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Getting Ready for a Hot Summer

Air Cmde (Retd) Ramesh Phadke was Advisor, Research at Institute for Defence Studies and Anaysis, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • April 05, 2010

    India’s Defence Minister warned of a ‘Hot Summer’ ahead for the army in Jammu & Kashmir on account of an expected increase in infiltration bids from Pakistan-based militants. “The army is gearing up to meet new challenges as this summer is going to be a hot summer in terms of security; adding that sacrifices will have to be made.”

    It is often said that the Pakistan Army thinks it is winning. It has successfully subdued the Taliban in Swat and South Waziristan. It is now trying to tackle the menace in North Waziristan also. Following a ‘successful’ strategic dialogue with the United States in Washington, Kayani must feel reasonably satisfied with the outcome even if an India type civil-nuclear deal is only a very slim possibility in the distant future. What with Obama telling Karzai to crack down on corruption during his recent six-hour long nocturnal visit to Kabul and the arrest of Bardar a key interlocutor for Karzai’s plans to start negotiations with the disaffected groups in that country, the Pakistan Army must feel more optimistic of finally carving out a substantive political/military role for itself in the post-US period that would most likely begin sometime after July 2011. What with Chinese engineers and workers building many tunnels and bridges in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in their efforts to upgrade the famous Karakoram Friendship Highway into an all-weather axis for further assistance from China, the northern areas must also appear to Pakistan more secure than before even if the local population of Shias and Sufi, peace loving people, languish in poverty.

    The only area where Kayani cannot feel totally comfortable is the areas along the Line of Control (LoC) with the Indian State of J&K and this is not because he is not trying but due mainly to the fact that four out of every six terrorists that his army pushes into India are routinely killed in the first few hours of their illegal entry. It is for this reason that his army will try its hardest to increase infiltration during the coming summer. What then should India do? India has so far followed a purely defensive approach by awaiting the arrival of the infiltrators before engaging them as near the LoC as possible. The problem with this strategy, as even a subaltern in the army knows, is that the initiative is entirely and wholly with the enemy. The enemy chooses the time of day or night or place or numbers to be sent in, while the Indian Army has to make intelligent guesses and confront the terrorists after they have already gained entry. The Indian Army’s casualties have sometimes been significant with officers and JCOs also being lost.

    It is time India surprised Kayani by being a little more proactive. The nearly five-year long cease fire along the LoC has given the Pakistan Army total immunity from any Indian reaction and complete freedom to ratchet up or down and calibrate the process of infiltration according to its own convenience. As a result the enemy incurs negligible costs but India loses valuable soldiers.

    First, India must deploy a larger contingent of commandos or Special Forces teams in the likely areas of ingress and also keep a sizeable number on alert. Second, India should deploy support helicopters such as the IAF Mi-17 and Army Dhruv to quickly move troops where and when needed and also for immediate casualty evacuation even if some believe that the sound of the helicopters often warns the infiltrators. Third, the Indian Air Force should then deploy at least a dozen attack helicopters with guns and rockets to engage any group of suspected infiltrators on the LoC after sending a solemn warning to the other side that future infiltration bids would invite an instantaneous, robust but calibrated response from India.

    This is not a new idea. Armies and air forces the world over are routinely taking offensive action against their enemies. Pakistan, as is only too well known, has routinely bombed militants in Swat and South Waziristan and also FATA. The Saudis bombed the Al Shabab terrorists along their southern borders with Yemen. Yemen’s forces employed some MiG-29 fighters to kill 68 suspected al Qaeda operatives in that country recently. The United States launched a few helicopters from a ship along the coast of Southern Somalia and killed an al Qaeda member, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan among others, on 14th September 2009 and picked up the bodies for DNA matching in an operation codenamed ‘Celestial Balance’. It has routinely used air power including killer drones to eliminate the Taliban and al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan and earlier in Iraq. Israel has routinely employed covert and overt actions against Hamas and other adversaries. Besides reporting these actions as daily news the world at large has not taken any notice nor protested, but India is repeatedly praised for the ‘exceptional restraint’ that it routinely exercises. The non-proliferation lobby in the United States and elsewhere also never fails to tell us how dangerous it is for India to get provoked by the cross-border terrorist strikes that it experiences on a daily basis. Could the fear of escalation or worse the absence of an army-air force joint plan be the reason for such excessive restraint?

    One wonders if showing such puzzling restraint is then really helping the cause of ‘zero tolerance’ against terrorism. Would the Americans begin talking to Osama bin Laden simply because there has been no attack on US soil since 9/11?

    We now have a new Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee and a former commando as the new Army Chief. It should not be too difficult for them to devise a joint plan to check infiltration at the source during the coming hot months. The defence minister is indeed correct that ‘sacrifices’ would have to be made but this time India should offer that privilege to the Pakistani Army.