Friday, May 5, 2017

Beheadings at the Line of Control: Indian Countermeasures

India must not hesitate to use lethal force and other covert means to thwart the enemy’s design without fear of escalation and be prepared to fight a limited war under the nuclear shadow

Under the cover of heavy mortar fire, a Pakistani Border Action Team comprising Special Forces and jihadi elements in a pre-planned operation sneaked 250 metres across the Line of Control (LoC) into the Poonch sector of Jammu and Kashmir and beheaded two Indian security personnel on 1st May. It is learnt that the incident occurred when an Indian patrol of 8-10 soldiers was checking the border fence, a perilous task involving physically moving along the fence, very close to the Line of Control (LoC) in the Krishna Ghati sector of Poonch, to check for damage to the fence or its electronic sensors. Some media reports suggest that the incident occurred when a joint team of the army and Border Security Force had gone to check the veracity of an intelligence report that landmines had been planted by Pakistani troops on the Indian side. As per reports, at 0825 hours, Pakistani army's 647 Mujahid Battalion targeted India's forward post 'Kirpan' from its post 'Pimple' in Krishna Ghati sector.

According to the modus operandi adopted by Pakistani troops on forward posts, the exposed Indian patrol first came under intense fire from automatic weapons which Pakistani soldiers had stealthily deployed in temporary positions just across the LoC.

With two Indian soldiers injured in the firing, jihadi fighters of the BAT darted across the LoC under cover of firing by Pakistani troops, killed the personnel, beheaded them amd returned to their side of the Loc with heads as trophies.

The deployment of BAT is a well-rehearsed tactic by Pakistan that creates deniability by using jihadis to cross into the Indian side. In the event of any jihadi being killed or captured, the Pakistanis disown it as an infiltration attempt. The Pakistani regulars remain on their side of the LoC providing covering fire to the BAT. This tactic of mutilating Indian soldiers, though employed at the local commanders’ level has the full support of the Army’s top brass.

This was not the first time that Pakistan indulged in mutilating the bodies of the Indian soldiers on the Line of Control.  There have been three instances of this inhuman and despicable conduct since India conducted a surgical strike in the end of September 2016. This unsoldierly action has gone on unchecked primarily because the retribution by Indian forces has not had the desired effect. The response or punitive action by India has been too little, too late to deter Pakistan. India has several options before it to bleed Pakistan. The question is does it have the political will and the capability to execute such acts. Inadequate punishment fails to deter Pakistani violations, while an excess could set off a cycle of escalation that could spiral out of control. India is constantly mired up in this question of the kind of action it must adopt to punish Pakistani.

It is extremely imprudent if the Indian state were to sit and draw up a plan of action after every such cross border violation and inhuman conduct by the rogues from across the border. A blue-print or a Standard Operating Procedure must be in place to completely render the Pakistanis impotent of waging either an all-out war or an asymmetric war.

The Indian military does not have a tri-service plan for immediate retaliation to such inhuman violations. This would generally involve pre-selection of Pakistani Army or jihadi targets, earmarking of the aircraft or teams of Special Forces to hit the pre-determined targets and having defensive measures for possible retaliation by Pakistan.

The options, without elaborating the ways and means of executing them and at the cost of repetition, are firstly to target the terrorist leadership of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Hizbul Mujahideen and all Kashmir and India-centric groups based in Pakistan and Af-Pak which are involved in bleeding India. Secondly, assassinate the top brass of the Pakistani ISI in Pakistan or outside. Thirdly, target Pakistani interests worldwide by means of sabotage and assassination. Fourthly, repeated pre-emptive strikes across the LoC and International Border targeting the terror infrastructure in Pak-Occupied Kashmir. And last but not the least swift retaliatory strikes in the event of any cross LoC violations very similar to Israel. These are extremely difficult options for which the political leadership and the military must be resolute and in sync with each other. And equally important is the fact that all arms of the military and civilian intelligence agencies must work in close coordination and in tandem.

India must reconsider reviving the Technical Support Division, a covert unit set up during the tenure of General V. K. Singh when he was COAS. (It was reportedly tasked with preparing, planning and executing special operations “inside depth areas of countries of interest and countering enemy efforts within the country by effective covert means”. Main areas of operations were North and Northeast India, and against adversaries in neighbouring countries. The Army’s internal approvals for raising the TSD reportedly said it would “enable the Military Intelligence Directorate to provide a quick response to any act of state-sponsored terrorism with a high degree of deniability”. Such covert units are necessary to counter the threat posed by Pakistan and China though such units may be frowned upon in democracies).

It doesn’t need to be reiterated that India’s inconsistent Pak policy is one of the reasons for the current state of affairs. India cannot have trade ties and back channel talks when Pakistani policy has been to bleed India with a thousand cuts.  The Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu said: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory; tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Today India neither has a strategy nor does it have tactics to deal militarily with Pakistan.