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A LOC-al affair – and India lacks a covert capability for use against Pakistan January 25, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Pakistan, Snedden, Christopher , trackback

Christopher Snedden

The recent India-Pakistan aggression and hostilities over the Line of Control (LOC) that divides the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) appear to have come out of nowhere. Or have they? What is essentially a local incident – of which, if history tells us anything, there indubitably will be more in future – may have serious ramifications for India, if one Indian analyst is to be believed (see below).

According to a well-informed Indian journalist, the recent India-Pakistan incidents on the LOC were instigated last September when a Kashmiri grandmother managed to cross the heavily fortified LOC from Indian J&K to Pakistan-Administered Azad Kashmir. (See Praveen Swami, ‘Runaway grandmother sparked savage skirmish on LoC’, The Hindu, 10 January 2013. Importantly, Indian troops failed to detect her crossing. Thereafter, the Indians built observation bunkers ‘to monitor the movement of [nearby] villagers’. Pakistani forces disliked these bunkers and started to fire at both them and their inhabitants, i.e. Indian soldiers.

One thing led to another – as they do in India-Pakistan relations – and then there was armed activity by both sides in which a number of soldiers were killed. One Indian soldier was beheaded, suggesting to some analysts that vicious pro-Pakistan militants were involved – not disciplined Pakistani soldiers who supposedly would never commit such an unsavoury act. This idea gained credence because Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba that has long opposed India in Indian J&K, allegedly visited the LOC shortly before the armed altercations. Saeed has denied the Indian allegation.

After the deaths of the soldiers, diplomatic protests followed and various flag meetings took place to try and calm the situation. Concurrently, India suspended all cross-LOC trade and visits. The Indian Army’s Chief of Staff, General Bikram Singh, has now ordered his forces to be aggressive when replying to any Pakistani violations of the LOC. His Pakistani counterpart, General Ashfaq Kayani, has remained silent, presumably because he is more focused on the Pakistan Army’s attempts to deal with difficult Taliban terrorists in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), not to mention the ramifications of deadly actions taken by the United Baloch Army and sectarian elements in Quetta on 11 January.

It is usually impossible to determine which nation’s troops instigate actions along the LOC and who nation is in the wrong. Indian-Pakistan relations are so poor that, invariably, each side either blames the other for things that occur or they obfuscate and deny any wrongdoing – even if they actually are in the wrong. ‘Face’ is all-important in this contested area where neither nation is prepared to ‘give an inch’ of ground, militarily, physically or diplomatically.

The small United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan that monitors the LOC is powerless, with its limited operations hampered because India believes that all bilateral issues with Pakistan should be resolved on the basis of their 1972 Simla Agreement – not using any international third parties. The Line of Control came into being in 1972 as a result of the Simla Agreement. It postdates a similar ceasefire line that India and Pakistan agreed in 1949, soon after the ceasefire on 1 January 1949 that ended their 1948 war in, and over, J&K. The ceasefire line/LOC did not, and does not, divide all of J&K. Since about 1983, India and Pakistan have been contesting control of the Siachen Glacier area in north-eastern J&K beyond where the LOC ends.

In recent years, India has fenced some 550 kilometres of the 740-kilometre LOC. This double row of fencing some 2.5-4 metres high through often rugged and difficult terrain is generally set back about 150 metres from the LOC. The area between the actual LOC and the fences is mined. The fences are alarmed and electrified. Large numbers of Indian regular and paramilitary forces patrol, monitor and guard the LOC to prevent ‘people’, chiefly anti-Indian militants but also smugglers, from crossing into Indian J&K.

These various efforts would appear to make the LOC difficult to penetrate – which it is. However, the infiltration of anti-militants across the LOC, while difficult, is still possible to achieve. A number of factors cause problems for the Indians. The first is avalanches and/or snow drifts. If there is sufficient snow, it is possible to walk over the deeply covered mines and buried fencing. The second is militant activity. In the past, militants apparently regularly sent animals up to the LOC’s fence to set off the alarm. At one stage, Indian forces became so aggravated about the excessive number of alarms occurring that they turned the system off in some sectors. Militants then cut the wire and went into Indian J&K. The third is that militants go round the LOC where it is unfenced or under it in gullies where it is difficult to maintain foolproof fences, particularly after heavy rains.

What more can India do? Not much, it seems, certainly in the J&K area. Better relations with Pakistan would help, of course, although there are some elements in Pakistan that appear to be perennially outside the control of Pakistani officialdom, particularly elements of the Pakistan Army’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). ISI engages in covert activities, including in, and against, Indian J&K. In response, some Indian analysts believe that India needs to reinstitute an apparently lost covert capability that it can ‘turn on’ elsewhere in, and against, Pakistan to create ‘concerns and uncertainty in [Pakistan’s] mind about the consequences of its actions’. (See B. Raman, ‘India-Pakistan dialogue must continue’, The Hindu, 10 January 2013.

Mr Raman is a former head of the Counter Terrorism Division of India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Probably, he would know. Assuming that he is not engaging in subterfuge, his contention that India lacks a covert capability for use against Pakistan is a startling revelation. It shows that India is not as strong as some perceive it to be. It also surely will embolden anti-Indian elements in Pakistan, including the ISI.

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