HIDDEN HAND OF RAWALPINDI
The Line of Control between India and Pakistan is a treacherous place at the best of times. But no threat, not the peaks and ravines along its contested 740 km frontier nor enemy bullets, matches what the Indian army calls ‘BAT action’. In these, the Pakistan army’s ‘border action teams’ of SSG commandos conduct night-time infiltrations and lie in ambush for Indian army patrols. On May 1, a suspected BAT team infiltrated over 200 metres across the LoC and killed two members of a patrol, BSF head constable Prem Sagar and naib subedar Paramjit Singh, and then went on to mutilate the bodies, triggering outrage in India. “Such attacks don’t take place even during war, let alone peace,” an outraged defence minister Arun Jaitley said after the incident. BAT actions—and mutilations—have been
infrequently used by the Pakistan army as an escalation tool along the LoC, beginning with the mutilation of the bodies of Capt. Saurabh Kalia and his five-man patrol team in 1999. On occasion, such outrage has even led to direct military action. The last such incident occurred in October 2016 when a BAT team mutilated the body of a soldier, Manjeet Singh, in the Machchil sector. That incident led to ferocious fire assaults from the Indian side where artillery guns and mortars levelled several Pakistani posts and soldiers.
Like terror attacks, BAT actions are effective tools for the Pakistan Army to assert itself against India—as also its own civilian leadership. This is why Indian military analysts believe the May 1 outrage could perhaps have been a warning shot—one not necessarily aimed directly at India.
Indo-Pak ties continued to slide after last year’s Uri attack, the follow-up surgical strikes, attacks by cross-border terrorists and, finally, the April 10 death sentence for alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, kidnapped from Iran last year. However, the twin mutilations mark a new low in ties between the two nations, with pressure building on the ground for a retaliatory strike.
This comes at a time when prospects of a meeting between the two prime ministers had brightened. A meeting between the two sides on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (June 8-9) is still not being ruled out. The two had last met in Lahore in December 2015, when PM Narendra Modi paid a surprise visit before the January 2016 Pathankot airbase attack scuttled talks. Now, with an Indian army reprisal almost a given, the stage is set for another round of escalations along the LoC.
BAT actions are effective tools for the Pak army to assert itself against India, and its own civilian leadership
Naib subedar Paramjit Singh’s body arrives at his village, Vein Poin, near Amritsar LAST RITES