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There is a common saying in the Indian Army that the LoC is one place where a sub-tactical situation can become strategic in less than five minutes. That’s because alongside that state, a host of other situations interplay to give it hype. The context here is about the Pakistani trans-LoC strike, which killed an officer and three jawans of one of India’s finest Infantry units – the 2nd (Royal) Sikh in the Keri sector of Rajouri on 22 December 2017.
A response by the Indian Army on Christmas at Rakh Chikri area of Poonch sector laid low three Pakistan Army personnel, and critically injured some more. Ordinarily, this news would have disappeared from media tickers within hours. However, currently it’s a different situation. How different is it really?
LoC Emerges as the Ground for Messaging
First, 15 months ago, India’s surgical strikes within ten days of losing 20 soldiers in the Uri terror attack sent a clear message of intent that India would no longer accept such actions without an effective response.
Second, the LoC is no longer just a line on the ground separating the two Armies. It’s a place where Pakistan attempts to send a message to the world about the existence of the Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) issue, especially when the situation in the state comes under the total control of India. For many years it has sponsored a proxy war in the state, especially in the Kashmir Valley. It has failed in its attempts to turn the situation in its favour.
Third, currently after a year, and more so of attempting to create turbulence of an extreme kind in the Valley, Pakistan’s efforts have been largely neutralised. This has been done through effective professional military domination of the situation by Indian security forces (SF) led by the Indian Army.
Fourth, in Pakistan, the polity is in turbulence with radical elements attempting to rule the roost.
Deep State on the Lookout for Vulnerabilities
We recently witnessed the lockdown of Islamabad by the Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY), a new radical organisation. Jamat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed has founded the Milli Muslim League (MML) to gain political clout. His pre-eminence and that of the JuD/LeT has been under threat by other organisations in the strategic space for political and terror-related power.
Peaceful conditions in J&K do not enhance his image and call for something spectacular. It is not an easy doing with the kind of domination the Indian SF have gained in the hinterland.
The LoC is a little different where troops are strung along its length in large and small deployments, necessitating patrolling and counter infiltration, thus enhancing vulnerabilities. It is these vulnerabilities which the JuD/ISI/Pakistan Army (also known as the deep state) can exploit.
Having operated extensively on the LoC, I can vouch for the above vulnerabilities, and can confirm that it is near impossible to be secure everywhere because all deployments carry an element of risk.
The Indian Army’s vulnerability is higher because of deployment in smaller detachments and sub-units aimed at curbing infiltration. Patrolling is done to dominate gaps.
I can visualise Late Major Ambadas and his men of the 2 Sikh moving from one post to another to take stock, direct, brief, control and simultaneously dominate. That’s what tactical level commanders do all the time. His move was probably waylaid by a combined ambush of Pakistani regulars and a few terrorists, called Border Action Team (BAT).
Rakh Chikri: The Location for Trans-LoC Operation
Within three days, the Indian Army’s very famous 93 Infantry Brigade at Poonch has retaliated by killing three Pakistani soldiers.
This area of the LoC is approximately 120 km by road from Keri, where the Pakistani action was executed (much less as per crow flight), and falls within the responsibility of the Pakistan Army’s 2 POK Brigade located at Rawalakot. Apparently, it is the 59 Baluch deployed at Rakh Chikri where the Indian Army’s trans-LoC operation has been conducted.
This is a well-known landmark. In its vicinity, major operations were conducted both in 1965 and 1971.
It’s a forested feature (Rakh means forest), approximately a kilometre in depth, with many satellite posts in front. A trans-LoC operation need not be a surgical strike on a precise location such as a terror camp. It can simply be an entry across the LoC by a small body (10-15 soldiers) of well-trained sharp shooters from Special Forces, or the locally deployed Infantry unit, carrying prepared improvised explosive devices (IEDs) with pressure switches for initiation.
Routes of Pakistani patrols and logistics supply are well known to our forward troops as much as ours are known to Pakistan Army. Thus, it’s a question of selection of ground across the LoC where such a tactical level strike is conducted, essentially in the ambush mode followed by more casualties inflicted by concealed IEDs; a safe route for get away to own side is ensured.
Link Between Keri’s Ceasefire Violation and Jadhav
The Pakistan Army has admitted the casualties, but as per its policy, it remains in denial about the entry of Indian troops across the LoC. This has been a consistent policy for long, and was also followed during the September 2016 surgical strikes.
The very frequent transgression of foreign troops into its territory under Pakistan Army control (US Navy Seals strike at Abbotabad and Indian surgical strikes in PoK) has left it red-faced and hence this policy.
Lastly there is an apparent link of the Pakistani action at Keri with the permission for the family of Kulbhushan Jadhav to meet him. Pakistan possibly wished to deliver a message of psychological ascendancy; that it had an alleged Indian spy in custody and could conduct an operation to impose casualties on Indian troops, while having the ‘magnanimity’ to allow the alleged spy’s family to meet him. This despicable approach of the Pakistan establishment is unlikely to ever result in gestures for peace from India.
(Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain is a former GOC of the army’s 15 Corps and now associated with Vivekanand International Foundation and Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies. He can be reached at @atahasnain53. 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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