In 2001, I was posted in North Kashmir and one day my friend local Kashmiri asked me, “Sir why don’t you kill the militants in Pakistan before they cross over to Kashmir”? He further explained the logic behind his advice and said, “Sir if you kill militants in Pakistan, neither we will lose our soldiers nor it will cause any collateral damage to civil population. The loss and pain will be of Pakistan in all respect”. I thought he is a civilian and doesn’t understand the nuances of proxy war, so I chose to remain quiet. I remembered the words of my friend when I heard the Defence Minister on Vijay Diwas (26 July 2016) when he assured the nation that the armed forces are fully prepared to deal with the terrorists as and when they attempt to cross into J&K. If we evaluate both the statements, my Kashmiri friend advocated taking war into enemy territory and make Pakistan pay the price for waging a proxy war. Whereas political leadership has chosen to adopt a low risk but high cost option to deal with the proxy war, where loss in all respect is of the Indian state and Pakistan is an outright gainer. In fact India’s strategy to fight proxy war within Indian Territory has emboldened Pakistan to expand the area of operations from J&K to the rest of India without being made to pay for the war crimes.
In retrospect it is baffling why armed intrusion by Pakistan in J&K was not declared by India as an act of war. If in 1989 it was declared an act of war and responded with accordingly, probably Pakistan would not have been emboldened to openly wage a proxy war. So far Indian Army may have contained terrorism in J&K by fighting within own territory, but can we assume that this strategy will continue to succeed in future. Political and military leaders must cut lose from the past and open their mind to the new realities. New reality is that if Pakistan is not made to pay the price, Indian Armed Force’s will be forced to fight on multi fronts. Act of war is not when the tanks start rolling across the borders, but even if the armed men in civil clothes cross over with intent to harm a nation can also be an act of war.
Pakistan is constantly changing its strategy in Kashmir. It has taken the shape of ambiguous war, it is proxy terror war executed by Pakistan nationals and some locals, and part Intifada rooted in gullible civilians, and the foot soldiers fighting this ambiguous war are armed and unarmed Jihadis. Sun Tzu had said victories in battle cannot be repeated. Therefore, what succeeded prior to 2008 may not succeed now. The paradigm shift in proxy war has come about because Pakistan has been able to expand the proxy war to Intifada and created disaffection of public with the state by sustained war of ideas.
The unrest in Kashmir Valley post Burhan Wani is a signal of challenging period ahead for India. It will be a mistake to assume this unrest as a spontaneous reaction of public against the killing of a terrorist who became a poster boy. It is a very carefully crafted blue print of the events that may unfold in future. Some distinct characters of this unrest that needs to be examined.
- The unrest had signature of ISI and entire operation was controlled by Pakistan and by design the entire campaign was leaderless. The dichotomy government faced was with whom to talk. No one was in control of the situation except ISI handlers.
- Unrest paralysed the Valley and choked the lines of communications.
- The lesson is that road communications can be completely disrupted by causing destruction of bridges/ culverts.
- If combination of 1965 and 1999 war are attempted by Pakistan, Indian Army will be forced to fight against armed and unarmed Jihadis within and regulars and irregulars along the LOC.
- Targeting of logistic units and impact of such attacks on conventional operations during war was tested and attack on MH Drugmulla is a case in point.
- Movement of convoys was obstructed and thus prevented move of troops from one part to another. This will have major implications for movement of forces, including reserves and logistics sustainment.
- Police stations and CAPF were subjected to attack to test their response.
- Pakistan has created a haze and camouflaged the real intent of creating uncontrolled chaos post Burhan Wani encounter. Objective behind creation of turbulence is to make it difficult for security forces to undertake counter terrorist and counter infiltration operations.
- Biggest problem is that vociferous Kashmiri Awam has no emotional connect with India and it will be a folly to believe that armed and unarmed Jihadis will remain silent if Kargil is recreated in Kashmir. Lines of communication and logistic echelons will be targeted and troops are likely to be isolated.
POK is witnessing and experiencing the worst unrest in the last many decades after Nawaz Sharif’s party rigged the election. One way to control unrest in POK is by deflecting internal instability externally by creating instability in Kashmir. Therefore, possibility of Pakistan adopting strategy designed to divert attention cannot be discounted
- Mass recruitment of Jihadis from POK and J&K to infiltrate with a view to create turmoil.
- Push in arms and ammunition so that Jihadis can attack soft targets and logistic establishments.
- Paralyse rear areas; occupy the unheld areas along the LOC.
It is a strategy that can meet twin objective of restoring stability in POK and creating chaos in Valley. What should be India’s response to deal with such strategy?
- Regular Army should focus on conventional operations including building capability to fight in spite of the prolonged turbulence in rear areas.
- Define the mission objective that can be implemented. Therefore work towards achieving these objectives in a systematic manner.
- Statement of Nawaz Sharif that, “Kashmir one day will be part of Pakistan” must not be taken lightly. Exhibit the credible, integrated plan do deal with any misadventure. Credible strategy backed by meticulous plan is the key.
- The government should lay down red lines to suggest that if these red lines are crossed, use of force within and beyond LOC will be the only choice.
- India cannot let Pakistan succeed in J&K even if it means expanding the canvass of conflict.
- Direct Force is a poor solution to any problem. Chanakya said, 10 soldiers wisely led will beat a hundred if deception is used 10 will become 100 in the battlefield. Therefore these 10 men should be able to operate behind enemy lines.
Apart from the military strategy India also needs to take non-military actions to deal with the Kashmir conundrum.
- Pakistan has indulged far too long in act of war. Giving it a name of proxy war is absolving Pakistan of certain omission and commission. It is an act of war and period.
- Existence of Pakistan cannot be based on its tirade against India. If it feels that this is the only way to survive as a nation than that right need to be taken away from Pakistan.
- There is no reason for the government to appease separatists, they need to be opposed and dealt severely in similar manner as those who wage war against the nation by overt or covert means.
- Lawbreakers should be punished severely for causing public disorder.
- As a long term measure youth needs to be engaged in constructive activities including jobs.
- Army needs to workout robust logistic support and uninterrupted lines of communication to avoid being cut off.
Whether above strategy is least likely or most likely, India cannot trust Pakistan. India need to send a message to Pakistan that India will not hesitate to use force against the devils of peace within or beyond the territorial boundaries. At no cost Pakistan will be allowed to annex Kashmir by overt or covert means. Conflict in J&K appears to be ambiguous but objectives of Pakistan are unambiguous; that is to annex Kashmir from India. This strategy must become expensive for Pakistan, and it should feel severe tremors of blowback impact.