Recent statements by Chief of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat, that the Indian Army is “ready” (to “capture” Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir) and waiting for a political decision, has raised the hopes of a friend, of being able to go to his ancestral village in POK, which his forefathers had left in 1947 to migrate to India.
It is only when he had excitedly told me about his wish being near fruition, that I realised that the TV anchor “generals” had already declared that POK is soon going to be part of India. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, expressing hope that India will one day attain physical jurisdiction over POK, and the defence minister’s warning of dire consequences in case of adventurism on Pakistan’s part has fuelled hopes of the friend to an extent that he now has offered to sponsor me to accompany him.
Is it Realistic for India to Regain POK Militarily or Otherwise?
On a serious note, the naivety of the belief that capturing POK will be a cake walk is absolutely astonishing, especially when it comes from so-called defence ‘experts’ having spent decades in uniform. In my view, this is nothing less than day dreaming emanating from lack of strategic thinking, and the absence of SWOT analysis or what they refer to as “appreciation” in military parlance.
The intent of gaining physical jurisdiction over POK is inherent in the February 1994 resolution of the Parliament, which, besides condemning Pakistan for fomenting trouble in Kashmir, goes on to state: “Pakistan must vacate the areas of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, which they have occupied through aggression.”
The question however, is whether and how this intent can be translated into reality.
Is it practicable for India to regain POK militarily or otherwise?
Is regaining jurisdiction the only solution to the vexed problem of Kashmir or some other solutions have to be thought of?
Why Plebiscite & ‘Capturing’ POK by Force Are Not Options for India
Plebiscite, mandated in the UN resolution, is not feasible because the first step in the process requires Pakistanis to withdraw their troops from POK, which has not happened in last 70 years and is unlikely to happen in the future. So this can be ruled out altogether. Besides, one can never be sure if the population in POK will opt to be part of India.
The option of ‘capturing’ POK by force has serious underlying problems. The media, perhaps out of naivety or as a ‘propaganda’ to divert from real issues, is resorting to hyperbole and underestimating the capabilities of the Pakistani Army.
While it is a fact that the numerical strength of Pakistani Army is much less than that of the Indian Army, this is not enough to ensure an outright victory for us.
They probably have parity in terms of equipment. Besides, India is beset with the problem of obsolete equipment and shortage of ammunition.
India Must be Wary of China’s Support to Pakistan
Further, it is absolutely myopic for the protagonists to presume that operations will remain restricted to LOC. Any pressure mounted by India on the LOC will result in Pakistan opening the IB Sector like we did in 1965. While the physical numbers and armaments are important, imponderable is the thinking process of the leaders of Pakistan — both military and political.
The failure to factor in this important aspect and possible contingencies will be at our own peril.
The possibility of an offensive by Pakistan along International Borders, will thus make large resources unavailable for an offensive along the LOC, which being mountainous, ab initio requires a much higher ratio of troops for offensive as compared to the plains.
Secondly, China being a close ally of Pakistan, will preclude us from diverting troops from the northern borders, adding to further constraint of resources.
Chinese ‘support’ to the Pakistani stand is further indicative of the pressure it is likely to mount on India in the eventuality of an offensive by us.
We Must Learn from the Lessons of Kargil
Thirdly, we must learn from the lessons of Kargil. It took us over a month to evict the enemy in a small sub sector of the LOC at a heavy cost in terms of deaths and injuries to soldiers, even though we had total freedom over air operations. The war effort in this case would be spread over the entire stretch of LOC. The outcome of such war effort in high reaches, with extremely limited lines of communications and an environment where air dominance is not guaranteed, will be extremely difficult to predict.
Fourth, even if our forces are able to break through enemy defences along LOC and advance to the interiors, we cannot be certain of the wholehearted support of the population of POK.
As much as we would like to believe that the residents of POK are not happy with Pakistani regime, the actual situation on ground may not be according to our expectations.
After all, haven’t the Kashmiris, in spite of all their cries of “azadi” supported the Indian Army during 1947, 1965, besides informing our authorities about the occupation of heights along Kargil by Pakistani forces in 1999? The assumption that our forces will be welcomed with open arms in POK is erroneous, and fraught with the possibility of our troops getting embroiled in an insurgency even in that part of Kashmir.
How Would World Powers Like US React to an Indian Offensive?
The only factor which appears favourable is the state of Pakistan’s economy, which may collapse within a few days of operation. But then, even our economy too is not doing well presently, and a war — even as short as one week — will lead to further deterioration from which it will take a very long time to recover.
Another constraint is the reaction of world powers to any such offensive. While our diplomacy appears to have succeeded in convincing the world about our point of view regarding recent developments in Kashmir, that may change if a war takes place. While we have excellent relations with the US, Pakistan remains an important player in their Afghan strategy. Even Russia has developed good relations with Pakistan. Even the limited actions like the “surgical strikes” of 2016 and air skirmish of February this year were enough for the world leaders to give panicked calls for restraint, to both India and Pakistan.
The Pakistani response to Balakot was at its own time and place of choosing, and was indicative of its combative intent.
Keeping these factors in view and the fact of the nuclear backdrop, the world powers will swiftly move in to contain the conflict.
War is a Serious Matter — Let’s Not Take It Lightly
The Chief of Army Staff has once again asserted that we are ready to cross the LOC if need be. I hope his intent is restricted only to the types of “surgical strikes” that have taken place in the past, and not a full-fledged operation as advocated by the warrior channels.
War is a serious matter that cannot be left to the whims and fancies of individuals —whether military or political.
These are always discussed away from the public glare, except when decision-makers wish to divert the attention of the masses from other important issues.
The only alternative available to my friend to visit his ancestral village appears to be what Vajpayee and Musharraf — and later Manmohan Singh and Musharraf — had thought of, that is, converting the LOC into a soft border and allowing relatively hassle-free movement across.
(The writer retired from the BSF as additional director-general. He tweets @sood_2. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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