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Pakistan’s latest adventure across the International Border

Air Cmde (Retd) Ramesh Phadke was Advisor, Research at Institute for Defence Studies and Anaysis, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • September 14, 2009

    Pakistan has yet again shown its proclivity to raise tensions with India. This time, the Pakistan Army or its proxies have fired three rockets across the International Border (IB) near Wagha in Punjab. Although no injuries were reported, such attacks pose a major danger to the people living in areas adjacent to the border, and some 150 farmers of the area indeed protested. This is the second time that rockets have been fired from Pakistan in the recent past.

    The significant aspect of the latest attack is that it was staged across the normally peaceful international border. Second, it was staged using 107 mm rockets that are usually the armament of the regular army and not some faceless terrorists. While flag meetings and diplomatic protests will follow their own course, this incident cannot be brushed away as yet another attempt by Pakistan to keep India on tenterhooks.

    While terrorist elements from Pakistan have in the past made attempts to infiltrate through the IB and each time the infiltrators were provided covering fire by the Pakistani Rangers, the use of 107mm rockets with a range of 8 kilometres adds a new dimension. Needless to add that the firing of Katyusha rockets by the Hezbolla and Hamas from Lebanon and Palestine (Gaza) respectively drove Israel to mount two major conventional military operations that resulted in much loss of life and property and further raised tensions in West Asia.

    Rocket attacks have the potential to undermine peace because they can cause many civilian casualties in relatively far away areas from the IB. It is indeed difficult to mount an effective and credible defence against these attacks as there is little or no warning. The essentially mobile nature of the launch vehicle, most if not all of the 107 mm rockets are either towed or self-propelled, and a very short time of flight make their detection exceedingly difficult. Casualties to innocent civilians engaged in routine activities in close proximity to the border would naturally raise tempers and demands for befitting retaliation by the Indian Army/government authorities, further exacerbating the already fragile peace with the troublesome neighbour.

    Pakistan cannot deny the active involvement of its Army as this weapon system is not available to the local terrorists without the Army giving it to them on location. There is also the possibility that the Pakistan Army itself launched the rocket attack across the border without using any of its numerous proxies. Since the attack came in the hours of darkness it would be impossible to pinpoint the exact location of its origin.

    Before the current ceasefire came into force some years ago, artillery and mortar firing across the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir was routine activity though the context was completely different. Firing of rockets across the IB must be seen as far more serious. This was a deliberate act to destabilise the situation. Is the Pakistan Army trying to provoke India into beefing up its forces along the IB so that Pakistan can once again raise the bogie of the India threat and curtail its operations in the West? The crafty decision makers in Islamabad know full well that the US needs their help and would be forced to tell India to exercise utmost restraint. Is it another attempt to bring India to the negotiating table without taking any concrete action against the 26/11 masterminds?

    What with the Chinese incursions along the Sino-Indian border increasing in the recent past, India might come under greater pressure to take firm action. That border is not exactly tranquil and peaceful, though India would not like to raise the ante. There are already some newspaper reports urging that the Indian army be allowed to mount more aggressive patrols along the sensitive areas in Laddakh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. It might suit forces inimical to India if the armies of the two Asian giants come into eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation on a daily basis. Pakistan must desist from causing these pin-pricks and its backers must realise the grave danger such Pakistani actions pose to the tenuous peace in the region and immediately advise it to stop. Can the world expect India to continue exercising restraint in the face of such daily provocations?