Dangerous shift

Pakistan’s changing LoC strategy

A review of the recent Pakistani feverish attempts at infiltration not just along the Line of Control but also the international border reveals a trend that is dangerous for Indian deployment against both Pakistan. In one case the Pakistani took advantage of a change of guard, a routine replacement operation when one battalion or unit replaces the one in situ for administrative reasons.

At another, low morale and failure to observe standard operating procedures allowed the Pakistanis to behead one Indian soldier and mutilate another. The death of five Indian soldiers without firing a shot reveals the state of preparedness to deal with operations that are expected to escalate before the advent of snowfall.

For an enemy to be able to read the state of mind of our troops and to exploit it to the fullest, represents a new kind of threat.

Some of the information on which the Pakistanis based their operations could be extracted from published sources and the media. The others, like the state of mind of Indian soldiers at a certain point along the LoC, can be either an inside source or very good observation powers on the Pakistani side.  

The events of the past two months along the Line of Control underscore the need for not just better border management methods and practices. Much of what is happening is within the realm of psychological warfare where a perceived weakness detected by the enemy is exploited to the full, further demoralizing Indian troops.

Changed strategy

The operations in August-September-October by the Pakistani Army were radically different from the earlier attempts at trying to infiltrate about a dozen terrorists at a time. This time the numbers were larger and the covering fire included heavy mortars not just along the Line of Control but large parts of the international border south of Jammu. Reports of between 30 to 40 men attempting to make the crossing were rife during the operations and the Army claimed to have killed more than half but the absence of bodies tended to put their claims in doubt.

If a group of terrorists can first enter an area of Indian Army control and then leave with the dead bodies of their colleagues tends to give too much credibility to the abilities of Pakistani soldiers operating in the disguise of jihadi militants.

In the absence of real facts it would be dangerous to downplay what the Pakistanis were attempting. As early as in 2003 the Pakistanis had managed to create bunkers as large as 50 ft X 20 ft in the Surankote and Hilkaka sectors and stocked them with weapons and foodstuff enough to sustain a military force of 40 men which is equivalent to a platoon in military hierarchy.

The total numbers of terrorists in the area grew to more than 300 which would have required more than 6000 Indian security personnel to neutralize them. Given the size of those whom the Pakistanis were trying to infiltrate into several points in Jammu and Kashmir the Pakistan Army Inter-Services Intelligence was clearly trying to replicate such a concentration. The intention was to convert a terrorist/guerrilla operation into a full-scale conventional warfare.  

In 2003 too analysts had warned of the general drift of Pakistan Army’s intentions were apparent in the kind of weapons that were being seized from slain terrorists as well as from stockpiles that had been created at Hilkaka and Surankote.

The creation of such a large concentration of fighters was part of a larger game plan. The game plan was revealed, albeit tangentially, when militant leaders from the Kashmir Valley met with Special Adviser to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan Sartaj Aziz in New Delhi. Syed Ali Shah Geelani made reference to the greater use of the gun in the cause of Kashmir and Maulvi Mirwaiz of the Hurriyat Conference and JKLF Chief Yasin Malik decried the inadequate support that Pakistan has been providing to the Kashmir issue.

The total effect of the interaction of the Kashmiris and their handlers in Pakistan was that the time had come to further escalate the cross-LoC and cross-border attacks against India.

It is only the arrival of snowfall in Jammu and Kashmir that has postponed to the next tourism season whatever the terrorists intended to achieve. It failed in internationalizing the issue when President Obama refused to interfere when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif asked him to. The Pakistan Army had to scale down the cross-LoC shooting because of the diminishing political returns and the escalating cost to itself. But this is just a stopgap state of affairs.

Game plan

The attempt to infiltrate a larger number of terrorists is a carefully crafted game plan. Pakistan is trying to shift the momentum of the so-called Kashmiri free down struggle to a higher level of conventional warfare where regular members of the Pakistan Army will spearhead future attacks and, with the assistance of Geelani Mirwaiz Farooq and Yasin Malik make it appear that a “war of liberation’ is underway.

However, what will happen would be more like the infiltration of Pakistan’s regular troops of the Northern Light Infantry into Kargil in 1999. This time being in multiples of platoon-sized units with a pre-determined forming up place- most probably with one or all three of separatist leaders will form the nucleus of the “army of liberation”.

They would present themselves as the vanguard of an urban guerrilla warfare in which the Indian Army will have to make destructive forays into crowded localities to dislodge/neutralize the infiltrators and be condemned for being brutal.

This is the blueprint of what is happening on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and that is why the US had to use its own intelligence agency inputs and the drone aircraft for surgical strikes against selected terrorist target.  

Pakistan, playing a double game, is trying to distance itself from the drone attacks but the Taliban knows this and is retaliating appropriately against the Pakistan Army. This same strategy is to be implemented on the Pak-India border with greater intensity as the US drawdown is completed by the end of 2014.     

The Government of India and the Indian Army appear to have been caught unaware which is strange given that the first inkling of what is to come was in the creation of the Kashmir Cell within the Inter-Services Intelligence.

It needs to be recalled that Kargil happened under cover of a blanket of snow and we woke to the crisis only when the snow melted and the shepherds began their trek. As in Kargil, the preliminaries were in the shape of daily bombardment of Dras in the previous month.

Something similar could happen between now and April because the Prime Minister is the same as when Kargil happened (Nawaz Sharif); once again he has issued veiled nuclear threats by trying to raise the Indo-Pak situation to the level of a “nuclear flashpoint” (as he did when he was last in office).

Having failed in Washington he has to do something to jolt the US into action under threat that the transition in Afghanistan will not be peaceful.