The In­dian Armed Forces Un­shack­led

Time has come for the na­tion to reeval­u­ate its mil­i­tary strat­egy against Pak­istan whose ca­pa­bil­ity ap­pears to have been re­duced to ter­ror­ism, sub­ver­sion and bor­der skir­mishes. This is the new form of war­fare that In­dia must be pre­pared to fight.


In the last few months, as Pak­istan strug­gled to cope with its own in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal tur­moil, the ten­sion with In­dia has also been on an up­ward tra­jec­tory. Pak­istan em­barked on a some­what des­per­ate ex­er­cise to raise the Indo-Pak con­flict to a new level, reignite the is­sue of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and push In­dia on to the back foot be­fore the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity as Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi con­tin­ued with his highly suc­cess­ful for­eign pol­icy bl­itzkrieg. A ridicu­lous and some­what bizarre as­ser­tion by Bi­lawal Bhutto, son of the late Be­nazir Bhutto, for­mer Prime Min­is­ter of Pak­istan, of his re­solve to take back the whole of Kashmir from In­dia, a veiled threat by for­mer Pres­i­dent Parvez Mushar­raf to teach In­dia a les­son if she con­tin­ues to pro­voke Pak­istan, the some­what un­suc­cess­ful ef­fort by Nawaz Sharif, the very shaky Prime Min­is­ter of Pak­istan who while be­ing in of­fice is re­ally not in power, to raise the is­sue of J&K dur­ing his ad­dress to the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly (UNGA), have all served only to add the fuel to fire and have been ac­com­pa­nied by reg­u­lar fir­ing not only across the per­pet­u­ally sen­si­tive line of con­trol (LoC) in J&K, but of late also across the in­ter­na­tional bor­der. Prime Min­is­ter Modi was gra­cious enough not to en­gage in ugly spat with Pak­istan over the is­sue of J&K while ad­dress­ing the UNGA. He main­tained an im­mac­u­late and dig­ni­fied pos­ture and asked Pak­istan to first cre­ate an at­mos­phere con­ducive for talks. The lat­est at­tempt at di­a­logue was abortive on ac­count of Pak­istan’s mis­de­meanour in­volv­ing meet­ing with the Kash­miri sep­a­ratists de­spite ob­jec­tions by In­dia.

Th­ese de­vel­op­ments, how­ever, are not new in character as the rhetoric em­a­nat­ing from the high­est ech­e­lons in the Pak­istani es­tab­lish­ment as also vi­o­la­tion of cease­fire by our not-so-friendly neigh­bour have been a mat­ter of rou­tine. How­ever, the re­cent hap­pen­ings are char­ac­terised by two no­table dif­fer­ences. Firstly that this time the Pak­istani forces on the bor­der have been tar­get­ing pri­mar­ily the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion and go­ing beyond the LoC, have been fir­ing across the in­ter­na­tional bor­der which could be re­garded as an act of war.

Even while Prime Min­is­ter Modi was pre­oc­cu­pied with the up­com­ing state elec­tions, he de­cided to give a ‘free hand’ to the In­dian armed forces to re­spond not only in equal mea­sure but with greater vigour if re­quired to any vi­o­la­tion of cease­fire along the LoC. Dur­ing the ten­ure of the ear­lier regimes in­clud­ing that of the last NDA coali­tion, the Bor­der Se­cu­rity Force (BSF) as well as the units of the In­dian Army de­ployed along the LoC or the in­ter­na­tional bor­der did not have the free­dom to re­spond to any provo­ca­tion by the Pak­istani Army or the Pak­istani Rangers in for­ward de­ploy­ment. The In­dian forces re­spon­si­ble for se­cur­ing the in­tegrity of the land bor­ders did not have the free­dom to open fire even with small arms in re­sponse to hos­tile ac­tion by the en­emy per­haps on ac­count of fear of es­ca­la­tion. In fact, per­mis­sion to re­turn fire in re­sponse to provo­ca­tion by Pak­istan had to be ob­tained from the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD), a pro­ce­dure that not only took con­sid­er­able time, but also pro­jected a rather poor im­age of the na­tional re­solve with the con­se­quent de­bil­i­tat­ing ef­fect on the morale of the In­dian armed forces and es­pe­cially of those de­ployed in for­ward lo­ca­tions in di­rect con­fronta­tion with the Pak­istani forces. The na­tion ap­peared weak-kneed and dif­fi­dent even while deal­ing with a small and so-called failed state – Pak­istan. The sit­u­a­tion now is rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent. In the event of hos­tile ac­tion by Pak­istan, Com­man­ders of forces de­ployed in for­ward lo­ca­tions are not re­quired to seek prior per­mis­sion of higher au­thor­ity but are free to de­cide on the na­ture and in­ten­sity of re­sponse. This is bound to raise the morale of the In­dian forces. How­ever, cur­rently the re­sponse by the In­dian side is limited to small arms, medium ma­chine guns and mor­tars. Use of long-range ar­tillery is not yet per­mit­ted in the nor­mal course as the con­flict ap­pears to be lo­calised to ar­eas in close prox­im­ity of the bor­der.

In the fi­nal anal­y­sis, the gov­ern­ment has in­deed taken the right step to un­shackle the In­dian sol­dier guard­ing the fron­tiers with Pak­istan. There need to be no fear of es­ca­la­tion of the con­flict as Pak­istan’s ca­pa­bil­ity to wage a full-scale war with In­dia is doubt­ful. Time has come for the na­tion to reeval­u­ate its mil­i­tary strat­egy against Pak­istan whose ca­pa­bil­ity ap­pears to have been re­duced to ter­ror­ism, sub­ver­sion and bor­der skir­mishes. This is the new form of war­fare that In­dia must be pre­pared to fight.

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