India Cannot Give Pakistan Army Befitting Reply

9 October 2014
The Economic Times
Major General (Retd) Ashok K Mehta

New Delhi: Ceasefire violations occur cyclically, often premeditated but invariably linked to unresolvable Kashmir masla. Feuding local commanders testing the mettle of new battalions on LoC, tit-fortat responses and infiltration are the usual provocations for exchange of fire across the line. Someone who has spent onethird of his youthful time astride the line, I understand what the Army calls the dynamics of LoC. Nine out of 10 times, it is the autonomous Pak military that initiates the firing, though there is no way to ascertain this in the absence of the UNMOGIP (United Nations Military Observer Group for India-Pakistan), sensibly derecognised by India after the Shimla agreement. This time around, additional reasons have been offered for the current round of firing - political instability, civil-army power struggle, elections in J&K and the creme de la creme testing Modi. 'Pakistan should stop ceasefire violations now and understand the reality that times have changed in India,' thundered home minister Rajnath Singh. This is reminiscent of BJP leaders asking Pak to lay off Kashmir after the nuclear tests in 1998. Soon Pak did its own nuclear tests, achieving parity. 'There is a new government in India with 282 seats and the world now recognises India' is the common refrain but this will not wash with Pak. With 489 seats late Rajiv Gandhi had to seek a meeting with General Zia ul Haq to defuse Operation Brasstacks in 1986 which was threatening to blow up into a war. The simple fact is that India has not developed a decisive, conventional military superiority to give Pakistan army a befitting reply. So what you get instead is 'Act Tough' rhetoric amounting to disproportionate response no flag meetings, no DGMO talks and not even political talks unless Pak stops firing. This is not remotely akin to the frequently touted muscular and robust foreign and security policy of the Modi government. On Air Force Day, on Wednesday, when asked by reporters on border firing, PM Modi responded with five words, 'Jaldi sab theek ho jayega.' Because this cycle of small arms and mortar fire has caused deaths of mainly civilians on both sides, as soldiers are inside bunkers, and is leading to the law of diminishing results, Mr Modi's words are prophetic. Pak army has achieved its immediate objective of internationalising Kashmir, pushing in infiltrators and testing Modi. You do not need ISRO scientists to tell you that Modi could not have acted differently from what Army chief General Dalbir Suhag has advised - bullet for bullet, mortar shell for mortar shell but confining the military action to tactical level without escalation. We in India must get accustomed to increased frequency and intensity of flare-ups on LoC. Some divine force - read US - has managed to restrain Pak army after Mumbai 2008 terror attacks from using its strategic assets like Lashkar-e-Taiba and other loonies from staging cross-border terrorist attacks on Indian mainland. The gap between major attacks is seven years. So watch out for 2015, once US withdraws from Afghanistan and loses interests in the region. In the interregnum, the punching bag will remain LoC where the Pak army will expresses its rage and defiance over civilian control and arch-enemy India. Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz has been bending over backwards for resumption of dialogue. Firing will peter out soon setting the stage for next month's Saarc summit in Kathmandu. Mr Modi, the acclaimed new messiah of Saarc spirit, will just have one option - to initiate the revival of needlessly stalled dialogue. Detractors will contend that it is not PM Nawaz Sharif but Gen Raheel Sharif with whom we should talk. That's baloney.