It is a day after Kargil Vijay Diwas. Just a few hours ago India was in celebration mode on the hard-won victory of its armed forces. Obviously, the mood across the border and LoC was one of seething anger. Nations hate being reminded of military defeats and in the context of India and Pakistan, the latter has to work hard to create an information hype to convince its people about its own perceived military capability.
In moments of anger nations do irrational things and Pakistan has a history of this; never viewing the larger picture, the end result and the final pay off. The terror strike in Gurdaspur appears to smack once again of a futile attempt by Pakistan’s nexus of agencies and organisations to remind India of the ‘war by a thousand cuts’.
Why do I say this? Take a good look at the ground situation. Militancy in J&K is almost down and out although its potential of revival is always live; the new local cadres are not capable of high profile acts, there is no leadership and the LoC dragnet against infiltration is so effective that adding to numbers and bringing in leaders is proving near impossible.
From LoC to IB
The positives in one area negatively impact another; that is a basic lesson in tactics. In 2014, Pakistan’s nexus shifted the emphasis from the LoC to the Jammu-Pathankot International Border (IB); Pakistan calls it the Working Boundary. Instead of Srinagar, Anantnag and Rajouri, it was Kathua and Samba that became the objectives. Here it is simpler to infiltrate. The dense and well-coordinated counter-infiltration grid of the LoC does not exist, the fence is porous and the objectives are just a few kms away.
The National Highway proves to be an asset; infiltrate from one point, hijack a truck and strike at a target 10-15 (or more) kms away. Targets are many: schools, police stations, military camps, deputy commissioner’s office etc; fail at one and redeploy to another in a matter of minutes unlike in the LoC sector where the army will react within minutes and block all egress.
The reason for shifting the area of strikes further south of Pathankot is that the army’s 9 Corps and Western Command have been getting their acts together and strengthening their preparedness against such terrorist activity. In fact, Lt Gen K J Singh, the GOC-in-C Western Command, has been frequently visiting the Jammu IB sector and gingering up his commanders and troops. When effectiveness improves, the focus of the Pakistan nexus shifts and objectives in Punjab obviously have their own significance.
Army Not in CI Role
It is not for tactical and operational reasons alone that we have witnessed the ‘migration’ of terrorist activity from the LoC sector towards areas between Jammu and Pathankot and now into the northern part of Punjab. The army is not in counter-insurgency (CI) operational mode here; unlike 9 Corps north of Pathankot which partially is. While there is considerable army deployment in Gurdaspur and Amritsar sectors it is in peace and training mode.
By striking in Gurdaspur, the Pakistan nexus is attempting three things. First, expanding the arc of militancy/terror to draw in the army; it has successfully done so in the Jammu to Pathankot sector. Greater the deployment of the Indian army in CI duties, less its availability for training and more the fatigue on its men.
Secondly, the entry of terror in Punjab forces the expansion of the gaze of Indian intelligence agencies, thereby diluting their focus on J&K. Thirdly, it is the psychological messaging which must not be missed. The nexus is attempting to convey our vulnerability and its strength, its ability to pick and choose its targets.
Punjab has had its share of problems over 20 years ago and a remnant of separatist terrorist leadership still exists abroad, especially in Pakistan. Punjab’s current administrative woes and the social turbulence brought on by the culture of drug abuse makes it extremely vulnerable. No one is saying that we are likely to witness a return to the days of extreme terror in Punjab. Yet, Punjab is a rim land (border) state and its strategic significance is also its physical connect with J&K.
Arc of Terror
Expanding the arc of turbulence and terror into its geographical region can only be a worrisome threat to India’s security community. The failure to blow the railway tracks has been providential. We cannot push our luck too far.
After Ufa, were we awaiting such a strike? The IB sector and portions of the LoC did go live with exchange of firing but it stopped at that. It was an excellent ruse; grant it to our adversary. Low level activity and then ceasefire, before hitting hard. This fits in well with established patterns of the past when violence of some form was always timed with high profile diplomatic activity to convey a message.
However, the proliferating terrorist activity spreading from Jammu into India’s hinterland is definitely worrisome. Knee jerk reactions of deploying the army must be avoided. The Punjab and J&K police have to coordinate intelligence and the BSF needs a larger footprint along the IB. The IB fence has to be made high-tech with induction of better surveillance systems.
All these need to be done almost overnight. More such attempts can be expected and the parleys that are set up for the next few months have to address this with Pakistan before sentiments in the street demands more proactive action across.