Thursday, January 10, 2013

Line of No Control - Pakistan's Brutality Exposed

The First Kashmir War (1947-48) fought between Indian and Pakistani forces concluded with the establishment of a cease fire line (CFL) later designated the Line of Control (commonly referred to as the LoC) after the conclusion of the Simla Agreement of July 1972. The LoC does not constitute a legally recognized international boundary but is today considered to be a de facto border. Firing across the border by the armed forces of both Pakistan and India is a regular feature given the animosity and tension that exists between the two countries. However in November 2003 a cease fire came into force and has continued to exist at least on paper; the adherence to the cease fire is followed more in its breach. The Line of Control can now more appropriately be referred to as the Line of No Control. The incident of  8th January 2013 was not only a violation of the cease fire but exposed the brutality of the Pakistani Army personnel.

In what is considered to be a highly “provocative" attack, soldiers belonging to the Pakistani Army, on Tuesday 8th January 2013 crossed the Line of Control (LoC) into Indian territory in the Mendhar sector in Poonch district of Kashmir and ambushed an Indian patrol killing two soldiers, one of whom was decapitated. According to Indian Army sources, the heads of the two Indian soldiers, Lance Naik Hemraj and Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh were chopped off and head of one of the two killed were taken away by the intruding Pakistani troops. This brutal act was preceded by days of firing across the LoC by Pakistani troops in flagrant violation of the cease-fire agreement reached in November 2003.

The Indian Army’s Northern Command based in Udhampur released a statement terming the attack as a ‘significant escalation’ to the continuing ceasefire violations and infiltration attempts of terrorists aided and abetted by the Pakistani Army. The statement further said that "A group of their regular soldiers intruded across the Line of Control in the Mendhar Sector on January 8. Pakistan army troops, having taken advantage of thick fog and mist in the forested area, were moving towards our posts when an alert area domination patrol spotted and engaged the intruders".

"The fire fight between Pakistan and our troops continued for approximately half an hour after which the intruders retreated towards their side of LoC. Two soldiers Lance Naik Hemraj and Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh belonging to the 13 Rajputana Rifles laid down their lives while fighting the Pakistani troops," the statement said.

This attack, as the statement of the Northern Army, indicates is a significant escalation, and also indicates a significant departure from earlier ceasefire violations by Pakistan. One is that firing across the LoC by Pakistan has been a regular feature to which the Indian Army has been giving a proportionate response. However, on 8th January the ambush is believed to have been carried out well within Indian territory by Border Action Team (BAT) of the Pakistani Army (which comprises of personnel from Special Services Group and terrorists belonging to the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Toiba) and was provided with intelligence and ground support by the 29 Baloch Regiment. It appears to have been a well-planned operation sanctioned probably sanctioned at the local commander's level. Some reports indicate the presence of Hafiz Saeed, chief of the LeT near the LoC on the Pakistani side about a week prior to this incident. The composition of the BAT and presence of the LeT chief indicate the close co-operation of the Pakistani military establishment and the Kashmir-centric terror groups in planning and executing tactical operations against India. Second, the mutilation of the body of a soldier brings back memories of the first weeks of the Kargil War when Captain Saurabh Kalia along with five soldiers of the 4 Jat Regiment were captured by Pakistani troops and kept in captivity for over twenty-two days and subjected to torture as evident from their bodies handed over by Pakistan Army on June 9, 1999. The autopsy revealed that the Pakistan army had tortured their prisoners by burning their bodies with cigarettes, piercing ear-drums with hot rods, puncturing eyes before removing them, breaking most of the teeth and bones, fractures of the skull, cutting the lips, chipping of nose, chopping off limbs and private organs of these soldiers besides inflicting all sorts of physical and mental tortures and finally shooting them dead, as evidenced by the bullet wound to the temple. The postmortem report also confirmed that injuries were inflicted ante-mortem.

In February, 2000, a former soldier in the Pakistani army and later an Al Qaida terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri had led a raid on the Indian Army's "Ashok Listening Post" in the Nowshera sector which resulted in the killing of seven Indian soldiers. Kashmiri is reported to have taken back to Pakistan the head of a 24-year-old Indian jawan, Bhausaheb Maruti Talekar of the 17 Maratha Light Infantry, as a trophy to brandish. He is believed to have been honoured by General Musharraf for this inhuman act at a ceremony later. Pakistan has had a dubious record of committing flagrant violations of international humanitarian law.

Pakistan as per its standard practice denied the incident and that its troops had crossed the LoC and that it had any role in the killing of the two soldiers and mutilation of the body of one of the soldiers. The Pakistan army spokesman called the claims of killing and mutilation a "cover-up story" for an Indian incursion alleged to have taken place on 6th January on to Pakistan's side of Line of Control in the Rampur sector, during which he said one Pakistani soldier died and another was injured. Pakistan continues to be in denial and will always be in denial.

Pakistan has alleged that on 6th January following a low-grade exchange of fire that night, commander of the 161 brigade, stationed in the Churchunda sub-sector, Brigadier Gulab Singh Rawat, decided to take aggressive action. Sources said that he asked the commanding officer of 9 Maratha Light Infantry to take “proactive action”, to launch a quick raid against a post that was harassing Indian positions. Pakistan insists its post, Sawan Patra, was raided by Indian troops. India has denied the allegation.

India is entitled to pursue two courses of action. The first is politico-military because this is probably the first time when Pakistani troops have been engaged on the Indian side of the LoC, which in effect means the Pakistani action amounts a breach of the Line of Control, a line which is considered to be sacrosanct. The second is to pursue a legal remedy for violation of the Geneva Conventions for the inhuman act of mutilation of the soldier’s body. The main obligation to the dead is contained in Article 15 of the First Geneva Convention. The thrust of that article is the need to aid the wounded. The article also provides that the parties must “at all times, and particularly after an engagement… search for the dead and prevent their being despoiled.” The article also says that “whenever circumstances permit,” an armistice should be concluded so as to facilitate the search for the wounded. Of course, while searching for the wounded, the dead would also be found. 

How does India respond? 

The Indian establishment is prone to taking the easy way out, viz. lodge protests and make a lot of noise and warn Pakistan of serious consequences. At the time of writing this post, the Indian Foreign Minister is reported to have said that “India was awaiting a response from Pakistan on the gruesome killing of the soldiers”. The Foreign Minister’s responses in an interview to a TV news channel were hardly convincing. Pakistan will be least perturbed with India’s rants, protests and calls for probe. At the time of writing the Pakistani Foreign Minister denied the incident in its entirety and stated that since it had happened in Indian territory, it was for India to investigate and inquire into the matter. The Minister’s replies only reinforce the fact that not only is India a soft state but is impotent to give a fitting reply.  Apart from lodging protests has India done anything till date? The Minister and the Government needs to be reminded that national interests and national security are supreme and have to be protected and secured at all costs. It is shocking that a nation with an army numbering nearly 1.2 million men can only issue démarches. 

What are the options available to India? 

India should retaliate at a time and place of its choosing. India under international law is entitled to take action in the form of reprisals. The Indian Army’s Special Forces have the means and capability to initiate an operation similar to the one carried out by Pakistan. However, more important is that the Army needs to have a contingency plan to carry out limited cross-border strikes at regular intervals to deter the enemy from engaging in such adventures. Of course, the essential pre-requisite for sanctioning a one-off military operation in retaliation or regular strikes as and by way of deterrence is the existence of a strong political will and the unqualified support of the political leadership. Unfortunately the present political dispensation in New Delhi is devoid of any real leadership and centres of political power are scattered. Armed response is not the only response which India needs to plan for. India needs to draw up an elaborate plan of covert operations ranging from targeting Pak interests world-wide to the targeted killings of figures who pose a threat to India’s national security.

India can also adopt soft countermeasures (preferred by the peaceniks both inside and outside the government establishment) like recalling the High Commissioner, suspending trade, over-flights and the dialogue process. These soft measures in the past have had little effect on Pakistan’s policy towards India and are unlikely to have any effect in the future as well. 

Preparing for the future 

If India has the foresight and is able to appreciate the intricacies of the geopolitical environment in the not so distant future then it must plan for the contingencies. This planning is essential considering the fact that the US and allied forces will withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014. The year 2014 could very well be a turning point not only for Afghanistan but also for a possible recalibration of Pak’s India policy meaning thereby Pakistan may seek to revive and pursue the Kashmir issue aggressively. India also must review its nuclear doctrine of “no first use” and the assertion that nuclear weapons are solely for deterrence and will be used in retaliation only. Given the fact that India is surrounded by highly volatile neighbours like Pakistan with no comparable nuclear doctrine and the fear of nuclear weapons falling in the hands of terror groups like the LeT, it is only appropriate that India rescinds its policy of “no first use”. India must also continue to review and upgrade both qualitatively as well as quantitatively its nukes from time to time. Hence the above-mentioned pro-active measures are required to be in place by 2014. 

[Update: An update became necessary because one day after having authored the present post expressing apprehensions and the manner in which Pakistani establishment is likely to behave and formulate policies post-2014, the Pakistani daily The Nation in its internet edition has carried a column dated 11th January 2013 authored by one Nadir Mir, a former brigadier of the Pak Army wherein he states that India continues to pose an existential threat to Pakistan and calls for refocus on the eastern border (i.e. India), building friendly relations with Afghan Taliban (as if the world is not aware of Pak Army’s Taliban links) and for peace with India to be achieved, recommends Pak should be lavishly nuclear armed, meaning point the nuclear gun at India and achieve the objective of wresting Kashmir from India. This column can be read at].


Pete said...

Hi Kumar

India is unfortunate in having a politically underdeveloped neighbour with a high daily threshold of violence. As you indicate Pakistan also has close relations with terrorist/insurgent groups.

American money and drone strikes to separate Pakistan from its politico-military reliance on terrorism has only ever been partially successful.

On what to do about across LOC killings I think Geneva and other subtle diplomatic and international court reactions would have little effect.

Some Indian military escalation might highlight to to the world media and dipllomatic circles that Kashmir needs fixing. Israeli type guaranteed eye for an eye actions by Indian Special Forces or Indian drone strikes are probably the most effective response.

India harnessing the world media more effectively to highlight Pakistan's methods is another useful tactic.

Certainly India's "no first use policy" should be made more ambiguous. Although I suspect India would already entertain the option of a first strike on Pak nuclear missiles if India's sensors detected imminent Pak orders and moves to launch a strike on India.



Kumar said...

Hi Pete

Pakistan is a rogue-state. Its attributes of statehood are flawed. There is no responsible government. The democracy is a sham and the Pak army rules from behind the scenes.

Having been used to US drones firing hell-fire missiles and daily dose of suicide blasts, protests, shaming them before the international fora will have no effect. What Pak understands is a very swift, brutal and punishing retaliation which will have a deterrent effect and carried out in a covert fashion enabling India to deny the incident. And this action does not have to be at the Line of Control.

I agree that there must be ambiguity in India's N-option and it must reserve the right to carry out pre-emptive strikes, if Pak even plans such an adventure. For this to be a reality, India must have a political leader who is strong and resolute. It can hardly be expected from the political class as it exists today.


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