Monday, Aug 08, 2022

Mindless Adventurism

It remains unclear what strategic purpose the apparently massive use of firepower has served, or what material damage it has inflicted on military or vital infrastructure.


Since October 3, 2014, the India-Pakistan border in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has witnessed the worst kind of Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) violations since November 2003, when the CFA was signed between the two sides. There is a complete pandemonium at the India-Pakistan border in J&K—190 kilometres long International Border (IB) and 776 kilometres long Line of Control (LoC). A hysterical media and many security pundits have described the situation as a virtual state of war between India and Pakistan, citing the apparently massive ordnance that the two sides have thrown at each other. 

Thus, Director General Pakistan Rangers Major General Tahir Javaid Khan claimed, "India is not just violating ceasefire but fighting a small-scale war with Pakistan. On 6 October, alone, 51,000 small arms were fired across the boundary, while on October 7, more than 4,000 mortar shells were fired." Media reports also claim that Pakistani Rangers have used 82mm mortars, automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine guns, and air defence artillery. There has been tremendous international concern and commentary at the 'dramatic escalation' of tensions and violence in the 'sensitive' J&K region, and fears that the current contretemps may inadvertently slide into a full-scale war.

It is, however, not clear what strategic purpose the apparently massive use of firepower has served, or what material damage it has inflicted on military or vital infrastructure. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the Pakistani side has violated the CFA on at least 19 occasions since October 3, 2014, resulting in a total of nine civilian fatalities. The number of injured persons stands at 81—75 civilians and six Security Force (SF) personnel. In addition, another three SF personnel and two civilians had earlier been killed in CFA violations in 2014, bringing total fatalities in 2014 (till October 12) to 14.  Significantly, incidents of CFA violation by Pakistan resulted in 11 SF fatalities in 2013 and seven total fatalities in 2012, including four SF personnel and three civilians. The CFA has, in fact, been violated by Pakistan on at least 443 occasions since 2009, resulting in at least 46 fatalities (16 civilian and 30 SF). It was after a relatively long hiatus while President General Pervez Musharraf was in power, that the cycle of CFA violations and retaliatory fire by Indian Forces resumed in 2009, with a total of 35 incidents recorded that year, resulting in five SF fatalities.

While no reliable data on casualties on the Pakistani side as a result of retaliatory fire by Indian Forces is available, one Pakistani claim has indicated that at least 15 persons have been killed and another 30 injured in firing from the Indian side during the current standoff.

The current crisis commenced on October 3, 2014. The Pakistan Army had resorted to unprovoked firing along the IB in Arnia and Pargwal Sectors of Jammu district. No casualty was reported. After a day’s break, the Pakistani Rangers violated the CFA in the Arnia Sector, injuring two civilians.

Along the LoC, on October 3, 2014, the Pakistan Army fired in the Sabjian Sector of Poonch district, killing a teen-aged girl and injuring four others. At least 40 houses suffered minor damage in six villages in the Pakistani shelling. For the following two days, the Pakistani Rangers violated the CFA on at least four occasions in the Poonch district.

From October 6, the shelling from the Pakistani side started intentionally targeting the civilian population. On October 6, 2014, five civilians were killed and another 26 were injured at Mashan-de-Kothe village in the Arnia Sector of Jammu district. This was the first time since the 1971 War that five civilians were killed in a single incident of Pakistan shelling and firing at one location on the IB.

Again, on October 8, 2014, three women, were killed at Challyari village in the Samba Sector of Samba district. 14 civilians and two Border Security Force (BSF) personnel were also injured, when Pakistani Rangers targeted 60 BSF posts and civilian population centres at several places across the IB.

Nearly 33,000 people on the Indian side have been forced out of their homes in the forward areas and have taken shelter at safer locations identified by the Administration. Authorities are in the process of identifying other safe areas to accommodate another wave of anticipated migration from the border villages in case of further escalation from the Pakistani side. Sources disclosed that there was no forward village left across the 190 kilometres IB area, which was unaffected by shelling and migration. The crops in most of the border areas have been damaged due to regular mortar shelling. 

Significantly, according to media reports, Islamabad had started evacuating civilians from forward areas on the Pakistani side before launching the present barrage against civilian populations on the Indian side. 

There has been tremendous speculation regarding Islamabad's motives for the present escalation. While it is impossible to enter the minds of Pakistan's military and political leadership, it is useful to notice that, through all phases of such cross border interventions, both before and after the signing of the CFA in 2003, the prelude to the onset of winter has been the 'season' for such escalation, as terrorist handlers on the Pakistani side provide fire cover for the last batches of infiltrators before the snows shut down the mountain passes. Such a motive would be stronger at present, as Indian Forces have been remarkably successful in interdicting recent attempts at infiltration. According to the SATP database, the current year has, thus far, recorded a total of 29 infiltration bids—25 along the LoC and four along the IB. At least nine terrorists have been killed in retaliatory action by the SFs (data till October 12, 2014). The same period in year 2013 had recorded 39 infiltration bids—35 along the LoC and another four at the IB, and at least 50 terrorists were killed in the response by SFs.

Nevertheless, an unnamed official at the Department of Internal Security and J&K Affairs at the union ministry of home affairs (MHA), disclosed, on August 31, 2014, that about 60 terrorists had succeeded in entering J&K in 2014: “The first successful infiltration bid has taken place in May this year in Keran Sector of Kupwara district in which 14 terrorists entered the Valley. There have been eight more successful infiltration bids so far in 2014... Of 60 infiltrated terrorists, the forces have killed 14 in different encounters so far.” According to the official data, the number of successful infiltrations stood at 100 in 2013; 121 in 2012; and 52 in 2011.

Pakistan's interest in destabilizing the environment in J&K before the Assembly elections may also partially explain the current escalation. The election process would already have begun, had massive floods not ravaged the state last month. Around 300 people died in the floods, which left hundreds of thousands homeless. The Pakistan Army would have a strong interest in pushing in a large number of terrorists into the Indian side, under cover of heavy firing, in an attempt to disrupt the electoral process. Crucially, Islamabad and its terrorist and separatist proxies in J&K have repeatedly failed to thwart the electoral process for a long time. Thus, during the last General Elections (2014), the sate recorded a 49.52 per cent voter turnout; and the Assembly Elections of 2008 saw polling by 61.42 per cent of the electorate.

Domestic turmoil may also be a contributory factor in Pakistan's present malfeasance, with the leadership attempting, as it often has done in the past, to divert public attention from internal crises by shifting focus to the 'Kashmir issue'. Significantly, beginning August 16, 2014, thousands of demonstrators belonging to the Imran Khan led-Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri's Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) have thronged the Red Zone in Islamabad—the seat of governance and the elite zone in Islamabad. Demonstrations against the government have repeatedly spiralled into violence. Both Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri appear hell bent on the removal of the civilian government, and there are strong perceptions that the campaign has the tacit support of the Army. Conspicuously, the relationship between the civilian government and the military has deteriorated sharply over the past year. Worse, on September 18, 2014, a murder case was registered against Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, three federal ministers and top police officials, over the alleged killing of two persons during the August 30, 2014, clashes between the police and anti-government protesters in Islamabad.

Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Sharif, while addressing the 69th UN General Assembly session at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, on September 26, 2014, chose to stridently focus on the 'Kashmir issue',

"…..Our support and advocacy of the right to self- determination of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is our historic commitment and a duty, as a party to the Kashmir dispute….more than six decades ago, the UN had passed resolutions to hold a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir….The people of Jammu and Kashmir are still waiting for the fulfillment of that promise…..Many generations of Kashmiris have lived their lives under occupation, accompanied by violence and abuse of their fundamental rights. Kashmiri women, in particular, have undergone immense suffering and humiliation…..The core issue of Jammu and Kashmir has to be resolved. This is the responsibility of the international community. We cannot draw a veil on the issue of Kashmir, until it is addressed in accordance with the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir….”

In a breathtaking act of brazen deceit, moreover, projecting itself as the injured party in a lethal confrontation that it had initiated, Pakistan lodged a formal protest at the UN, against the 'civilian killings' as a result of Indian firing during the current cross border crisis. Pakistan's Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, addressing a letter dispatched on October 11 to the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, sought to draw attention to  

...the deteriorating security situation along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as along the working boundary between Pakistan and India, owing to deliberate and unprovoked violations of the ceasefire agreement and cross-border firing by the Indian forces over the past weeks… India has now escalated the situation along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and the Working Boundary. Persistent shelling and firing by Indian forces has resulted in heavy civilian casualties on the Pakistan side… Pakistan believes that the United Nations has an important role to play in promoting this objective, including through your good offices, which we have always welcomed, and the crucial role of the UNMOGIP on ground, which needs to be strengthened and facilitated under the current circumstances…

India has dismissed the charges as 'frivolous' and unworthy of response. Earlier, on October 7, Pakistan had lodged a protest with the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) office in Islamabad on the LoC situation. India has long maintained that UNMOGIP has "outlived its relevance" and has "no role to play whatsoever". UNMOGIP, established under a UN Security Council resolution, was meant to supervise the ceasefire line established under the Karachi Agreement of July 1949.

The Indian stand on the issue was articulated by the union defence minister Arun Jaitley on October 9, 2014, ruling out talks with Pakistan until the firing stopped completely. Jaitley warned Pakistan that it would have to bear an “unaffordable” cost if it continued with its “adventurism”.

Unfortunately, such threats have been the standard response to Pakistani provocation for decades now, and there is little reason to believe that any 'unaffordable costs' are imminently going to be inflicted on Pakistan. Indeed, as has repeatedly been noted in SAIR, policy is a function of capacity, and unless India's capacities are dramatically augmented (or Pakistan's, dramatically eroded) the pendulum of New Delhi's 'strategic responses' will continue to swing between 'talks and no talks'—and one such cycle has already been recorded by the incumbent Narendra Modi government within the first quarter of its existence. There appears to be little real comprehension, moreover, of the instrumentalities through, and manner in, which such 'costs' can be inflicted within the context of a coherent strategy of protracted conflict. The Modi government, indeed, continues to announce fairly minimalist preconditions for a resumption of talks and 'cooperation' on a wide range of issues with Islamabad, even as the 'strong line' articulated by Modi, that terrorism and talks could not go together, lies forgotten among the remains of pre-election oratory.

Ajai Sahni is Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, ICM & SATP.  Anurag Tripathi is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy: the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal