Thursday, August 8, 2013

Political expediency cannot mix with military action

The ceasfire put in place at the line of control (LoC) between India and Pakistan in November 2003 is all but a charade now. Brutal killings, cross-border raids, medium and heavy firing with small arms and mortars has increased exponentially over the past couple of years. This calendar year alone, there have been 57 ceasfire violations by Pakistan, a whopping 80 per cent jump from 2012. The number of infiltration attempts have risen dramatically too. But more than anything else, it is the intention of the Pakistani Army and ISI to keep the pot boiling in Kashmir that has not changed, ceasefire or no ceasefire.

Recall what the then Northern Army Commander Lt Gen KT Parnaik told me in an interview on June 17 less than two months ago: "With we have to understand that the infrastructure that supports and propels this entire proxy war across the border is intact, whether they are the training camps or the launching pads or the communication facilities. Secondly the continued efforts of the establishment in Pakistan to push the infiltrators across the LoC continue. 

"The number of ceasefire violations that we have had and a large number of incidents in which they had tried to breach the LoC and the fence has been detected in the past. So I feel as long as the intention on the infrastructure doesn't change we cannot keep our guard down. While these figures have marginally changed over a period of time, it is not the numbers that are important, it is the fact that they continue to be there and every season these camps get activated for training and motivation. Intelligence agencies have confirmed that these camps continue to be active. So they are talking about 42 camps across and 4,000-5,000 is generally the strength. They come for training and go away, but the important part is why should the adversary maintain these camps, why should they give them the patronage? They get arms, equipment, state of the art communication equipment and wherewithal to carry out infiltration. This itself highlights the problems that exist today. Despite a number of dialogues, there is no improvement, that's why we can't let our guard down."

Words of a true professional who foresaw what is in store.

Despite all the professed willingness showed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to take the peace process with India forward, as long as the Pakistani Army and ISI along with groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba, remain inimical to India, no amount of dialogue will calm the situation on the LoC.

The Indian establishment, especially those pushing for talks with Pakistan at any cost must take this factor into account. Can Sharif enure the closure of these camps? Can New Delhi hold Islamabad accountable to the promise it made in January 2004 that Pakistan will not allow its territory or territory controlled by it to be used by terrorists for anti-India activities?

If there is no guarantee on this count, no amount of conferences on the sidelines of UN General Assembly or otherwise, are going to bear any fruit.

That said, the Indian security establishment, especially the Indian Army will have to look within and review some of the procedures and tactics that are being employed along the LoC. When the January beheading of an Indian soldier happened, there were were murmurs that there could have been tactical errors on part of the patrol party that allowed the Pakistani Border Action Team (BAT) to kill the two Indian soldiers. 

After the killing of 5 soldiers on Monday night-Tuesday morning, the murmurs have become a louder. An initial internal assessment of the incident points to tactical lapses by the local unit. A couple of questions need quick answers for the situation to be rectified. One, why was the area domination patrol strenth only 6 and not minimum 10  (a section) as is the standrad practice? Some reports have suggested that the outgoing ballation (21 Bihar) was showing the incoming unit (14 Maratha) the key locations and a bunker ahead of the fence but well within the LoC. If that be so, why take the new unit on a familiarisation exercise at night? Also was the patrolling pattern repeated without variation over a prolonged period giving the adversary the chance to observer it closely and then attack at a time and place of its choosing?

No doubt, all these possible shortcomings are being looked into. Surely the commanders on ground would know that the most vulnerable period on the LoC is during the chnage over of units. The old unit is in transfer mode, the new one is on unfamiliar territory. That's when the adversary is known to strike. In 2010, in the Uri sector, two Indian soldiers were beheaded in exactly these circumstances. That Indian troops hit back appropriately with similar tactics is also well known.

But there is a larger question here posed by veterans of Kashmir deployment: Have commanders on the ground lost the ability to take initiative and launch punitive action against raiding Pakistani forces? Has the leadership developed cold feet in taking actions that are well within its realm of responsibility? 

Sample what one veteran emailed to me in the immediate aftermath of the killing of 5 soldiers. : "If I were the CO, I would have launched adecisive counter attack to make the enemy pay with or without permission from my superiors and to hell with the consequences. Such actions are not without precedents. In the early 60s, there was anincident of beheading in Blue Sector (J&K) which was answered by an immediate counter attack by the battalion after which there was no such incident till the battalion was de-inducted. The Company commander later on rose to be an Army Commander. And then there was a Corps Commander (who later on became the Chief) who ordered punitive action with telling effect without any sanction from the Army Commander. When pulled up, he said that seeking permission for local actions would only result in delaying the response which would have finally ended in a stalemate. No further questions were asked. At present we only seem to be reacting instead of (pre-) acting and/or pro-acting. Its time we went on the offensive with a series of attacks which will give a clear message to the enemy that we mean business. Endless inaction on our part will certainly leave us in a demoralised state. If this course leads to war, so be it. Patience seems to our only strong point at present." 

2013, admittedly is not the 1960s but bold local commanders are known to be appropriately aggressive even in the past half a dozen years. Of late however, there is a tendency to be ultra cautious, to look for directions from the top before taking any step considered out of the box.

After all is said and done, Indian Army must also review its counter-infiltration operating procedure on the LoC. In all likelihood commanders on ground are constrained by an overwhelming urge to look for signal from the brass before taking any tough step. 

They will have to revisit the old adage: what is militarily desirable is not necessarily politically correct. They must know that mixing political expediency with military action is suicidal. Only then Indian army officers can regain the confidence of its men and thereby the Indian citizens.

6 comments:

  1. I have numerous questions:

    1: The inability of local commanders in retaliating is a sign of diminishing autonomy?

    2: What restricts India from taking a tough and immediate symmetrical action?

    3: In the track II circuit, there are repeated and consensual recommendation to start talking to the Pakistani Army, for the obvious reasons. What stops India from adopting practical strategies?

    4: Is it really difficult for India to have an iron fist in a velvet glove vis-a-vis Pakistan?

    5: If GOI has any political inhibitions to take strong action against Pakistan, who is responsible for these? Is there no consensus on perception of Pakistan among domestic constituencies?

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  2. One of the best summations of the Poonch Ambush. Reckoning must not victimise or result in blamestorming. Sub-area commanders dont live in a vacuum. Overall top class work!

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  3. 1. Very well written post, feeling the pulse of the matter.

    2. Question No 5 of Amruta K is very pertinent. It is well known that Terrorist infrastructure and training camps are intact across the LOC and no talks can dismantle it. Unless there is major upheaval of change in the Army and ISI of Pak,terrorism against India will continue.

    In my opinion, talk to Pak whenever they want but continue with our proactive counter terrorism and cross border terrorism operations, ten Pak heads for one Indian Head. This is the only way to deal with Pak. Please learn good lessons from Israel, USA and so many other countries who hold their National Interest at all cost. We need to be "strong and good neighbor" not "weak and good neighbor".

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  4. Well analysed article.
    Is it an OLQ problem?
    Young officers seem to lack initiative and leadership qualities.

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  5. Additionally, there may well be a need to dispel any perception of antagonism or lack of trust between the political, bureaucratic and uniform'd components of our defence structure as all external hostile entities need to be disabused of any notions to the contrary.

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