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LoC unrest: need to avoid hysteria

Infiltration of insurgents and terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir started in the late 1980s. Initially, infiltration was only into the valley and insurgents took various routes to reach their destination. Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd) writes

chandigarh Updated: Oct 12, 2013 09:51 IST
Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd)

Infiltration of insurgents and terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir started in the late 1980s. Initially, infiltration was only into the valley and insurgents took various routes to reach their destination.

Some took the direct route across the Baramulla sector, while the other major route was from across the Poonch-Rajouri sector and then over the Pir Panjal range. Later, the areas of Poonch and Rajouri, too, became insurgency-prone. The 2003 ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan did result in a decrease in the frequency of firing along the Line of Control (LoC), but infiltration continued.

Prior to 2003, there were many encounters on a much bigger scale than what took place recently at Keran. The haul of seized weapons, ammunition etc. was equally large and in some cases even bigger.

But the army did not make much noise about these and both the print and electronic media was not so hyperactive then. In the Keran incident, some mediapersons went overboard to claim that this was a major intrusion and compared it to the 1999 Kargil incursion. At Keran, the attempt was only at infiltration, duly supported by Pakistan army posts, which was thwarted by Indian troops. It took time to push the insurgents back, because flanks of ingressing insurgents were covered by fire from Pakistan army posts and as such encircling them was most feasible. The terrain itself posed serious problems in spotting the insurgents and engaging them.

Pakistan support
Infiltration into J&K takes place more often with fire support by Pakistani military posts and at other times through stealth across gaps in the Indian posts. In both cases, complicity and involvement of the Pakistan army is direct. This requires no emphasis.

There are elements in the valley as well as Pakistan who want the Kashmir issue to remain on the boil. In case the Kashmir issue is resolved or put on the back-burner, this group loses its relevance. So, given the state of affairs, this infiltration and connected trouble in J&K will continue and could possibly gain strength once the 'drawdown' of the US forces from Afghanistan starts in 2014. So, India would have to be prepared for the long haul.

With this as the more likely scenario, should India enter into a dialogue with Pakistan to promote peace and trade? Some defence analysts are opposed to talks and want firm action against Pakistan.

Of course, there is little clarity and understanding of the nature of action demanded. Less understood is the fact that Indian commanders on the LoC handle situations quite firmly and react to Pakistan's mischief with adequate violence. The nation need not have any qualms on this score.

So, there is little reason for creating unnecessary hysteria in the country over some odd incidents along the LoC or even inside Indian territory, as at Hiranagar and Samba.

Rogue army
Democracy will gradually gain strength in Pakistan and the military's scope to play spoilsport will decrease. Given Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's experience with the army, he has to exercise a degree of caution, be circumspect and not act in haste to tame his somewhat rogue army. Once business and trade between the two countries build up, the overall matrix of relationship and the army's attitude can undergo a change.

There is no alternative to building good relations with Pakistan. Escalating border incidents into a larger conflagration will serve little purpose because situations often spin out of control.

Running down Pakistan's representatives on TV channels, shouting and building up hysteria in the country does not serve any purpose except to lower the level of discussion on the one hand and create disquiet in the nation on the other. Such a stance by the media will encourage the hawks in India, who may try to hustle the government into rash moves.

Advantage insurgent
The Keran incident and the earlier ones, including the one at Samba, do take place because the element of surprise and initiative is invariably with the insurgent, more so in the absence of actionable intelligence inputs. The union ministry of defence and a national newspaper are out of sync with the ground realities when they raise unintelligent queries relating to these incidents.

Finally, if Pakistan does not desist from deliberately creating trouble in J&K by pushing through ever-increasing number of insurgents, create problems on the LoC, then is India prepared to review the Indus Water Treaty, which is Pakistan's Achilles' heel? After all, relentless efforts to destabilise a country and friendly treaties cannot go hand in hand.

The writer is commentator on security and defence issues. Views expressed are his personal.

First Published: Oct 12, 2013 09:48 IST