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Manning & monitoring Line of Control

July 24, 2002

The Tribune

Manning & monitoring Line of Control

How infiltration can be brought to an end

The Line of Control (LC in army parlance since 1972, but increasingly referred to as the LoC, as popularised by the media since the Kargil war) in Jammu and Kashmir is constantly in the news these days, because any terrorist act in J&K or even in other parts of India is related to it, one way or the other.

Three important aspects of the LoC, which are currently in the news, are, firstly, the extent of infiltration taking place across it from Pakistan; secondly, the need to deploy technological gadgetry to check infiltration more effectively; and thirdly, the various proposals being tossed around about monitoring the LoC by employing foreign troops to operate alongside the Indian Army. They are all inter-related and need to be analysed in depth.

Tension between India and Pakistan peaked in May this year following the terrorist attack at Kalu Chak. However, the diplomatic and politico-military pressures exerted by India succeeded in mobilising world opinion against Pakistan, which in turn forced President Musharraf to backtrack from his Kashmir policy by publicly promising to stop cross-border infiltration into J&K, by terrorists, jehadis and militants. Tension eased early in June and it appeared that the General had indeed carried out a U-turn in his Kashmir policy. However, this did not last long and reports currently speak of continuing cross-border infiltration. It is obvious that the stance adopted by President Musharraf at the end of May was only a tactical ploy, to get the world off Pakistan's back, and it is back to "business as usual” by the ISI.

Much has been written about the terrain along the LoC as well as the other segments of the border in J&K — the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) in the Siachen area and the international border in the area between Akhnoor and Pathankot.

The terrain is undoubtedly extremely rugged in the AGPL and LoC segments. Although a large number of troops are deployed here, the terrain lends itself to infiltration.

Till the end of the eighties, the task of the troops deployed on the LoC and the AGPL was to ensure their sanctity from any war-like action by the Pakistan Army. Consequently, the deployment was such as would ensure the domination of Pakistani Army posts and the defence of important terrain, as well as counter any move on the part of Pakistan to change the alignments of the LoC and the AGPL by encroachments or nibbling actions. In the early nineties, when infiltration by militants and terrorists started, initially in the valley, additional troops were brought in to the areas suspected to be infiltration-prone, and the posture adopted was combination of ensuring the sanctity of the LoC as well as to counter infiltration. However, infiltration continued and spread to other areas also, resulting in additional troops being deployed in a counter-infiltration role. Infiltration still continued because the troops had a rely mostly on their eyes and ears, and in any case there could never be enough troops to "seal” the long stretch of 779 kilometres of the LoC, not forgetting the extremely difficult terrain. It was obvious that the Army needed technical gadgetry to supplement its physical presence. However, the various types of sensors the Army wanted were extremely slow in materialising because of a combination of lack of funds, our antiquated acquisition procedures and, above all, the absence of urgency displayed by the bureaucracy and the political leadership to hasten the acquisition process. The result it that even today the bulk of the troops deployed in the counter-infiltration mode rely mainly on their physical presence and their eyes and ears.

There is urgent need to expedite the induction of all types of sensors, which have long been identified by the Army and which friendly foreign countries are willing to provide. The high-tech devices the Army needs include thermal images, night vision binoculars, sophisticated short and medium-range radars, low light television systems, tethered balloons, unattended ground sensors and so on. The Indian Army has already worked out the command and control structures required, the types and numbers of sensors needed, the manning patterns, the back-up communications for quick passage of information and so on. The quicker we acquire them, the better would be the results of our counter-infiltration efforts.

Let us now analyse the need for foreign troops. A number of proposals have been mooted, like monitoring by a helicopter-borne force of British or American troops; joint monitoring by ground and airborne troops of India and the USA; and joint monitoring by Indian and Pakistani troops. All these proposals and some variations to these, which may be mooted in future, are non-starters in my opinion. The likely adverse fallouts, at the strategic level, if foreign troops are permitted to be deployed, are fairly obvious and need no elaboration The Indian Army has sufficient knowledge and professional skills to carry out the tasks on its own, provided it is equipped with the various sensors and associated equipment needed. It is also not encumbered by the "no casualty syndrome”, which is apparently an important term of reference with most Western nations, especially the Americans. This results in their troops operating only from "safe” distances, which translates into lack of effectiveness.

As far as joint patrolling or joint monitoring by Indian and Pakistani troops is concerned, it will remain a non-starter till there is genuine desire on Pakistan's part to abandon its current Kashmir policy, which relies exclusively on arming, training and assisting jehadi groups and individuals to infiltrate into J&K and carry out terrorist acts. Joint patrolling by Indian and Pakistani troops is actually an aspect of Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs), which would come after a change of heart and not before it.

The LoC and its earlier avatar the Cease-Fire Line (CFL) have existed since 1949, but infiltration has actually been carried out on only three occasions. The first was in August, 1965, which resulted in the Indo-Pak conflict in September, 1965, and the elimination of all infiltrators by the Indian Army. The second occasion has been the ongoing proxy war in J&K, marked by large-scale and regular infiltration over the past 12 years or so, and the third occasion was in 1999 in the Kargil sector, where General Musharraf infiltrated both regular troops and militants and which led to the Kargil war, resulting in our complete victory and clearance of the entire area of all infiltrators.

It is thus clear that infiltration takes place only when the Pakistan Army wants it, and, as a corollary, does not take place when the Pakistani Army guards the LoC effectively and does not permit any movement across it. Our thrust must, therefore, be on forcing the Pakistani establishment to desist from its chosen path of sponsoring terrorism and assisting terrorists to infiltrate across the LoC. In this endeavour, we need to ensure that the world understands the duplicity of Pakistan and joins us in ensuring that Islamabad behaves. The global war against terrorism can succeed only if Pakistan, which has been correctly identified as the font of all terrorism, is brought to heel.

The author, a retired Lieut-General, was the Vice-Chief of Army Staff.

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