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Posted at: Nov 24, 2016, 12:36 AM; last updated: Nov 24, 2016, 12:36 AM (IST)

What happens at the Line of Control?

The LoC provides scope to send different messages to stakeholders. Whenever Pakistan finds it difficult to sufficiently activate the Valley hinterland, either due to low strength of terrorists or insufficient energy among the separatist cadres, it resorts to activating the LoC.
What happens at the Line of Control?
CROSSING THE LINE? While for India a quiet LoC is advantageous, the same is not true for Pakistan. The body of head constable Rai Singh of the BSF, who lost his life in a ceasefire violation along the LoC by Pakistan, being brought to Rajouri. Tribune photo

EVEN at the best of times the Indian public remains blissfully ignorant of what happens at the Line of Control (LoC) on a daily basis. Now when the worry is about changing old currency notes for new or catering for the next meal because of lack of new currency, the LoC is far from the mind. It's at times like these that reminders need to be given in the public space on the situation at the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir, where a virtual state of war exists. Public knowledge of this is essential if the correct perception about the state of national security has to be held and not simply taken for granted. The situation at the LoC can dangerously spiral out of control.

Firstly, it is important to know just what  the LoC is. It is the imaginary line demarcated on maps and ground where the two armies of India and Pakistan were located when the ceasefire of 1948 came into being after the first India-Pakistan Conflict, in 1947-48. Then called the Ceasefire Line (CFL), it got demarcated under the Suchetgarh Agreement of 1972, which followed the Shimla Agreement. It differs from the international border (IB), which is the legal uncontentious boundary between two states. The IB is manned by police forces on a non-tactical basis to prevent unauthorised trans-border movement, smuggling and other such illegal activity. The LoC is, however, different. For one, it is manned by the armies on both sides in eye-ball contact. 

Although demarcated and signed on maps, there are contentious disputes about the alignment and many an attempt is made to wrest tactically important ground in own favour by eviction of the adversary, by intimidation  or simply occupation if not strongly held. The well-known notion which exists  is, “Grabbers Keepers”. It manifests in identification of vulnerabilities, a much higher state of alert at these and constant monitoring. In between the LoC and the IB is an awkward phenomenon called the Jammu IB; an alignment which India considers final and uncontentious but Pakistan perceives it as not finalised. It terms it the “Working Boundary”, a term we do not share in vocabulary. It remains manned by the Central Armed Police Forces, the BSF in this case and the Rangers a paramilitary force of Pakistan.

The LoC may still have been a relatively safe place to operate in the 1980s of the 20th Century. The 1990s brought with them the havoc of infiltration which had to be countered all the time, night and day. The task of the Army then became twofold; first maintaining the sanctity of the LoC (no negative change) in alignment and state and second, preventing infiltration. When translated, the first meant holding posts strongly and dominating the gaps by fire and observation; the second meant physical prevention of any unauthorised movement across the nooks and crannies of the broken and extremely dangerous terrain. As Pakistan ratcheted up the infiltration of terrorists and warlike material, the strength of terrorists on the Indian side increased manifold as did the number of tiers of such manned alignments, ably supported by technology and physical obstacles. However, the public needs to know a couple of things about this deployment and the inherent threats that are prevalent at almost all times.

The LoC/Jammu IB provide the scope for sending messages to different stakeholders. When activated, they keep the international community concerned about potentially destabilising exchanges between nuclear armed  neighbours. Whenever Pakistan finds it difficult to sufficiently activate the Valley hinterland either due to low strength of terrorists or insufficient energy among the separatist cadres, it resorts to activating the LoC due to all the above reasons.

The actions on the LoC and Jammu IB currently underway involve major breaches of ceasefire, which means regular fire assaults, using lethal weapons. These also affect the local population, thus drawing more attention. The LoC in the Kupwara sector, which is densely backed with troops in depth, has lesser density along the LoC itself. This is because it is most prone to infiltration through Keran, Machil and the Northern Gallis. The terrain forces larger gaps and isolation of posts. In the desire to cover maximum ground to prevent infiltration and ensure sanctity of the LoC, units here maintain smaller strength in a larger number of posts. This is what the Pakistan army and the terror groups are targeting. Patrolling by the Indian Army is essential. Thus patrols and smaller posts along the LoC become vulnerable when Pakistan's Border Action Teams (BAT) concentrate  to create a local superiority. Intelligence on the broad presence of BATs is usually available, it is the pegging to a narrow location which remains the challenge. The recent casualties inflicted on our troops by BATs is a result of this. The Pakistan army does not have to deploy with a large number of posts as it does not have to execute counter-infiltration nor cater for raids by the Indian Army since India is not infiltrating terrorists to Pakistani territory. However, the Indian Army has struck back quite often in the past and after the recent surgical strikes that fear exists in the Pakistan Army. The devious game has been boldly played by the Indian Army too, giving away some and gaining more. For us, the LoC being quiet is advantageous, quite the opposite of what Pakistan desires.

The machismo on the part of the Pakistan Army is a slow and inevitable way of admitting that the surgical strikes in end September 2016 did take place and they hurt. The Pakistani actions at the LoC now underway are obviously with a view to regain face. This will continue for some time, until the new Pakistan Army Chief settles down. The Indian Army’s surgical strikes have given hopes to the Indian public that each time it will be the same; that is impossible and imprudent. Yet, a LoC-experienced commander will tell you that the options are limitless; from planned fire assaults to trans-LoC strikes dispersed over time and space. That is what the Indian Army will do as an appropriate farewell for Raheel Sharif. 

The writer, a former General Officer Commanding of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, is now a Fellow with the Delhi Policy Group.


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