Behind the enemy line

Behind the enemy line

Context

The closer you get to the border in J&K, the greater the yearning for an end to ceasefire violations

The closer you get to the border in J&K, the greater the yearning for an end to ceasefire violations

Author went on a field trip to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir with the Pakistan army for research on ceasefire violations along the India-Pakistan

On the other side

Murree was under a thick blanket of snow on a cold December morning at the headquarters of General Officer Commanding of Pakistan Army’s 12 Division

Disquiet

  • There was a great deal of politeness around, probably camouflaging the disquiet at having someone over from the ‘enemy’ country
  • For an army that has been conditioned to view India as its existential enemy, this was to be expected

Tatrinote-Chakan Da Bagh

While on our way to the Tatrinote-Chakan Da Bagh trading point from the Battal sector (which the Pakistan Army calls a ‘hot’ area due to the frequent firing there) in the frontlines of Rawalakot, the Brigadier of 2-AK insisted on taking a circuitous route

Friendly Fire

  • The faster road connection to the trading point was right under the Indian posts and was under constant Indian firing
  • “It would be a pity if you were to be shot by your country’s army,” the Brigadier said half-seriously looking up at what the Pakistan Army calls India’s ‘Jungle Post’ in the foothills of the PirPanjal mountain range
  • Ducking ‘friendly fire’ while on ‘enemy territory’ seemed sensible.

Sanctum Sanctorum

On day three, we drove down to Rawalpindi from Rawalakot and entered what is normally off-limits for most civilians, most certainly an Indian, the ‘sanctum sanctorum’ of the Pakistan Army, its heavily guarded General Headquarters. The General Headquarters is an impressive world-class campus, as are the security protocols and paraphernalia in and around it

Meeting with Chief of General Staff

  • I was ushered in to have a private meeting with the Chief of General Staff (arguably the second most powerful officer in the Pakistan Army) and his deputy
  • He seemed upbeat about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Pakistan Army’s ability to handle internal security challenges, and Pakistan’s return to the regional geopolitical scheme of things.

Destruction on both sides

Any visitor to either side of the LoC and the International Boundary (IB) in the Jammu-Sialkot sector would be shocked by the destruction of lives and livelihoods both sides have suffered over the years

Use of heavy artillery

With the rampant use of high calibre weapons such as mortars and even artillery in the borders in Jammu and Kashmir, civilian casualties and the destruction of their habitats have risen steadily

Similar narratives

The narratives about death and destruction and how children cannot attend school due to ceasefire violations are tragically similar on both sides of the border

Low population on the Indian side

On the Indian side, much of this destruction is in the Jammu sector where villages fall in the range of high calibre Pakistani weapons

Far more on the Pakistani side

  • Notably, there is far more border population on the Pakistani side than on the Indian side which has over the years put the Pakistan Army under a lot of pressure from the local population to control the firing
  • Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to have put much pressure on New Delhi.

Trade persists

  • The one source of relief for the border population is the cross-LoC trade and transit that has persisted despite the ceasefire violations
  • Despite being disrupted for short periods due to the firing, it is eventually reinstated to the relief of the local Kashmiris on both sides.

Always under threat

Soldiers posted on both sides also live under the constant threat of enemy firing. A senior Border Security Force officer once described this fear: “A man standing on duty at the post is always under tremendous fear of being watched by the opposite side through a telescopic rife and of being shot at any moment.” Being patriotic is one thing, dying avoidable deaths is another.

Uneven deployment

Pakistani military deployment on the LoC is thin compared to the Indian deployment along the counterpart sectors

The Pakistani side has not erected border fences, has stationed fewer troops, constructed fewer posts, and carries out very little patrolling along the zero line

India dominance

In short, Indian forces enjoy sheer physical dominance along the borders

This seems to have aided the ability of the Indian forces to carry out occassional ‘surgical strikes’, both acknowledged or otherwise, across the LoC

Pakistan more enthusiastic about confidence building measures on the border

  • Thanks to its thinner presence on the borders and the asymmetric impact on its border population, there seems to be greater enthusiasm in Pakistan for confidence-building measures to reduce violations on the border
  • Pakistan, for instance, is keen to formalise the 2003 ceasefire agreement and to discuss other related confidence-building measures.

Officers open to suggestions than our political class

Not so surprisingly, officers posted on either side of the LoC and IB (in Jammu) are far more open to suggestions of confidence-building measures than the political classes and civilian bureaucracies in the respective capitals

3 Suggestions

Three suggestions which seem to have some traction on both sides deserve mention

Lower the caliber of violations

One sure way of reducing the destruction of civilian habitats is to lower the calibre of the violations

How: To do so, the two sides could consider withdrawing heavy artillery to 50 km behind the zero line

Regular meetings at DGMO level

  • Two, the two Director-Generals of Military Operations, along with their delegations, could consider holding regular meetings every six months
  • Data show that every time the leaderships of the armed forces meet, ceasefire violations come down — albeit for not too long

Establishing more Flag meeting points

Three, establishing more flag meeting points between local commanders and responding quickly to meeting requests could lead to better communication and reduced misunderstandings resulting in fewer ceasefire violations

India should take the initiative

  • That the Indian side suffers fewer casualties and lesser destruction of civilian habitats is no reason why we should avoid entering into joint mechanisms to stabilise the borders in Jammu and Kashmir
  • Over 30 slain Indian soldiers on the LoC and close to 900 ceasefire violations last year alone (note that each ceasefire violation could be tens of thousands of shots ranging from personal weapons to heavy artillery) should be reason enough for doing so.
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