Mir Shaukat Ali, Srinagar/ Janbaz Khan, Islamabad /Rupa Debroy,Delhi
Indian army has started massive artillery barrages since Monday evening on ‘terror launchpads’ and Pakistani gun positions along the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir , forward commanders told Easternlink.
The barrages, that commanders described as ‘precision strikes’ , have hit targets and caused much casualties, they said, referring to techint and humint intelligence assets on ground inside Pakistan’s Kashmir.
Military officials told Easternlink’s Mir Shaukat Alithat the artillery barrages were reported from Poonch, Rajouri, Akhnoor and Baramulla sectors.
“This is our response to intensified terrorist activity along the LOC , we will make Pakistan pay dearly for its continued promotion of terror and our recent losses ,” said a Major-General commanding a frontline formation in Kashmir. ” We have clearence to hit real hard.”
The Indian action follows the death of 9 army and para-military CRPF , including Colonel Asutosh Sharma and Major Anuj Sood of 21 Rastriya Rifles, in the Handwara region — a key route for infiltration of Pakistan-trained terrorists.
The coordinated and massive Indian fire assault started within hours of Indian army chief General M.M.Navarane warning Pakistan of ‘dire consequences if it did not refrain from its limited and myopic policy of pushing terrorists into Kashmir.’
Describing Pakistan as a “global risk” to peace and stability, when South Asia like the rest of world was battling the C-Virus, Gen Navarane said : ” I would like to emphasise that Indian Army will give proportionate response to all acts of infringement of ceasefire and its (Pakistan’s) support to terrorism. The onus remains with Pakistan to bring peace in the region.”
“Unless Pakistan gives up its policy of state sponsored terrorism, we will continue to respond appropriately and with precision,” the army chief said.
Gen Naravane said the recent infiltration attempts by Pakistan along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir showed that Pakistan is not interested in battling the coronavirus pandemic and is still following its “own myopic and limited agenda of pushing terrorists inside India.”
Military analysts in India said they could not rule an ‘exemplary punitive strike by commandos’ by Indian military .
” After the Pulwama attack, India has effected a doctrinal shift in its counter-terror policy by bombing a Jaish-e-Mohammad facility deep inside Pakistan. If the fire assaults does not deter Pakistan, something more may happen,” said retired Lt-Gen John Ranjan Mukherjee, who has served as GOC,15 Corps based in Kashmir.
Mukherjee, now an officer-bearer in Calcutta-based think-tank CENERS and an Easternlink columnist, said the global community should chastise Pakistan and punish it for ‘unleashing the dogs of war’ ( see below Mukherjee’s analysis)
India has also upped the ante on Pakistan’s Kashmir by conveying a strong protest against a Pakistan Supreme Court order by allowing the conduct of general elections in Gilgit-Baltistan.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said Pakistan has been told that entire Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, including areas of Gilgit and Baltistan, are an integral part of India and Islamabad ‘should immediately vacate the areas under its illegal occupation.’
In a recent order, the Pakistan Supreme Court allowed the amendment to the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order of 2018 to conduct the general elections in the region.
India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar, a measured diplomat-turned-politician, has said recently that India expected to have “physical jurisdiction” over Pakistan-administered Kashmir one day.
But Jaishankar left out Ladakh , unlike the MEA statement on Monday, so as not to provoke the Chinese.
Now that the MEA has included Ladakh among the territories India wishes to get back, former diplomats told Easternlink’s Rupa Debroy that India may be sending a message to China not to back Pakistan in its terror export strategy.
” The feeling in Indian diplomatic circles is that China is now on the backfoot on C-virus issue , so this is time to scale up pressure to ensure it stops backing Pakistan’s promotion of terror,” Rupa Debroy said.
Delhi and Islamabad both claim Kashmir in full, but control only parts of it – territories recognised internationally as “Indian-administered Kashmir” and “Pakistan-administered Kashmir”.
More than four million people live in 10 districts spread over an area of more than 13,000 sq km (5019 sq miles) in the latter.
“Even in the hinterland, Pakistan backed terrorists are resorting to targeting innocent civilians with an aim to coerce them into following their Azadi (independence) narrative. Pakistan claims to be a friend of Kashmiris; I want to ask what sort of friend resorts to killing and spreads terror,” said Indian army chief Gen Navarane.
There have been frequent incidents of ceasefire violation by Pakistani side since India announced its decision to withdraw special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories in August last year.
On implementation of recommendations of anti-terror watchdog FATF by Pakistan, Gen Naravane said the country has sought to “blindside” the international community by making superficial changes and amendments to its “non-existent” checks on terror financing and money laundering.
“It still continues to employ proxies to inflict terror and violence not only inside India but also in Afghanistan where it supports the Taliban militarily and financially,” he said.
“The sudden spurts in violence against Afghan security forces are indicative of the illegal and illicit drug and money laundering networks that fuel the conflict,” Gen Naravane added.
He also referred to Pakistan removing names of “hardcore terrorists from the terror watch list”, saying it proves that Islamabad still believes in exporting terrorism as an instrument of state policy.
“The low priority given to the Pakistani citizens by its own government and the army is apparent by the exponential rise in cases and massive shortages of medical equipment and supplies in Pakistan,” he said.
Gen Naravane said even during an India-initiated SAARC video conference, Pakistan’s “narrow-mindedness” was on full display when it used the platform to complain about “non-existent” violations of human rights in Kashmir instead of finding ways to keep its citizens safe from the pandemic.
“The increased intensity of ceasefire violations by the Pakistan army, where its targets innocent civilians on the LoC, just shows that the country is a global risk and is not interested in providing relief to its own citizens,” he said.
Easternlink’s Janbaz Khan says Pakistan army is stepping up its strength along the LOC. Several additional infantry battalions, artillery units and other elements have been rushed to the areas where Indian army has unleashed fire assaults.
“We will respond to fire with fire,” a Pakistani brigadier told Easternlink’s Janbaz Khan.
Khan says it is expected the Pakistan army has started its artillery riposte and may scale it up substantially if the Indian barrage intensifies.
But Pakistani officers told Khan that they were prepared for any ” Indian military adventure” this time, meaning they expected special force strikes and possibly limited airstrikes.
“We are prepared for any escalation, we will teach India a lesson ,” an infantry brigadier on the LOC told Easternlink.
LT-GENERAL JOHN RANJAN MUKHERJEE’S ANALYSIS OF THE SITUATION :
In my time as GOC 15 Corps in Kashmir, we were suddenly confronted with a huge inflow of terrorists from Pakistan. Taking advantage of our deployment to fight the incursions in Kargil in 1999 that left gaps in our LOC defences, the Pakistanis pushed in 3000 terrorists in Kashmir valley and 1500 in Jammu. We had to pull up troops from other parts of India to strengthen the counter-insurgency grid.
I pulled in seven battalions of my own Assam Regiment with their proven expertise in counter-insurgency in Northeast. They , I must did a better job , than other plains battalions, but I dont want to sound partial to any formation. Over a few months, as we cleared the terror pockets one by one , we often resorted to across-the-LOC fire assaults but also limited trans-LOC strikes by special forces and even regular battalions. So ‘surgical strikes’ are not new , what may be new is the air strike on Balakore which can scale up the escalation level. But our formations would not go very far inside because they needed to pull back before being encircled by larger Pakistani formations, but they would hit hard at frontline terror launch pads where terrorists and their handlers were waiting to push them into our side. We had reasonably accurate human intelligence on such terror pads. Our fire assaults then lacked the accuracy it has now — we now have better sattelite imagery, guidance system, what have you. So fire assaults are giving better results but you cannot rule out special forces strikes just to send a message. Also they can hit upto 50 to 60 kms inside Pakistan Kashmir , so do you really need the IAF to get involved. Maybe my friend and former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha has better idea, get in touch with him.
PM Modi , whose handling of the migrant workers and the lockdown as a whole leaves much to be desired and who is under considerable political pressure at home, might find in a few select trans-border strikes some face-saving diversions for the domestic audience. The army now goes more by what he wants. So if he wants a few hits across the border, they will try giving him that.
But professionally, I feel there is a limit to escalation, because I dont see the Air Force doing a Balakote again. The PAF will be prepared and the post-Balakote air battles were not good for us. It was not even good optics to see MIG-21s battling F-16s. Then Air chief Dhanoa actually said no Indian uses a car of the MIG-21 generation. I would imagine special forces strikes are still possible in a few sectors , despite the fact that the Pakistanis will be anticipating it.
But I hear of much unrest inside Pakistan Kashmir, specially among the Shias and other minorities. If Pakistan plays with our Kashmiri youth to create trouble , can’t we pay them back in the same coin.