by Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd)

India must do everything possible to be on top of its game to counter Pak’s Kashmir misadventures. Despite strategic planning on LoC and diplomatic fronts, the bottom line of India’s effectiveness must be an attempted political consensus

On 5 Aug 2019, when the Indian Government took the historic decision on the constitutional and administrative status of Jammu &Kashmir (J&K), it would surely have also analysed the impact on national security with the emphasis being on Pakistan. The focus would probably have been on four primary concerns; internal security both in J&K and rest of India, the Line of Control in a no-war-no-peace mode, threats of an all-out conventional war with a nuclear backdrop and the international response which classically falls in the diplomatic realm but is linked to national security. It was not unexpected that Pakistan would up the ante in all four domains. How far has it succeeded and how much further will it go in its endeavour to recover lost ground after the surprise meted out to it is what strategic minds must analyse and debate.

The internal security front within J&K poses the severest challenge. Indian experience of 2008-10 and 2016 helped take some important decisions which have been crucial to the management of the situation so far. This time both rural and urban areas have sufficient deployment with the induction of additional armed police, leaving the Army to remain focused on its two main tasks, counter-terror and counter-infiltration, while also remaining ready for conventional war.

With population control measures in place, the communication system being made unavailable, detention of key leaders and ban on assembly of people the situation has remained stable compared to previous times when internal security involving civil disturbances became a major challenge. There have been no agitation-related deaths unlike 2016 when almost 60 people died in the first three weeks after the killing of Burhan Wani.

In the lock down conditions, Pakistan has not been able to calibrate the situation thus far but that does not guarantee that it won’t try further. Try it will knowing fully well that a lock down too cannot be permanent. With little in terms of finances, moral support or leadership can the public be sufficiently instigated. Levels of strife reached in 2010 and 2016 are unlikely this time. Yet, there can be surprises and big gatherings could still be a reality. Handling these with armed police untrained for such situations will remain a challenge. With the focus of intelligence agencies and the police on ‘agitational terror’, terrorists are likely to return refreshed, with intelligence leads partially snapped.

Some of the desperate infiltration attempts being reported from North Kashmir are indicative of attempted induction of new leadership; entry of a few SSG personnel of Pakistan Army to take control and direct cannot be ruled out.

Unconfirmed intelligence reports are indicating the entry of a few Special Forces personnel into Gujarat. With Pakistan’s political and military leadership under pressure for failing to instigate rebellion in Kashmir or secure international support against India’s actions, willingness to take the risk to perpetrate a big negative event is high. It’s unlikely that this will give Pakistan any strategic advantage but drawing India into an armed standoff with the potential risk of triggering nuclear exchange is perceived by Pakistan as a positive in playing the victim card and drawing international sympathy.

With India having taken a diplomatic lead in the ongoing situation it will only squander it if it mismanages the situation in the streets of Kashmir. International support is not something permanent. It can be quite fickle and Pakistan’s strategic importance has in no way diluted. India would do well to remember the linkages between perception about its handling the streets, alleged human rights violations and international support. Presumptions that a robust response is the only option once Pakistan further ups the ante by a deliberate negative event, may not be entirely correct. India too can play the victim card even as FATF monitoring continues and Pakistan is still looking for its next financial bailout. It may be of greater advantage to India than a sheer bull-headed military response.

On the LoC, Pakistan is already playing mischief. Spreading rumour about the arrival of experienced Afghan mujaheddin and SSG commandos as part of Border Action Teams (BATs). The Army must hold the LoC robustly, reinforcing where required with Rashtriya Rifles reinforcement and respond tactically even across, without garnering too much attention. Artillery units must get relieved from other duties and be in full readiness. Pakistan has reportedly moved six brigades into PoK in anticipation of an Indian military operation into it. This is not something unusual and has been the norm in crisis situations. Any further Indian deployment of reserves will trigger an additional movement of Pakistan’s units and formations from the western border to the east, something a cash-stricken economy can ill afford. It will also add to Pakistan’s frustration with unthought through actions which could further enhance tension and force pressure on the Indian government to respond. Only a very desperate act in the sub-conventional sphere, which crosses all limits of India’s tolerance or a quasi-conventional attempt to ratchet up the situation on the LoC or border elsewhere, will bring an Indian response. Lowering the temperatures will work to India’s advantage.

For a change, Pakistan’s highly developed psychological warfare machinery has had less impact and India has wrested advantage with speed and surprise. On the diplomatic front, the UNGA session will be exploited by Pakistan and it will attempt to raise human rights issues at various rights bodies including the United Nations Human Rights Council. India’s thus far very effective campaign must not flounder at this juncture. Cultivation of international opinion and particularly of the high-profile international media, through informal engagement, must also be done. However, the bottom line of India’s effectiveness must be an attempted political consensus; it will prove a force multiplier.

The author commanded the 15 Corps in J&K