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.