Lt General S.A.Hasnain
People who meet me socially often get into discussions on J&K. I find most of them have visited the state as tourists and have considerable interest in the security situation. Besides never being able to perceive why there is such large presence of the uniform all over the Valley, especially the tourist spots, the airport or even the Boulevard, other most common question to me is something which astounds. They invariably feel that the Indian Army has failed in its job because we do not seem to be able to stop Pakistan sponsored terrorists infiltrating into J&K. Valid point, which the Army’s PR machinery has never been able to explain with any degree of credibility. It needs a detailed commentary to allow the right perception to sink in. For that we need to go back to 1988-89 and progressively see how the J&K theatre’s threats panned out, with focus on the role of infiltration.
The Situation: 1987-89
It is not necessary to describe the triggers which sent the Valley in flames. The apparent strategy Pakistan followed was to seize the moment when all parameters of India’s security were almost rock bottom. In 1988-89 four of our frontline army formations (about 20,000 men each) were deployed in Sri Lanka, Punjab had an ongoing major internal security problem and Operation Blue Star had made handling the situation even more tentative.
The Bofors case took away attention from what was building up in Kashmir and the political front was in turmoil after Rajiv Gandhi’s exit. All Pakistan needed was the induction of enough young Kashmiris trained in fighting the guerilla way led by a few foreign terrorists and SSG men from their own army. The Diabolic Zia Plan, conceived in 1977, would then be underway in execution. The Indian Army’s Line of Control (LoC) posture had a ‘conventional military deployment’ just barely sufficient to ensure the ‘sanctity’ of the LoC. These terms need brief explanation. The Army’s role and task was to prevent any encroachment on the LoC. It did then and does that even today by holding static picquets and posts; the gaps between them are patrolled regularly.
This ensures the ‘sanctity’ of the LoC. Surveillance existed for conventional war when the adversary could make attempts to infiltrate large columns to attack from the rear. In conventional operations the adversary can at maximum attempt one or maximum two such operations all along the LoC if it has to have any success at all. Small scale infiltration (strength of 6-8) could hardly be catered for.
The Commencement of Infiltration
What the Army’s conventional posture on the LoC came up against in 1988-90 and thereafter, was first the infiltration of some Pakistani servicemen in small numbers making use of multiple routes much as they did in Op Gibraltar in 1965. These formed the core teams for recruitment who motivated and selected the volunteer youth for jihad and sent them across the LoC through exfiltration along different routes, into PoK. The ease of infiltration and exfiltration of cadres and recruits was thus established. In fact these were commonly referred to as ‘highways’ denoting the relative absence of capability of the Army to stop this movement. The Pakistani sponsors used the services of guides from the LoC belt who knew the terrain blindfolded having spent all their lives there. They could always outwit our troops who usually spent two year tenures in their areas of deployment. Ground knowledge of troops could never compare with local guides. To many this may sound extremely critical of the Indian Army. It actually isn’t when you realize that an Army is not trained, equipped or psychologically conditioned to prevent irregular movement across a linear alignment on a 24×7 basis. That it has mastered it since then is a measure of its extreme flexibility.
Perceptions among our countrymen and specifically among the media have been largely based upon visits to the traditional tourist spots and the Valley floor of Kashmir; they have never been enabled a perception of the difficulties of the actual terrain where the LoC exists.
Most media persons get a faraway glimpse while driving along the ‘media route’ to Uri’s popular Kaman AmanSetu or when they are taken on a structured tour by helicopter to the famous Shararat post in Tangdhar. None ever visit the very famous landmarks along the Northern Gullies or PirPanjal because they don’t know enough about them. They can go only where the Army wishes to take them.
Getting back to the progressive increase of infiltration and its reduction in subsequent years, it is important to know that in 1989 a single formation (division) of the Army had the responsibility of the LoC in the Valley sector. There were insufficient troops to increase the density of deployment on the LoC to cater against small scale infiltration. During 1988-91 the trend of exfiltration of recruits and infiltration of trained cadres, leadership and military wherewithal continued. Switching from ‘sanctity of LoC’ to effective ‘counter infiltration’ was a near impossible military task. In 1991 it may be recalled by some, how an Indian Army post was attacked by Pakistani regulars in the Keran sector. That commenced a series of such threats forcing the Army to take measures to strengthen the defensive posture which opened gaps for infiltration, even as it retaliated in kind. Not before the arrival of the first Rashtriya Rifles (RR) units did some semblance of balance start returning. Redeployment from Ladakh reinforced the LoC to a great strength and reserve units could then start deployment in the second tier. Important to remember that through the 90s and even later the Valley had infiltration from every direction; even over the Pir Panjal. Since the training camps (ultimately 42 of them) were spread all over PoK, even well south of the Pir Panjal in the Kotli, Nikial and Mangla areas on the PoK side, infiltration took place into the Jammu division too. Here staging areas and bases were established. Once inducted there, terrorists could infiltrate further over the Pir Panjal into the Valley. They made use of its high passes where there was almost no Army or Police deployment. The arrival of the RR made a major difference as it deployed into South Kashmir and took charge of the Pir Panjal. For many years the terrorist firm base for infiltration into the Valley employing the Pir Panjal routes was at Hilkaka( destroyed subsequently only in 2002).
Infiltration : The Concept Adopted by Pakistan
Principally the concept from the Pakistan side was to employ trained local Kashmiri youth to foist a supposed home grown militancy. They were first recruited, then exfiltrated, trained and then infiltrated back across the LoC. This proved counterproductive as the chances of being interdicted during the two moves over the LoC started increasing.
As the energy levels among local militants started to wane more foreign terrorists were inducted for fixed tenures, with handsome remuneration on return or guaranteed funds to their survivors if killed. The idea was that certain threshold strength of terrorists would be built inside the Valley to undertake hit and run operations against the Security Forces (SF), keep the flag of resistance flying all over the Valley and intimidate the fence sitters.
Much as the Army would achieve in terms of operations in the hinterland at the end of each year the sum total was always against it. That is because even if an average of 1100-1200 terrorists were neutralized in a single year, Pakistan could quite successfully induct 1500 or more through infiltration. The lofty jagged peaks rising to 14000 feet, broken ground, and jungle which abounds the terrain along the LoC was dominated by the Army night and day but small numbers (6-8) could slip past silently even at 10-15 feet distance from ambushes; there were very limited number of night vision devices. The nooks and crannies in this terrain always work for the infiltrator. In the cusp between winter and summer terrorists took risk to infiltrate when snow levels were still high.
Yes, in theory any infiltration can be stopped a hundred percent but in theory only. That is by having one Indian Army soldier at every one meter along the 750 Km LoC, something which can remain only in the figment of imagination. The task remained split between the protection of posts and piquet’s, sanctity of the LoC (no encroachments or intrusions) and counter infiltration. The three ways tasking always created a dilemma which was further accentuated by exchanges of artillery fire. Terrorist attrition was reasonably high but for every terrorist killed on or near the LoC it was estimated that at least three got through. In spite of the successes that the Army achieved the counter infiltration grid till as late as 2000-2001 (post-Kargil), could not be optimized. Ambushes were randomly deployed based on appreciation of ground and previous knowledge but there was no uniformity of pattern or concept to defeat infiltration.
Lt General S.A.Hasnain