by Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd) 

Public perception about the events at the Line of Control (LoC) and international border (IB) in the state of Jammu and Kashmir remains vague. I am queried on social media about losses of our soldiers, destruction in border villages, and civilian casualties. While the government may be right about putting out only basic facts and figures in the public domain, there is concern within civil society whether India is at advantage.

On top of it there are very few within the strategic community who know enough about this domain of warfare to comment with authority. Even within the Army’s rank and file, the LoC is the preserve of just a few who have handled situations and can apply that knowledge. The handling of the LoC became virtually a specialised domain after 1989.

Few know that India’s response is more than robust and that casualties are perhaps higher on the Pakistani side. That apart, the reasons for these exchanges escape even the better educated who cannot fathom what Pakistan hopes to achieve by this strategy of keeping the temperature at the LoC high. Let me explain this and then go on to analyse what needs to be done to increase the cost of Pakistan’s intransigence.

For Pakistan and its military leadership, J&K remains the emotional issue by which it can ensure anti-India sentiments. In current times, when political instability is rife and the future holds little or no portents for amelioration of that situation, it views itself as the only entity which can ensure Pakistan’s future survival. However, given India’s ability to restore control over the situation, Pakistan’s ability to calibrate the situation remains restricted to the domain of public alienation against India.

Yet, it is not easy to instigate public disturbances with stricter control of flow of money—which the Indian government has managed to achieve—and organising major terror incidents inside the Valley is becoming even more challenging. Recent failed attempts to infiltrate full Fidayeen groups of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) through Uri reflect a sense of desperation. The only domain which can help keep the J&K issue alive in the eyes of the international community is the LoC.

Three advantages accrue there. First, even brief exchanges of fire over sustained periods create a climate of concern. Second, targeting an odd patrol is always possible. Third, LoC activation helps in facilitating infiltration. The Jammu IB sector, for instance, offers the fullest scope for infiltrating small terrorist teams which can strike at targets in the vicinity of the Jammu-Samba-Kathua belt all within one night.

Given Pakistan’s current strategic confidence it feels constrained to resist US pressure and therefore the losses it suffers at the LoC is considered a small price for the perceived strategic gains. This apparently has multiplied after the Doklam standoff between India and China in 2017. With greater collusive approach by China and Pakistan in the offing, both countries are yet examining how exactly this needs to pan out. Peace at the LoC is therefore almost impossible.

Public is unaware that last year along the Nilam Valley Road opposite Kupwara, where the Indian Army completely dominates the Pakistani deployment, a truck full of Pakistani soldiers was targeted with many casualties inflicted. A shallow tactical operation was carried out at Rakh Chikri in Poonch to avenge the death of an Indian officer and three Jawans. The Indian Army’s ability to withstand Pakistan’s fire assaults needs to be increased manifold. Many years of the ceasefire left this aspect reasonably neglected. The government has sanctioned 1,400 community bunkers for the civilian gentry. These need to be correctly distributed. The design parameters and use of right material also needs monitoring. Lastly, let us not be hopeful that the situation is going to improve. Northern Command should well be on the war gaming mode and public support needs to be fully extended to the Army.