Monday, February 25, 2013

Incentivising Pakistan to act against terrorism
by Rohit Singh

The savage beheading of two Indian soldiers in Mendhar by Pakistan Army regulars on January 8, 2013, has once again brought the volatile Line Of Control (LoC) into sharp focus. The shrill and acerbic television debates following the incident has divided analysts into two groups: one, which is demanding tough action including “limited war” against Pakistan and the other cautioning against further escalating tensions with a nuclear armed neighbour. Lost in the dim, however, is the fact that the LoC, which was once described by former US President Bill Clinton as “the most dangerous place on earth,” has witnessed several low and high intensity clashes between the two armies since 1948 and even in the past five years. In fact, small arms fire and artillery duels between the two sides was a regular feature up till November 2003, when both sides signed a ceasefire agreement.
The barbaric nature of the present incident, which has perhaps led to the greatest escalation along the LoC in the past decade, has raised many questions on the motives of the Pakistan Army behind the grave provocation. Four important questions emerge; one, is the brutal act by Pakistan a counter to India’s alleged actions at Uri ; two, if not, why should Pakistan seek to attract attention with this brutality; three, will Pakistani non-state actors attempt another 26/11 type attack and, four are there any counters to deter Pakistan and its cohorts?

A close look at the ceasefire violations by Pakistan since 2003 brings out the fact that most of these incidents have occurred in areas south of the Pir Panjal Range or in the Jammu division. The Krishna Ghati sector of Poonch district (in which the two jawans of 13 Rajputana Rifles were killed on Tuesday) accounts for a lion’s share of these violations. This is because the Pakistan Army enjoys a relative tactical advantage in this sector by virtue of its occupation of certain dominating ridges overlooking the Indian defences and the major terrorist camps and launch pads at Tattapani (Hotspring) and Kotli are located close to the LoC across Mendhar. Krishna Ghati sector, especially the Mendhar belt, has been a traditional route for infiltration as the slopes along the LoC are thickly wooded and several gaps exist at places where the Mendhar river and other small nallahs flow across the LoC to join the Poonch river in PoK. In the past four years alone, several infiltration attempts have been made in this sector.

The shooting war on the LoC picked up in the summer of 2008 when a Gorkha battalion deployed at Nangi Tekri had suffered a few casualties in Pakistani firing. On June 20, 2008, the Pakistan Army reported that four of its soldiers had been killed and three grievously injured by “unidentified” persons opposite this battalion area. Ever since, peace in this sector has been short lived with the firing exchanges between the two sides intensifying on June 11, June 13, September 27, October 11, November 25, 9 and 25 December (all last year). The denouement to the gruesome January 8 incident commenced on January 3, when Pakistan opened fire at Chajja Man and Roshni and Nangi Tekri on January 5.

As is evident, incidents in Poonch sector were following its own tit-for-tat dynamics and unrelated to Uri sector which was involved in its own local tactical dictates, when on October 16, 2012, Pakistani mortar fire killed three civilians at Churunda village. The village was fired upon again on January 6, 2013. Pakistan may have acted in Uri because India, allegedly, constructed some communication trench. But, then, both sides and especially the Pakistan Army has been doing that over the last two decades! The above incidents show that a pattern had emerged in repeated ceasefire violations and infiltration attempts by Pakistan in the Krishna Ghati sector in the past years and that the grave provocation by carrying out the beheading of soldiers was not a proportionate reaction to these regular incidents which had remained localised to that sector or to the one in Uri on January 6. In both sectors, which are, in any case widely separated by the Pir Panjal Range, Pakistan has been the perennial aggressor and it belies logic for them to avenge any alleged provocation by the Indian Army.

Importantly, therefore, the sudden escalation should be seen in light of the obtaining geo-strategic environment in the Af-Pak region. The present provocation may well be the beginning of a series of attempts to ; one, bring the Kashmir dispute back into focus ; two, Pakistan appears to be confident of US dependency on it to provide human intelligence against their arch Al Qaeda foes ; three, Pakistan appears confident of bringing peace with its arch Fata foe, the TTP, whose chief has called upon his lieutenants to ceasefire against the Pakistan Army; It has also called for a joint TTP-Army action to avenge 1971; four, Pakistan would need to divert militants of all descriptions to its favoured haunt (Kashmir) to get them off their back. This will also allow it to concentrate on carving out an effective end game in Afghanistan, where, blood-letting along ethnic, sectarian and other diffused lines, is likely to erupt, over the next few years.

India can therefore expect calibrated upping the ante on the LoC by Pakistan and expect a major attack on its hinterland. India has made strides in locking down this country against terror strikes. But it is not insured. Chances are, that one or two attacks of the scale of 26/11 may yet slip through the dragnet. If and when that happens, outrage caused will put tremendous pressure on the government to retaliate. What are the options?

There are many. But, short of all out war there is one in the diplomatic-military domain.

The problem with a limited military response which will be ardently sought in the aftermath of another strike, is not in the response, itself. The problem occurs when it is required to be executed under pressure in a surcharged atmosphere when passions are running high. Any military action contemplated in the aftermath of a major strike has a strong possibility of quickly spiralling into higher rungs of the escalatory ladder as these actions will be undertaken in a time constraint and in a crisis situation. 

To prevent this from happening, India must communicate its resolve to take limited punitive action against symbolic terror infrastructure in close vicinity of the LoC by way of hot chase or precision strike, etc and that it seeks its co-operation in facilitating such strikes since by their own reckoning, Pakistan is either not in control or denies existence of such infrastructure ! In this grain of option, India will have commenced its actions in the diplomatic-military realm from the lowest rung of the escalatory ladder. It will put a premium on lies emanating from the border and incentives Pakistan to rein in terror. After all, the symbolic value of an Indian limited strike on its soil will be a hard sell to its domestic constituency. Also, this mature action will earn plaudits from the international community and cool domestic tempers. Innocent citizens can no longer be held ransom to nuclear bogey.

Rohit Singh is a senior research associate and special assistant to the director at the Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi

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