Indo-Pak border

The Indo-Pak situation is very much as it was when Narendra Modi’s icon Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. The past year has been replete with shootings along the Line of Control and infiltrations.

It appeared to some Indians that this was because of an arrangement between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the military establishment headed by Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif that the Army would have a free hand in Kashmir if the Pakistan Army Inter-Services Intelligence would give the Prime Minister some leeway in trying to bring about a dialogue with the Taliban for an arrangement in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the US International Security Assistance Force from that country by the end of the year.

The Kargil episode which happened during the Vajpayee tenure was analyzed by the Kargil Review Committee headed by the eminent strategist Dr K Subrahmanyam. The committee made some very telling comments on how and why Kargil happened. Some of the reasons listed in that report appear to be extant even today and it needs to be ascertained how Modi will deal with the situation along the western border and the Line of Control.

Living in denial

The Kargil Review Committee noted the “unsustainability” of the Pakistani operations and underscored the Indian mindset thus: “A number of former Army Chiefs of Staff and Directors General of Military Operations were near unanimous in their opinion that a military intrusion on the scale attempted was totally unsustainable because of the lack of supportive infrastructure and was militarily irrational.”

“In 1948, 1965 and 1871 conflicts the Indian Army was able to dominate the Pakistani forces in these heights. The area has been the scene of fierce artillery exchanges but minimal cross-LoC military activity. These factors together with the nature of the terrain and extreme weather conditions in the area had generated an understandable Indian military mindset about the nature and extent of the Pakistani threat in this sector.

Here is evidence that the Indian military mindset has become infested with what is known as the “static defence syndrome” which begins to believe that if something has not happened, it will never happen.

The Kargil report does not recommend it but Narendra Modi will have to keep a lookout for and be prepared to handle the “irrational” and the unexpected.

Chief of Army Staff at the time General VP Malik left a gap in Indian defences believing that because of the difficulties of the terrain and climatic conditions the Pakistanis will not try to occupy the Indian positions. He later described it as a “gentleman’s agreement”. A “gentleman’s agreement” with a General who just a couple of months before was pounding Kargil with heavy artillery on an hourly basis!

The gap was also left wide open because of an unquestioned confidence that the Winter Air Surveillance Operations (WASO) were foolproof and working perfectly. These were periodic flights carrying special equipment to detect human body heat to check if any intrusion had taken place.

The Pakistanis knew about it and devised an easy method of beating the airborne sensor by wrapping themselves in anti-infrared cloth so long as the helicopter was overhead. Worse still, the helicopter flew only within the valleys and not along the crests of the mountains which was where the intruders had created “sanghars” or shelters fashioned out of rocks and were able to direct gunfire at National Highway connecting Leh and Siachen to Srinagar.

Worst still, and this reflects the mindset of the BJP led government Intelligence Bureau inputs “considered important enough by Director IB to be communicated over his signature on June 2, 1998 to the Prime Minister (Vajpayee), Home Minister (Advani), Cabinet Secretary, Home Secretary and Director General Military Operations”. He expected the information to filter down through official channels but this did not happen.

Modi as Prime Minister needs to take note of this grave omission at the very highest level of governance and set in place viable channels to share such information at short notice with those responsible for taking appropriate action. While the Kargil Review Committee commented that a communication of such a nature should have been directly addressed to all the officials concerned no comment was made about the failure of the Prime Minister and Home Minister to do their bit for national security. If there had been an error made by the Director of the IB should it have been compounded at the level of the Prime Minister and Home Minister?

There is still a lot of “chalta hai” attitude in defence and security matters as is evident in the beheading of an Indian soldier by Pakistani intruders who came through the barbed wire fence along the Line of Control. If the Government is worked up about this inhuman act it should make sure that procedures are correctly followed to ensure that Pakistan does not succeed in its machinations.

Porous border

It is not happening is apparent from Defence Minister Arun Jaitley’s observations that narcotic smugglers have found a way to circumvent the barbed wire fence along the international border. He told the National Academy of Customs, Excise and Narcotics on UN Day against Drugs that the narco smugglers have found an easy way by throwing contraband over the fence and receiving payment via the same route.

One may ask what the border guards are doing. The fence is supposed to be patrolled along the international border by the Border Security Force. If it sees people loitering close to the fence it should investigate and push them back. As Defence Minister, Mr Jaitley has the responsibility of demanding to know why preventive action is not being taken. It is not enough for Mr Jaitley to bring it to the notice of the Narcotics Bureau but there should be some action to prevent the practice by better vigilance by the border guards.

Mr Jaitley also must know that a similar method is being employed to transfer fake Indian currency notes intended to undermine the Indian economy as well as small arms and explosives in one kilogram packets. If the Defence Minister of the nation knows the modus operandi of anti-India agents why is he not stopping it?   

Clearly the border is as porous as it was before the laying of the barbed wire fence-a classic case of the syndrome brought about by long-standing static defences on the defenders. They take it for granted. Returning to the gaps left open at various point along the Line of Control where the barbed wire fence cannot be erected it is obvious that this is being done because of a paucity of manpower.

At about the time Kargil occurred the Army had decided to implement a policy of suspending the recruitment of the normal annual intake of 50,000 men and divert the money so saved for the modernization of the existing force.

The Kargil Review Committee praised it as a wise move and suggested that a declaratory policy that deliberate infringement of the sanctity of the LoC and wonton cross border terrorism in furtherance of proxy war would be met with prompt retaliatory action in a manner, time and place of India’s choosing.

The Kargil Review Committee itself said: “Successive Indian Chiefs of Army Staff and Directors General of Military Operations told the Committee that bringing to bear India’s assumed conventional superiority was not a serious option in the last ten years for a variety of reasons…Pakistani writings over the years have highlighted the Indian Army’s involvement in counter-insurgency in Kashmir and its perceived degradation as an effective fighting force.”

Under the circumstances of what worth would be such a declaratory policy? Especially Pakistan whose ‘irrationality’ the Committee had noted.  Nevertheless within a few years plans were being discussed for expanding the Indian Army by a Mountain Corps. The 50,000 who were not recruited could have made it possible to expedite the process.