Pay Back Time on the LoC

For over fifty years Pakistan has been waging a low intensity limited war against India along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Over a decade ago, Pakistan unleashed its strategy of “bleeding India through a thousand cuts” and launched a low cost-high payoff “proxy war” through its mercenary marauders. Despite having lost over 3,000 security forces personnel and about 25,000 innocent civilians and despite incurring exorbitant societal and financial costs, India dealt with the externally sponsored terrorism in J&K with the utmost restraint. The world applauded India’s remarkable Gandhian tolerance. However, it is quite obvious that Pakistan has taken India’s policy of desisting from pro-active retaliation as a sign of weakness and its dictator General Musharraf’s regime, smarting from the ignominy of a sound military defeat in Kargil, has raised the ante by several orders of magnitude.

 It can be justifiably argued that India’s real problem with Pakistan is Pakistan’s rogue army. An anti-India stance is the Pakistan army’s raison d’être. It will never allow resolution of the Kashmir issue, as there would then be no justification for Pakistan to maintain a 450,000 strong military force. Having assiduously created complex linkages through the ISI with the mullahs, the drug barons and rabidly fundamentalist Islamist organisations and warlords like Osama bin Laden to destabilise India through covert means, Pakistan’s army is now inextricably involved in exporting terrorism and violence to India. A cozy relationship has developed at the functional level between the local army commanders, the drug mafia, the politicians, the bureaucrats, the police, and the mullahs who supply young recruits as cannon fodder for the so-called jihad in Kashmir. It suits everyone’s vested interests to keep the pot boiling. The vigorous advocacy of jihad provides a share in the spoils of the narcotics booty. Power and pelf make a potent cocktail; this heady mixture is an extremely motivating incentive for institutionalising the perpetuation of a proxy war against India. Hence, no matter what incentives India offers, there is likely to be no let-up in the ongoing hostilities.

The only language the military junta in Pakistan is likely to understand is that of reciprocity of violence – directed not against innocent civilians inside PoK but directly against Pakistan’s army deployed on the LoC. It is only when the body bags of regular Pakistani soldiers start reaching Lahore, Rawalpindi, Sialkot, Gujranwala, Kasur and other Pakistani cities (particularly those in West Punjab) in ever increasing numbers, and in full glare of the media, that the Pakistan army will be forced to recant and review its strategy. It is possible for India to turn on the screws by inflicting local military defeats on the Pakistan army through a limited war of sustained attrition all along the LoC, while ensuring that Pakistan is not provoked into full-scale conventional conflict with nuclear overtones. Such a victory in a battle in the Akhnoor sector in January 2000, when the bodies of seven Pakistani soldiers were returned by the Indian army, is known to have caused a furore in Pakistan.

To begin with, it would be extremely beneficial for India to launch punitive artillery assaults on Pakistani posts through which infiltration takes place. The Bofors 155mm howitzer proved its capabilities rather well during the 1999 Kargil conflict. A few more Bofors artillery regiments could be inducted into J&K to cover the entire 740 kilometres length of the LoC with concentrated firepower. Whenever infiltrators are apprehended by the three-tier counter-infiltration web of the army, a massive artillery assault should be launched on the Pakistani posts through which infiltration is suspected to have taken place. The pounding should be continued without let up till every single bunker and weapon emplacement on that post has been reduced to rubble by the Indian artillery, like the sangars established by Pakistani soldiers on the desolate mountain tops in Kargil were systematically decimated. The destruction of a few such posts would be a powerful disincentive for the Pakistan army and will prevent further infiltration.

 Pakistan will no doubt retort in kind but, with its tottering economy, cannot afford to match the scope and extent of Indian artillery retaliation. India can easily afford to fire a few hundred thousand 155mm artillery shells every year along the LoC, especially when tangible results can be demonstrated. To avoid collateral damage to villages close to the Pakistani posts, India should declare that all villages in PoK within two kilometres of the LoC should be vacated. In due course, India could enforce a suitable demilitarised zone, like Israel has done in Lebanon. Correspondingly, some Indian villages will also have to be re-located, something the civil administration has been reported to have resisted for years. However, in view of the high human and societal costs of dealing with the prolonged Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in J&K, the additional social and political costs will need to be borne stoically in the interest of an early end to the problem. The flexibility of artillery firepower must be exploited to the utmost to achieve local tactical victories that will deter Pakistan from continuing to pursue its present course.

Another step that is necessary, indeed inescapable, is to initiate trans-LoC pro-active measures to raise the cost for the Pakistan army and the ISI to train, equip and infiltrate foreign mercenaries into J&K. In military terms the required measures could include raids on terrorist camps, hideouts and staging areas close to the LoC by surrendered Kashmiri militants specially trained for this purpose; ambushing of army convoys; missile, rocket and artillery attacks on headquarters and administrative installations; and the blowing up of bridges, culverts, power stations and other infrastructural facilities supporting army deployments. Such trans-LoC measures are justified in international law. These have been sanctified in the 20th century by the numerous military operations of Israel and South Africa across their borders and, more recently, by NATO’s various interventions. 


The Lashkar-e-Taiba’s demented chief has promised to avenge the Kargil defeat and a “hot” summer is ahead. The brutal massacre at Chittisingpora during Bill Clinton’s visit was the proverbial last straw. Clearly, it is pay back time on the LoC. It is also time the nation’s decision-makers thought hard and deep about finding a viable permanent solution to Pakistan’s incessant and unremitting limited war. There are obviously no soft options. The need of the hour is to muster the required political will to impose on Pakistan the conditions, responses and punishment necessary through military force, to ensure that the Pakistan army is unable to keep the LoC active, to force Pakistan to stop ISI-sponsored terrorism and rein in the violent activities of virulently Islamist terrorist organisations such as Marqaz-e-Dawa Wal Irshad and the Jamaat-e-Islami. In this endeavour the government can be certain of the support of the Indian people whose threshold of tolerance has long since been crossed.

 (The writer is Senior Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Views are personal.)