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Pak needs firm handling, not niceties

punjab Updated: Aug 07, 2013 10:31 IST
Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd)
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The killing of four soldiers and a junior commissioned officer near the Line of Control (LoC) in the Poonch sector of Jammu and Kashmir on Monday evening is yet another serious violation of peace along this line. For the Pakistan army to resort to unprovoked firing, cross the LoC to attack Indian posts or ambush patrols, is not uncommon. Sometimes a new commander on arrival tries to display offensive spirit to his troops and orders them to indulge in such activities. The best way to make the Pakistan army desist from such activity is to severely punish every such act.

Deception plan of '90s

During the early '90s, making the best of a wide gap in the Indian posts, Pakistani troops crossed the LoC in the Poonch sector and established a post in the upper part of an Indian village called Kirni. The Pakistani army knew that we could not evict it from that post without adequate artillery support and that Indian commanders had to take sanction from New Delhi to use artillery and such an approval from a timid government was less likely to come through, consequently this adventurous move on its part.

Establishing a post in Indian territory by Pakistani troops sent reverberations all the way to Delhi, and consequent pressure for immediate action. Not willing to hustle troops into action without proper preparation, I resisted the pressure. A few days later, after careful preparation and putting in place an appropriate deception plan, we evicted Pakistani troops from the area. They left behind the bodies of a soldier and an officer.

We held a flag meeting where it was agreed that the bodies would be handed over at the LoC near the town of Poonch. Observing full religious rites, and accompanied by a Muslim religious teacher, these bodies were returned with full military honours, where a few thousand civilians from both India and Pakistan had assembled to witness the proceedings. We observed religious rites and military honours to drive home the point to the people Pakistan that we are a civilised country and extend full respect to even the 'enemy' dead.

Prepared for retaliation

Since this ceremony had been witnessed by Pakistani civilians and seen their army receive bodies of their soldiers, it was obvious that the Pakistan army will not live with this ignominy and would certainly retaliate in a big way. Therefore, it was essential to be fully prepared for such a possibility. It was more likely that Pakistan would try to recapture the same area from where it had been evicted and where we had established a temporary post.

It was around 2am that the general officer commanding (GoC) of the division called me on the phone to say that the artillery observation post officer could see a large body of Pakistani troops advancing on this temporary post. I told the general to engage the enemy with all the artillery we had deployed for such an eventuality. No one had ever witnessed, during peacetime, so much of artillery come into action at the LoC.

Predictably, the attacking troops were decimated much before they could get anywhere near our post. The Pakistan commander thought that it was perhaps a chance engagement of their attacking troops, so the next night he tried to attack the post from another direction, not realising that we had deployed the means to observe his activity at night. This attack too met with the same fate. Then followed frantic calls from the Pakistan army to our director general of military operations in Delhi, pleading for a ceasefire, because our artillery would not allow any movement and, therefore, their dead and wounded could not be evacuated. Intelligence sources put the Pakistani casualties at more than 200. During the next year and a half of my tenure, total peace prevailed along the LoC, in our corps zone.

The purpose of narrating this incident is to point out that the Pakistan army needs firm handling and strong retribution for every act of violation of peace on its part along the LoC. Commanders in the field in Jammu and Kashmir must, without exception, act firmly with the Pakistan army and let no mischief along the LoC go unpunished. Those of us who have had experience of deployment along the LoC would bear with this observation. Pakistan and its army are less likely to respond to protests, pleadings and diplomatic niceties.