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Comments on Pakistan Army's actions in J &K

Paper No. 5361                               Dated 14-Jan-2013

By Col R. Hariharan

[Here is a summary of my comments made to print media and on TV on the India-Pakistan standoff after two Indian soldiers were killed by Pakistani troops on 8 January 2012.]

On the killing and mutilation of soldiers

This is not the first time Pakistan army has indulged in barbaric acts like beheading captured Indian soldiers, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir. Unfortunately, it has become a part of the Pak military culture while handling Indian soldiers taken prisoner. They had carried in such inhuman acts before. Captured soldiers were blinded and pushed back alive to the Indian lines during the 1971 War. The torture and mutilation of Lt Saurav Kalia before killing him in the Kargil War in 1999 is well documented. In 2009 they did this again; and now this is one more such gruesome incident.

Why does the Pakistan army do such things?

We should not see this as a standalone action of some misguided soldiers. Pakistan army for long has nursed a grudge to avenge its decisive defeat in 1971 War at the hands of Indian army. Even the Kargil War has its roots in this mentality. And in the eyes of average Pakistani the unresolved Kashmir issue provides sufficient grounds to ignore such aberrations of Pakistan army. Pakistan army has exploited this attitude and the latent fear of India to perpetuate its existence as a powerful extra constitutional authority to control the way ‘democracy’ operates in the country.

In this respect Pakistan army is totally different from Indian army which functions under the elected government. So we cannot expect Pakistan army to behave like its Indian counterpart.

Pakistan had been facing a terrorist attacks mainly from two groups: the Tehrik –e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), popularly known as Pakistan Taliban and the Lashkar e Jhangvi (LJ), an anti-Shia Jihadi terrorist group. The TTP, a predominantly Pashtun group, aims to destabilize Pakistan state and establish an Islamic government based on Sharia and operates from bases in Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) along Afghan border. It has been attacking government and military installations with considerable success. The LJ, a predominantly Punjabi outfit with Taliban connections, has mainly targeted the Shia population. It has claimed responsibility for the 10 January 2013 bombings in Quetta and in northern Swat Valley, killing in all 125 people and injuring 270. Pakistan army is currently carrying out operations against these two organizations. In addition to this, since December 2012, the army has been intensified its operations against Baloch nationalists fighting for an independent Baluchistan.

Perhaps this has generated recent reports of Pakistan army considering terrorism as the number one threat to the country. While this sounds plausible as terrorism is becoming an existential threat to Pakistan, qualitatively counter-terrorist operations and conventional military operations are different as chalk and cheese. So the question of Pakistan army relegating India, which has nuclear capability, to the second place in its strategic threat perception does not arise.

Whatever that be, the Pakistan army’s reported change of its stance against India has come under severe criticism from fundamentalist right-wing political groups as well as terrorist brain trusts masquerading as humanitarian and social organizations in Pakistan.

As J and K is a perennial and popular hate symbol, Pakistan army could be indulging in some violent acts in J and K to divert the flak it has been facing from fundamentalists. This gains credibility when we see in December 2011 as many as four terrorist infiltration attempts were neutralized in J and K and 11 terrorists were killed.

On Pakistan government’s response to the incident

There are two aspects in the response. First, Pakistan Foreign minister has flatly denied the involvement of Pakistan army in the incident across the LoC. Second, she has offered to get it investigated by the UN Military Observers Group (UNMOGIP) in Kashmir.

The reaction is not surprising. It is typical of Pakistan. Pakistan has denied its involvement in every attack where terrorists based in Pakistan, supported by the Inter Servies Intelligence (ISI) and trained by the army have been involved. Despite strong evidence Pakistan had been dragging its feet over prosecuting the Pakistani culprits who masterminded the 26/11 Lashkar attacks in Mumbai.

The Foreign Minister’s offer to get the incident investigated by UNMOGIP is at best specious and at worst mischievous. She knows fully that India’s firm stand against outside intervention in bilateral issues between the two countries. She may also be hoping to revive the UN interest on the Kashmir issue, which had faded from UN agenda quite some time ago.

An Indian media commentator has indirectly suggested that the building of a border check post by Indian army on the line of control (LoC) in J and K was objected to by Pak army as it violated the 2003 Ceasefire Agreement. And they opened fire when Indian troops went ahead with the construction. The whole chain of events followed from that, he has added. This is simplistic.

India’s defence ministry has denied this conjecture. Bases of jihadi terrorists continue to exist in Pakistan occupied Kashmir across the Indian border. Troops deployed there remember the lessons of Kargil War and are duty bound to prevent infiltration by these terrorists.

Unless Pakistan removes the terrorist camps and disband the outfits, Indian army’s priority will be to ensure all actions are talem to prevent infiltration across the border.

India must tell Pakistan that it should also conform to the letter and spirit of the ceasefire agreement when it talks about it. And India has to take adequate measures to safeguard the sanctity of its borders.

Shout India break off peace initiatives?

India and Pakistan share not only geographic borders but common historical, cultural, religious, and social experience as well. They have to exist in peace and amity lest they fritter away their common assets. This is the reality. Unfortunately the wounds of Partition have left deep scars in the psyche of both countries.

In Pakistan, the lingering suspicion about India not reconciling with the existence of Pakistan has conditioned its politics and thinking of large sections of the people. In India, a strong antipathy to Pakistan permeates thinking both in political and public sphere.

However, after both countries acquired nuclear capability, both countries seem to be aware of the dangers of escalating military confrontation to full scale conventional war. So there is greater realization among the people and mainstream political parties that building better relations is the only option for the good of both the nations as well as the region.And both countries have embarked on building peaceful relations between them.

The need for such win-win relationship has become urgent as changes in the strategic scene in Af-Pak region looks imminent when American and NATO forces pull out from Afghanistan 2013-14. In all likelihood Taliban-led jihadi groups could stage a comeback and become more aggressive. In view of this, both India and Pakistan have strategic imperatives in ensuring that this does not affect their national interests.

There had been a number of roadblocks coming up now and then in the peace building process mostly due to the strong military influence in Pakistan’s body politics and terrorist forays on India emanating from Pakistan. So there are always periodic up and down swings in peace moves.

Despite these setbacks, both countries have invariably bounced back. Now also this process is on and some progress has been made in lifting trade restrictions for Indian goods, and in adopting more liberal visa policies. Pakistan cricket team has visited India after a long time; and an Indian team is scheduled to tour to Pakistan. However, these initiatives have not been allowed to bloom in full due to persistent parochial and security considerations.

India-Pakistan relations have security, political and international dimensions. It is essential that any incident affecting in one of these dimensions is assessed in its own context before any precipitate action is taken that would stall the peace building process.

However, this does not mean India adopting a soft approach when its soldiers have been meted out barbaric and inhuman treatment. We should strongly react and send a clear message that India would not tolerate such conduct from Pakistan.

Is India’s response soft?

India has always avoided a knee jerk reaction to border confrontations. But this is not a run of the mill incident; it is an inhuman act by Pak troops. As has become the common practice, the prime minister has maintained his silence. Defence Minister Antony has come out with a strong statement. The Army Headquarters has also reacted promptly to set the record straight. Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and Air Chief, has warned that the country might have to look at “some other options for compliance” if Pakistan breached the 2003 Ceasefire Agreement.

But if past experience is any guide, this does not mean Indian army would be allowed to respond fittingly to discourage such Pak adventurism. After all, in the case of Saurav Kalia’s, the Indian government responded so weakly that even 13 years after the incident his father, a veteran soldier, has to come on public media and appeal to the prime minister for action. Still Ministry of Defence and Ministry of External Affairs is playing round robin on the Kalia issue.

One can see the continuing lack of coordination even in the response to the current incident. Even as the Defence Minister made a strong statement, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid made it clear India would not be “pressured by wild calls for revenge” over the killing and mutilation of two Indian soldiers. Of course, he tried to mellow it down by making a statement sympathetic to the dead soldiers. This proves that the priorities of foreign policy are not inclusive of defence sensitivity and at best comes in a lower order.

Thus even the ‘strong statement’ would appear to be a tepid response at best. But that is business as usual as far as defence matters are concerned in this country, where we have a unique system where civilians take decisions on strategic security issues with the service chiefs only on listening watch. As the government ethos appears to be guided by Rudyard Kipling who wrote the duty of the soldier was “not to reason how and why but to do and die” soldiers are just doing that. And that is the tragedy.

Future course

The LoC continues to be restive in J and K. Firing across the border continues; in military terms that would indicate probably cross border infiltration attempts are continuing. The terrorist activity has started again in Kashmir. This time they appear to be choosing soft targets like village sarpanchs. They have been threatened with death if they do not resign. Already two sarpanchs have been killed by terrorists.

The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is completing its full five year term. Cashing on the public anger at civilian casualties due to American drone attacks on Pakistani terrorist targets, Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), has gathered huge popular support. He could threaten the successful return of PPP as winners in the coming elections. So the PPP government will probably be cautious in dealing with India as the election nears.

The army is an important external factor that conditions Pakistani response to India. The army would also like to avoid being branded as going soft on Indians, particularly when it continues its counter terrorist against some of the jihadi terrorist groups outside its orbit of control.

Given this complex scene across the border, we can expect more local skirmishes along the J and K border. However, we need to handle such incidents dispassionately and with greater alacrity; there is no need to bend over backwards to appease Pakistan. Instances of intrusions by Pakistan army or terrorists should be dealt with firmly keeping in mind national security considerations.

Indian government will have to work out its Pakistan policy afresh taking into consideration the dynamics of impending changes in Af-Pak region. It has to take into confidence all major political parties in evolving this.

The credibility of the government and political class is increasingly being questioned by the public who are impatient with the sloth and indifference in governance. So while responding to any India-Pakistan security standoff, the government has to show greater sensitivity and spruce up its act in communicating to the public.

(Col. R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, is associated with the South Asia Analysis Group and the Chennai Centre for China Studies. E- mail:colhari@yahoo.com Blog: www.colhariharan.org)

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