on 01 May 2017, the Krishna Ghati Sector also known as KG is never known to be a cool place. It has always been hellishly hot. It is vulnerable to infiltration through the year since it is comparatively low lying and heavily forested. Statistically, in all probability it may boast the highest number of cross LoC exchanges of all kinds through all years in the recent past. The LoC Fence is strong, with lighting and is not degraded due to snow. There are posts all along the Fence and some deployment ahead. The counter infiltration deployment is a complex set of posts and link patrols. Pakistan’s deployment does not have to cater for counter infiltration, so it is deployed in stronger posture at its posts with large gaps. The cover is extensive due to forest and it is not difficult to concentrate a small force of 15-20 men from the Pakistan Army Special Forces and selected terrorists who together form BATs. Shelling and use of mortars and sniping over an extended area results in cross LoC exchanges and under its cover the BAT deploys. Action against our posts will result in Pakistani casualties and therefore telltale signs and possibly even prisoners; it is important to avoid that. Patrols therefore are the vulnerable ones. LoC patrols are usually made up of 6-8 men whose job is to dominate the Fence and look for any signs indicating undetected infiltration. Response by such patrols is possible contingent how the situation has developed and what the casualties have been. However, that won’t happen knowing the state of shock which results in such encounters. This is not the last BAT action and we can expect more attempts especially where the response time from main posts is large. Pakistan is not free of such posts either. They have just made themselves vulnerable because no one can prevent Indian Army retribution. People will question the wisdom of response and what such responses will help to resolve. The answer is also very simple. Pakistan is an irrational nation with an even more irrational Army. The unholy Nexus of Army and terror groups cannot be allowed the moral ascendancy of success without a retaliatory strike which should result in its bigger defeat. There are unwritten rules of the LoC which are not discussed with rationale. This rule is as relevant as the ever green maxim –‘Grabbers Keepers’. The Indian Army has never taken such setbacks without response; converting a failure to success. It is only now that with greater media activism the LoC is witnessing transparency and the surgical strikes have given all kinds of notions and expectations to the public. There is clamor for war and all kinds of jingoism. Just the leave the Army to itself, it knows what to do and how to do it. More the expectations of time, quantum and results more the unfair pressures.
So what does the summer bode for J&K. Multiplicity of threats in diverse domain is what the security forces must gear up for. Infiltration is going to be a bigger issue. Terrorist criminal acts, such as the one against the policemen and bank officials in Kulgam today can be expected in greater measure as the desperation for weapons is immense. The security grid of the Valley has to be reviewed and even small movements involving police have to be under check and control. The adversaries will be seeking sensational messaging through attempts to assassinate senior civil and military officials, public figures and politicians. Fedayeen actions can be expected to rise and the potential of suicide bombing, a specter not witnessed for long, could well arise.
That is as far as what the threats could be. Comprehensive response in multiple domains such as diplomatic, political and social is outside the scope of this piece. On the robust side Pakistan will only be constrained if hit and hit sufficiently and continuously. It is testing India’s threshold due to a mistaken notion that J&K can be wrested through proxy little realizing that igniting the powder keg of unrestricted conflict will subsume it in its wake. India’s response must be calibrated for effect taking into consideration the LoC and terrorist infrastructure. Former Army Chief General Shankar Roy Choudary’s suggestion for raising Indian fedayeen squads has been largely criticized by people without giving any alternatives. Dealing with Pakistan has to be through the strategy of subterfuge and denial and here is a place where the idiom ‘all is fair in love and war’ may actually apply. Also importantly the strategy to deal with the Valley has to be thought through and progressively reviewed beyond just the exhaustion and attrition models because that is where the Pakistan strategy has to be comprehensively defeated.
(By arrangement with Swarajyamag.com)
(The author is former GOC of Srinagar based 15 Corps)
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain