Col Jaibans Singh
Jammu and Kashmir is the Northern most state of the Indian Union. The total area of the state is 222,236 square kilometres. Unfortunately, a large chunk of the territory, up to 120,799 square kilometres, is under occupation of Pakistan and China. As a frontier state the strategic significance of Jammu and Kashmir is derived from its location bordering two powerful neighbouring countries that are inimical towards India. The centrality of the state in most of the wars fought since Independence underlines the need to be ever prepared and vigilant for conflict and aggression. Given the strategic significance, its security holds primacy over all other aspects. Any discussion on Indian defence would be wholly incomplete without careful consideration of the security of Jammu and Kashmir.
In the crux of the problem are the Indian territories under occupation of Pakistan – Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Together the two areas form Pakistan Occupied Jammu Kashmir (PoJK). The matter gains criticality on consideration of the manner in which Pakistan is blatantly assisting China in colonisation and militarisation of PoJK despite it being a disputed territory. Chinese presence in the occupied territories, presently aimed at the obnoxious objective of colonising and subjugating the region for economic gains, also has a deep rooted military signature. In case of a conflict arising between India and China over the border dispute, this presence and the support of Pakistan will ensure that Indian troops guarding this area are not withdrawn to bolster the Ladakh and the Arunachal sectors where the fighting will unfold.
The tension with China along the line of actual control in Jammu & Kashmir has witnessed resurgence of late. A major incursion took place in on April 15, 2013, when a contingent of about 30 Chinese soldiers came 10-12 kms inside Indian territories in Eastern Ladakh. The situation was diffused at the diplomatic, political and military levels. Incursions in Ladakh gained centre-stage once again in September 2013, when the BJP alleged occupation of 640 sq kms of Indian territories on the line of actual control by the Chinese. In this instance also the Defence Minister issued a placatory statement in Parliament to assuage apprehensions. India will need to firm up its policy with regard to dealing with such intransigence by China. To take a passive view is clearly not the best way of dealing with a volatile situation of this nature.
It is, however, the matter of internal security in Jammu and Kashmir which has a more critical dimension since the last few decades. Pakistan has been unrelenting in its attempt to spread and maintain the cult of terrorism in the state with the evil design of wresting it from Indian control. The design have been thwarted, in good measure, by the courageous and sustained efforts of the security forces deployed in the state which include the Armed Forces, Para-military forces and JK Police. These security forces were helped and continue to be helped by the locals who wish for a life of peace, progress and development within the fold of Indian democracy.
India constantly witnesses infringement of her sovereignty and territorial integrity by Pakistan along the line of control and the international border. An informal cease fire pact was reached between the armies of India and Pakistan in 2003. The year, 2013, witnessed over 200 violations of this ceasefire, the maximum in a year since the agreement in 2003. A primary reason for these violations is the need to infiltrate terrorists into the Indian territories to keep the pot boiling. Infiltration can be carried out only under cover of fire and for that – violating ceasefire is a must. Terror mongers nurtured by Pakistan are desperate to build on their cadre strength in Jammu & Kashmir; they have the power to pressurise the mighty Pakistan army into assisting them, hence the ceasefire violations.
More invidious than the ceasefire violations are the raids that the Pakistan army is prone to carry out deep into Indian territories. The brutal killing of two brave Indian soldiers by maverick Pakistani troops in January 2013, while they were on duty well within their own territory caused a deep revulsion to the collective Indian psyche. Pakistan blatantly denied the incident and continued with its military adventurism through the year. Yet another ambush by Pakistani soldiers on August 6, 2013 once again deep in Indian territories led to the vicious killing of six Indian soldiers. An assessment of this mindless brutality would lead to a conclusion that Pakistan continues to hold a grudge against India which comes out in the form of such actions; thus the need to stay forever vigilant against hostile acts.
The arena of disruption and separatism in the Kashmir valley also leaves no space for optimism. In the recent past the stage for disruption was set by the execution of Afzal Guru, a prime accused for the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001. He was hanged at Tihar jail on February 9, 2013 after completion of the due process of law. The justified execution became a catalyst to resurrect the dwindling fortunes of the terrorist and separatist forces. Separatists launched a robust calendar of Hartals and Bandhs but after about a month of trying to egg a reluctant population on to the streets they finally gave up.
Terrorists operating in Kashmir were however a different kettle of fish. They got frantic directions from their masters across to cash in on the perceived hostile public sentiment and scale up their activity. The terror mongers put in place a strategy of targeting the security forces with the twin objective of sensationalising their attacks and also inviting a violent retaliation that would cause civilian casualties and thus tarnish the good name of the forces. The security forces took personal loss but ensured that public life and property was not jeopardised thus putting paid to this evil machination. Terrorists also turned their attention towards soft targets like Sarpanches and Panches, where they did achieve some success but not on the scale that their masters desired.
It is quite evident that positioning of adequate forces on ground along the line of actual control, the line of control or the international border in Jammu and Kashmir is imperative. In other words, even if the improving internal security situation dictates reduction of force levels from counter-terrorism duties the quantum of military force deployed in the state for defence purposes cannot be reduced.
The coming time will witness a drawback of the western forces from Afghanistan which may create a new set of security problems for Kashmir. Parliament elections followed by the state assembly elections to be held in the state in 2014 year will pose a special challenge for the security forces. Terror mongers operating from Pakistan are desperate to increase the terrorist strength in Kashmir before the elections which will lead to a further increase in ceasefire violations.
It is in this context that the demand for demilitarisation of the region; reduction in force levels and revocation of the armed forces special powers act (AFSPA) raised at regular intervals, by some lobbies in Kashmir needs to be seen. Militarisation relates to an overpowering and irrepressible military domination. A militarised zone would see forced displacement of people and their relocation in concentration camps, rationing of food and essential items etc. Military authorities would be involved in taxation, use of unpaid civilian labour, forcible confiscation of land and other such extrajudicial activities. The presence of the Indian army in Jammu and Kashmir is quite contrary to the aforementioned parameters. The Army has been deployed in the hinterland of Jammu and Kashmir in response to a premeditated attack on the security of the nation by inimical foreign forces that have a clear agenda of destabilising and disintegrating the country. The Army personnel have exuded exemplary respect for lawful civil authority and have exercised maximum restraint coupled with a humane approach in the face of grave provocation. In any case, deployment of force within the country is dictated by tactical and strategic considerations; therefore, presence of the country’s armed forces in any part of the country does not constitute militarisation. Issues like reduction in the force levels and revocation of AFSPA can be dictated only by security conditions. An overwhelming professional view is that the time is not right to change the security threshold since the terrorist threat, though on the downslide, has not been eradicated completely.
The existing situation bordering on complete normality gives enough reason for cheer since the state witnessed a modicum of peace for the third consecutive year. The coming time, however, will bring with it a new set of challenges. Much has been achieved in Jammu and Kashmir so far as defence and security is concerned but the road ahead is long and full of challenges.