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Pak Army Continuing Proxy War in Kashmir

Brig Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd.) is Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and former Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi. Click here for details profile [+}
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  • October 23, 2013

    It is rather surprising that the Pakistan army has opted to raise the ante along the LoC and the international boundary in Jammu and Kashmir at a time when it is itself struggling to cope with the tough internal security challenge posed by the TTP, the TNSM and their affiliates in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and FATA. In fact, it should suit the Pakistan army and the ISI to keep the eastern border quiet so that they can concentrate on fighting terrorism directed internally at the state, something that General Kayani has himself called the number one national security threat facing the country.

    It is important to go into the genesis of the current tensions with Pakistan. The Indian army’s relentless counter-infiltration campaign along the LoC and extremely successful intelligence-backed counter-insurgency operations with a human touch in the hinterland of Kashmir, had led to two summers of relative peace (2011-12). A sense of normalcy had returned; schools, colleges and hospitals were open; commerce was flourishing; political meetings were being regularly held; and, tourists were thronging the scenic spots. Over 300,000 pilgrims completed the Amarnath Yatra and Janmashtmi and Dussehra were again being celebrated in Kashmir after two decades. Sporadic attacks against the security forces and their convoys continued, but these were few and far between. In fact, the civilian political leadership had begun to call for the re-deployment of the army and the revocation of provisions of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from certain districts. Now that tension has been ratcheted up, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has been forced to call for the use of ‘other options’ as diplomacy has not worked and the situation has taken a politically inconvenient turn.

    There were 187 violations of the mutually observed cease-fire by the Pakistan army up to mid-October 2013. Of these, 125 have occurred since August 1, 2013. In comparison, there were 117 cease-fire violations in 2012 and only 61 in 2011. Several hard-core LeT terrorists were eliminated by the army during the early summer months this year. Similarly, the number of infiltration attempts has gone up considerably. Eight terrorists were killed and a large number of arms were recovered in counter-infiltration operations at a number of places in the Keran sector in September-October 2013. The Pakistan army then decided to enlarge the area of its infiltration-cum-strike operations to the international boundary segment of J&K by sending in highly trained terrorists to attack the Hiranagar police station in Kathua near Jammu and the Officers Mess of a Cavalry regiment near Samba on September 26, 2013. This desperate strike was launched three days before the Manmohan Singh-Nawaz Sharif meeting in New York. Subsequently, the Pakistan Rangers have been shelling BSF posts and several personnel as well as civilians have been injured in villages along the international boundary.

    Though the Pakistan army denies its involvement in raising violence levels along the LoC, the international boundary and in the hinterland, it is understood well by political and military leaders that without the active support of the army deployed on the LoC and the ISI, no serious attempt can be made by the terrorists to infiltrate. The mountains and ridgelines are held by the army and rivulets and nullahs are heavily mined. If they are to be launched successfully, infiltrating groups need to be guided through Pakistani posts, with adjacent posts providing covering fire for support. The Pakistani posts also act as a firm base on which the terrorists can fall back if their infiltration bid is foiled. General Bikram Singh, the COAS, who has served in Kashmir several times, stated recently, “There is no way terrorists can operate in that area without the knowledge of Pakistani army.”

    There could be several reasons for the Pakistan army and the ISI to have stepped up cease-fire violations and infiltration attempts in the summer of 2013. First and foremost, with all the talk of peace having returned, the Pakistan army was worried that the so-called Jihad in Kashmir was dying out and that the terrorist groups were getting demoralised. It was no longer satisfied with merely keeping the pot simmering and the machinery well-oiled and acted to raise the temperature to boiling point again. Second, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had begun to talk of improving relations with India and the army wanted to send a clear message to him that it is the army and not the PM who decides Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. The army was also dissatisfied with the PM’s peace overtures to the TTP and other terrorist organisations inimical to national security interests.

    On another plane, there could be a connection with the situation in Afghanistan. The Pakistan army is deeply concerned with the support India enjoys in Afghanistan and would like to limit India's influence. Perhaps the Pakistan army is sending a message to India to reduce its involvement in Afghanistan, particularly its military aid and training support to the Afghan National Army. Some analysts have speculated that the heightened tensions with India in Kashmir could be due to the internal power struggle within the Pakistan army as General Kayani is due to retire. However, this appears an unlikely reason for doing something that is clearly not in Pakistan’s national interest.

    The present phase of militancy and terrorism in Kashmir is now in its third decade. The Indian army has weathered many a storm and stood firm in maintaining the integrity of the LoC as well as while fighting well-trained and well-equipped terrorists within Kashmir. It has operated with immense professional success in rough terrain and difficult weather conditions. Some battalions may have momentarily lowered their guard and taken unnecessary casualties, but such occasions have been extremely rare over such a long time frame. Surely, the army deserves the support of the political leadership and the people of India to continue to maintain an effective vigil so that all efforts made by inimical forces to seize Kashmir through a proxy war are successfully foiled.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.