The International Border (IB) between India and Pakistan spans 2,175km. The Working Boundary (WB) spans 202km, the Line of Control (LoC) spans 797km, and the Line of Actual Contact (LAC)—which India calls the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL)—from map-grid reference NJ-9842 till Indra Kol—spans 108km. The LoC runs from a place called Sangam close to Chhamb all the way up north to NJ-9842 in Ladakh, following which the AGPL takes over. The WB lies in Jammu Division between Boundary Pillar 19 and Sangam i.e. between Jammu and Sialkot, which was part of the erstwhile princely state of J & K. It is this stretch that is known in India as the International Boundary (IB), while Pakistan refers to it as the WB, since it maintains that the border agreement (the so-called standstill agreement) was inked between the princely state of J & K and Pakistan, and not between India & Pakistan.
J & K has 734km of the LoC running through Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions from Kargil to Malu (Akhnoor) in Jammu district, while it has 190km of IB from Malu to Punjab belt running through Ramgarh, Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts. Of these, 550km of the LoC has been fenced with flood-lighting, along with 190km of fenced IB. Though a large portion of the India-Pakistan border on the 553km Gurdaspur-Jammu sector is fenced, there are several gaps (more than 40 vulnerable unfenced stretches) caused by the Ravi River and seasonal rivulets that cut into the IB. As much as 462km of Punjab’s 553km of border with Pakistan (districts include Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Tarn Taran, Ferozepur, Faridkot, Abohar and Fazilka) with Pakistan is fenced, and protected with electrified wire, sensors and floodlights. It is the other 91km for which a problem exists. Gurdaspur shares a long, zig-zagging border with Pakistan. Itis easy to infiltrate from this stretch as compared to the heavily-mined and guarded LoC as well as the IB in neighbouring Jammu. A dense fog in winters makes border surveillance an added challenge. As the border terrain is broken and forested, the rivulet beds provide an ideal cover for terrorists who can sneak in and reach the busy NH-44 highway that snakes along the border. This enables terrorists to hijack vehicles and mount rapid strikes. There are many gaps in the fencing on this stretch because of rivers flowing in and out of India. The Ujjh River enters and exits many times on this stretch. Some of the gaps are as wide as 30 feet. It is not difficult to cross this stretch as the rivers are shallow (with water reaching just above the knee) and large parts of the riverbed are dry. Quite a few times the terrorists were launched into India from Jalalabad village of Pakistan, which is close to the IB and faces Tash Lassian and Bhariyal villages in India. In addition cellphone connectivity signals from Pakistan are available on 33 patches along the Punjab border, making it easier for both terrorists and drug syndicates to communicate with one another through Pakistan-registered SIMs. In almost all terror attacks, Pakistani terrorists used snatched vehicles to attack the intended targets, mostly catching Indian security forces off-guard. The Gurdaspur-Pathankot-Jammu highway, which is dotted with a large number of defence installations including cantonments (including the 29 Infantry Division, based at Mamoon Army Cantonment), an air force base and ammunition dumps, have been the prime targets of the terrosists since 2013.
Within J & K, the Indian Army’s XV Corps, covering a frontage of 450km—which is more than half the LoC, has two Divisions—19 and 28. The 28 Infantry Division, which is the largest Division of HQ Northern Command, is responsible for four sensitive sectors along the LoC, namely, Tangdhar, Keran, Machhal and Gurez. Since the November 26, 2003 ceasefire, these sectors, at higher altitudes, have emerged as established infiltration routes. During winter months, when snow in these sectors is between 20 and 25 feet deep, the fence on the LoC gets washed away. To overcome this drawback, most of the stretch in 28 Division’s footprint has a twin-fence, one behind the other to cater for regular and intense infiltration along the deep ravines there. In simple terms, while 19 Infantry Division is crucial for operations during war, 28 Infantry Division is important for counter-infiltration. What should concern XV Corps and the HQ Northern Command are two major Pakistani objectives in 28 Infantry Division’s area of responsibility: Lipa Valley and the Bugina Bulge in PoK. Lipa Valley is surrounded by four mountain ranges: the Shamsabari, the Kafir Khan, the Kasinag and the Chota Kasinag. The most important is Shamsabari, which India dominates. If Pakistan manages to get a foothold on this range, it would then be looking into the Kashmir Valley from the top. This would help Pakistan provide better support to infiltration from this area. Moreover, if the Pakistan Army (PA) obtains a firm lodgement on the Shamsabari Range, its troops could easily roll down into the Valley at a time of its own choosing during wartime. Given the importance of the heights on the Shamsabari Range, if Pakistan indeed would intrude there and occupy the heights, the Indian Army will not hesitate to open its field artillery howitzerss in direct firing mode. Pakistani posts there have air-defence guns, and India has 105mm guns to hit the PA’s posts separated by 3km to 7km. The opening of Indian artillery fire-assaults will be the definitive indicator of an OP BADR-type operation by the PA. This will be the end of the November 26, 2003 ceasefire, something that the PA does not want for fear of alienating the Kashmiris. Similarly, Bugina is an attractive objective for the Indian Army and is less difficult to capture than the Lipa Valley. If the two PA Infantry Battalion positions, which overlook Bugina, can be captured, India will have visibility beyond the formidable Kafir Khan Range to threaten Pakistan’s Neelam-Jhelum Valley hydro-power project now being built with China’s help.
Given the fact that India maintains a near-foolproof anti-infiltration grid along the LoC, Pakistan has since mid-2013 focussed its terrorist infiltration efforts along the WB. For instance, in mid-2014, while an initial group of LeT terrorists pressed forward from Kel to Doga in PoK, and attempted to reach the Lolab Valley, a second group of six LeT terrorists was accompanied by a guide (resident of PoK) identified as Yusuf, and had pressed forward from Dudhnial to Thandapani in PoK. They aimed to reach Rajwar in Kupwara district. Another fidayeen unit had been stationed in the PoK town of Gharota, facing Bamiyal, in preparation for an attack. Large gaps torn by monsoon floods in the electrified fencing which runs along the IB in Punjab and along the IB/WB in Jammu helped the attackers infiltrate into India. Hundreds of metres of fence come down every year and the tall elephant grass (Sarkanda), which springs up after the rains, provides infiltrators plenty of cover. Cross-border firing had dropped from a peak of 5,767 incidentsin 2002 to zero in 2004 and remained below100 annual incidents through 2011. There were 57 cross-LoC violations in 2010, 61 in 2011, 93 in 2012. Infiltration attempts were 52 in 2011, 121 in 2012, 347 in 2013 and 583 in 2014. Ceasefire violations by Pakistan along the LoC India increased nine times from 2011 to 2014. Cross-border firing by Pakistani security forces from 2011 to 2013 was concentrated along the LoC. 2013 saw more than 195 ceasefire violations on the LoC. This trend saw a reversal in 2014, when 74% of the firing was concentrated along the WB. There were 583 ceasefire violations along the WB by Pakistan in 2014, a 158% increase. The highest ceasefire violations were reported from the Jammu sector, with a bulk of them—440—in the August-December 2014 period. As many as 945 terrorist incursions from Pakistan were recorded between 2012 and 2014. Indian security forces killed 38 Pakistani terrorists in 2013 and 36 till October 31, 2014, as they attempted to cross the LoC. In all, during 2014, 174 ceasefire violations along the LoC were reported. There were 57 violations in 2010, 61 in 2011, 93 in 2012. Infiltration attempts were 52 in 2011, 121 in 2012, 347 in 2013 and 583 in 2014.
That’s why since June 2014, India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) had authosied the Border Security Force (BSF) to put into effect its ‘escalation dominance’ tactics under the ‘controlled and calibrated violence’ strategy, starting June 2014—meaning if Pakistan Rangers fired with 7.62mm rifles, then the BSF retaliated with 12.7mm and 14.5mm HMGs (the latter being extracted from decommissioned BTR-60 and BRDM-2 wheeled armoured vehicles). If the Chenab Rangers fired with 14.7mm HMGs, then the BSF retaliated with 81mm mortars. This is exactly what happened between August and October 2014. As a result, 18,000 villagers in India were displaced, while 20,000 Pakistani villagers were displaced as well. Firings were limited to two sectors (Charwa [12 villages] and Chapraar [one village]) spread along a 45km-long lateral frontage between Sialkot/Kasur and Poonch/Rawlakot straddling the WB. A total of some 31,000 rounds of 81mm air-burst mortar rounds were fired by both sides over a 10-day period inj those three months of 2014. Only burst rounds, not blast rounds, were fired.
On January 14, 2014 the then Indian Army COAS Gen Bikram Singh said that a strong reply had been given to last year’s cross-border raids by Pakistan, referring to reports that 10 PA soldiers had been killed in Indian action across the LoC. Asked what retaliatory action had been taken, Gen Singh the said that his soldiers “have reacted well as required” and that there is an endeavour “not to escalate the situation into operational or strategic arena”. In that very same month, Masood Azhar addressed a jihadi meeting in Muzaffarabad, the capital of PoK. “There are 313 fidayeen fighters in this gathering and if a call is given, the number will go up to 3,000,” he told the rally held by telephone.
On January 17, 2014, during the 5th SAARC Business Leaders Conclave, Pakistan’s Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan visited India and met his Indian counterpart Anand Sharma, and the two sides agreed to expedite the implementation of the Non-Discriminatory Market Access (NDMA) regime on a reciprocal basis. Both sides decided to intensify and accelerate the process of trade normalisation, liberalisation and facilitation and to implement the agreed measures. Pakistan had b y then moved from ‘Positive List’ regime to a ‘Negative List’ regime comprising of 1,209 tariff lines of import of goods not allowed from India. Both countries by then also had the Preferential Trading Arrangement under the South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA) process. But the benefits under the SAFTA process had been partially blocked by Pakistan through the ‘Negative List’. The meeting between Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan on May 27, 2014 held that the two countries could move immediately towards full trade normalisation on the basis of the September 2012 roadmap worked out between Commerce Secretaries of both the sides. Major items of Indian export to Pakistan had then included organic chemicals, vegetables, cotton, plastics and processed food waste, like fodder. Items of Indian imports from Pakistan included cotton, fruits and nuts, mineral fuels, wax, sulphur, lime, cement and hides. India’s exports to Pakistan in 2014 amounted to US$2.17 billion, or 0.83% of total Indian exports, while imports were $497 million, or 0.13% of total inward shipments.
In mid-June 2014, Operation Zarb-e-Azb (whose military strategy was centered around the policy of ‘Seek, Destroy, Clear, Hold’) was launched by the PA, while Operation Khyber-1 began in September 2014 (Operation Khyber-2 in April 2015, while Operation Khyber-3 was launched in August 2016). By then, 35% of the PA was fully engaged in LIC campaigns and had a deployment ratio of 54.6%, resting and re-equipping ratio of 12.7%, and the remaining 33% undergoing the training cycle. The PA had by then lost 2,795 soldiers since 2004. Another 8,671 were injured. The average officer-to-soldier ratio in combat fatalities is around 1:17 in most armies, while in the PA’s various LIC operations it had been 1:6. This was higher than the usual Pakistani average of 1:10.
Meanwhile, during the 126-day-long (August-December 2014) dharna by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) against the ruling Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PMLN), there were murmurs of a coup d’état. The ISI and ISPR were both hard at work for manipulating Pakistan’s highly clientelised and politicised print/electronic.broadcast media outlets, which had received instructions from the PA’s Islamabad-based GHQ to support the ‘dissenting’ leaders and their sit-ins. The GHQ was using the media to add muscle and might to the anti-government movement in an attempt to cut Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif down to size. Other than Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the former DG of ISI, who is known to be a close friend and supporter of PTI Chairman Imran Khan, the other name that was repeatedly brought up by knowledgeable observers was that of Lt Gen Zaheer-ul-Islam, the then DG of the ISI. Allegedly, the two were conspiring to create a rift between PM Nawaz Sharif and the PA’s then COAS, Gen Raheel Sharif. In the past, the PM had acted against Generals whom he had differences with. It was expected that he would again act again in a similar manner, under the presumption that the dharna had the PA’s backing. But the events did not play out as expected. Not exactly. It was Federal Defence Minister Khawaja Asif who first stated that two Lt Gens were behind the political unrest that prevailed in 2014. Specifically, the Minister said, Lt Gen Islam had a “personal grievance” with the ruling party for siding with a particular media house (Jang Group & Geo TV). Asif was subsequently sidelined and snubbed at a dinner with the PA’s Generals and quickly made to learn a central lesson. Not everyone took from his experience. In an interview with the BBC in August 2015, Senator Mushahidullah Khan claimed that an audio tape obtained by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) was played during a meeting between PM Nawaz Sharif and Gen Raheel Sharif in the latter half of 2014, in which Lt Gen Islam could be heard giving instructions to raid the PM’s Office. According to the Senator, when questioned by Gen Raheel Sharif, Lt Gen Islam confirmed that the voice was his own. Senator Khan later clarified that he himself had not heard the tape. Never mind the fact that he kept referring to the ex-ISI DG as Zahirul Islam Abbasi–the Major General who had plotted to overthrow the Benazir Bhutto government in 1995, and who died six years ago–the damage had been done. Appointed on the recommendation of then President Asif Ali Zardari in March 2012, Lt Gen Islam had remained mostly out of the spotlight and yet, he had managed to cast a shadow over many major events in the last few years. The most significant of them was when GEO TV ran photographs of Lt Gen Islam alongside allegations by journalist Hamid Mir’s brother stating that a failed assassination attempt of the prime-time anchor-person was the handiwork of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. Lt Gen Islam had a strong military background; his father, brothers and brother-in-law had also served in the PA. His uncle, Shah Nawaz, was a Major General in the Indian National Army, led by Subhas Chandra Bose, and was captured and detained by the British briefly in the early 1940s. Lt Gen Islam belonged to the Punjab Regiment and he was in charge of a Division in Murree before being promoted to Lt Gen and being posted as a Corps Commander in Karachi. He was mentioned in Forbes magazine’s most powerful people list as the “new head of Pakistan’s notorious intelligence service” in 2012. “The ISI has played both sides in the war on terror and, as US troops draw out of Afghanistan, will be hugely influential in determining the region’s future,” the magazine went on to state. With the reputation of being an ‘honest’ officer and a close aide of Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, it was expected that Lt Gen Islam would continue Kayani’s policy of minimal interference in political matters. In a subsequent TV interview, Defence Minister Asif said that the 2014 London Plan against the Nawaz Sharif government was the work of two former ISI Chiefs—Lt Gen (Ret’d) Shuja Pasha and Lt Gen (Ret’d) Zaheer-ul-Islam. In September 2014, weeks of mounting anti-government protests in Pakistan had been enough to convince five of the powerful Lt Gens (believed to have retired now) who then were Corps Commanders that it was time for them to step in and force the embattled Nawaz Sharif to resign. The five Corps Commanders had earlier met in Rawalpindi at the end of August as demonstrations raged in Islamabad. At that tense four-hour conclave, Pakistan’s democratic process was once again in peril, with the PA pondering another intervention in a country that has seen power change hands more often through coups than elections. But Gen Raheel Sharif decided that the time was not right to overthrow the civilian leadership, and moved to quell any disagreement in his ranks by overruling the hawks and declaring the crisis must be solved through politics, not force.
However, the carefully constructed veneer of neutrality that the PA’s leadership had constructed through much of the national political crisis instigated by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri was eventually torn apart. First came the PA’s statement on August 31, 2014—the third in a series of statements on the political crisis, which quite astonishingly elevated the legitimacy and credibility of the demands of Imran Khan, Tahirul Qadri, and their violent protesters above that of the choices and actions of an elected government dealing with a political crisis. Consider the sequence of events so far. When the PA first publicly waded into the political crisis, it counselled restraint on all sides—as though it were the federal government that fundamentally still had some questions hanging over its legitimacy simply because Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri alleged so. Next, the PA crept towards the Khan/Qadri camp by urging the government to facilitate negotiations - as though it was the government that was being unreasonable, and not Khan and Qadri. Next, staggeringly, the PA ‘advised’ the government not to use force against violent protesters and essentially told it to make whatever concessions necessary to placate Khan and Qadri. It was simply extraordinary that it was the PAT and PTI supporters who wanted to break into and occupy state buildings, but it was the government that was been rebuked. It was as if the PA was unaware—rather, unwilling—to acknowledge the constitutional scheme of things: it is the government that is supposed to give orders to the Army, not the other way around. The government had already issued its order: invoking Article 245 [empowering the Army to ensure law and order in the city]. As violent thugs subsequently attacked the Parliament building, it was surely the PA’s duty to repel them. But the soldiers stationed there did nothing and the Army leadership the next day warned the government instead of the protesters—which largely explains why the protesters were able to continue their pitched battles with the Police and attacked the PTV headquarters on September 1, 2014.
But there indeed was a method to this ‘madness’. The PA all along was using this engineered law-and-order crisis to extract from the PML-N-led federal government a promise of freedom for Gen (Ret’d) Pervez Musharraf—who then was an absconder and was wanted on treason charges for leading a coup against Nawaz Sharif’s government in 1999. Musharraf had served Pakistan as the PA’s COAS and President and is alleged to have imposed emergencies twice in his tenure—first in 1999 and later in 2007—to restrain the unamenable courts from challenging his questionable legitimacy. Coordinated anti-government protests in Islamabad since August 14 by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and Islamic cleric Maulana Tahirul Qadri of Pakistan Awami Tahreek (PAT) wre thus engineered by the ISI and ISPR on the PA’s behalf to ‘domesticate’ the federal government. And needless to say, by that time, the vital issues of strategic importance and foreign affairs were being single-handedly articulated and directed by the PA’s GHQ, without civilian oversight and input. In a subsequent Senate committee meeting, Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) Senator and former Presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar declared: “Foreign policy on Kashmir, India, Afghanistan, and nuclear assets is being formulated in GHQ instead of the Foreign Office.”
(To Be Concluded)