We Need to Open Multiple Dialogue Tracks in Kashmir: Ajai Shukla
Defence analyst Ajai Shukla speaks to The Quint about India’s possible response to the beheading of the two soldiers
The Quint DAILY
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The Quint spoke to defence analyst Ajai Shukla to discuss the tension on the Line of Control (LoC) in the wake of the beheading of two Indian soldiers by Pakistani forces on 1 May.
Shukla spoke about a range of issue, including his thoughts on India’s possible response to Pakistan, and whether there is a long-term solution to the friction between the two neighbours. Here are some excerpts from the interview.
You’ve written about how you believe the series of events that led to the mutilation of the bodies of two Indian soldiers at the LoC played out. Could you tell our viewers?
First of all, this is not my opinion. They’re inputs from people on the ground, the senior officers who are handling this situation. What happened is that a patrol went out. An Indian patrol on the LoC goes out from posts that are normally behind the border fence.
You have this LoC fence that runs all along the Line of Control and the aim of the fence is to prevent infiltrators, who are normally jihadi militants, from crossing over from their training camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir onto the Indian side and from the LoC, they infiltrate into the Kashmir Valley and there they carry out their attacks on army posts and positions and patrols.
So you have this border fence that runs the whole 776-km length of the Line of Control and the fence has to be patrolled to make sure infiltrators have not cut it.
There are a lot of electronics around it, things like seismic sensors that pick up ground vibrations when you have a militant group coming over. So you have to make sure as a soldier on the Line of Control that all those instruments and implements are fine and your fence is working good.
The problem with patrolling the Line of Control fence is that you have to go out there and expose yourself to the other side.
The fence is normally very close to the Line of Control. In some cases, it’s just 100 metres, which means you can fire directly on the patrol as it’s walking along the fence and that is a vulnerable moment.
Now what the Pakistanis have done is that they’ve combined the Pakistani army, which is also deployed there near the Line of Control, with these jihadi militants who are 'deniable’. If one of them gets killed on the LoC fence, the Pakistanis can always say we have nothing to do with this. These are just militants who are infiltrating across the Line of Control to fight for freedom in the Kashmir Valley, as they put it.
So what happens is that the people from the Pakistani post, when they want to ambush an Indian patrol, as they did this time, they send out a machine gun detachment, which positions itself near the Line of Control from where it can fire on the LoC fence when that Indian patrol comes.
And when the Indian patrol comes, they opened fire this time, two people got shot and injured. And as they dropped, these jihadi militants crossed over and beheaded them, to put it bluntly, and brought back the heads onto the other side.
This is the kind of thing the Pakistani side has done for a long time. It’s not like the Indian side has been sitting quiet. We’ve retaliated and I’m pretty sure there will be retaliation in this case as well.
Would you call this an unusual occurrence? Is it unique in any manner?
What makes it unusual is that it comes at a time when India is already fighting fires in the Kashmir Valley. When there’s a strong public uprising, violent demonstrations, stone-throwing in the Valley.
So when you have an incident like
this, it tends to draw attention onto Kashmir, which is what Pakistan’s aim is.
Pakistan wants international opinion to be focused on Kashmir so that countries
like the United States put pressure on India to talk to Pakistan. For Pakistan,
bringing India to the dialogue table is a priority. They want to put India on
the defensive so India makes concessions on Kashmir.
A Kashmir settlement, of course, is a far cry. There are too many difficulties in the way of a settlement right now but Pakistan wants to drive India to the dialogue table and this is one of the ways it does it.
How would Israel have reacted in a similar situation?
Many people in India take Israel as an example of a strong state that brooks no nonsense and it appeals to Indians to imagine that we can do the same thing. But there are some very big differences between Israel’s situation and India’s situation.
Israel is fighting the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Hezbollah on the Lebanon border. These are all non-state actors. They don’t have the backing of a powerful state like the Pakistani militants do and Israel is infinitely more powerful than any of them.
In the India-Pakistan case, it’s a state-to-state concern. Militants in the Pakistani case are, for all practical purposes, implements of the Pakistani state and the weight of the Pakistani state – in terms of money, backing, the support of the Pakistan army and so on – is squarely behind these militants.
It’s a more symmetric situation in India and Pakistan’s case. India can’t just ride roughshod and call the shots the way the Israelis can on their border. And that is doubly so because both India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed states and Pakistan has this tendency, it’s part of its nuclear doctrine, that it invokes a nuclear threat very early in any escalating situation. So the minute India exerts pressure beyond a point on Pakistan, there will be a nuclear threat and that changes the game quite radically.
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