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Surya Gangadharan
Friday , January 18, 2013 at 11 : 59

The big picture: Turbulence along the LoC


How does one assess the events along the Line of Control (LoC) over the last 10 days? Was it only "local dynamics" at play as some officers who have served on the LoC believe or was there a larger strategic intent?

If it was only "local dynamics", meaning Pakistani and Indian battalion commanders taking "the measure of the other", then nothing further need be read into it.

Those who suspect something bigger, say the kind of operation which resulted in the killing of Hemraj and Sudhakar Singh could not have been authorised by any brigade commander. They believe it was cleared either at the Division or the Corps level. Which means the Pakistanis may have planned something bigger and better in the days ahead.

It's important to understand here that the Indian and Pakistani troop strength along the LoC is roughly the same, around 40,000 troops. Each battalion also covers around the same length of frontage, about 10 km. The difference lies in the number of troops at each post. On the Indian side, it's 10 to 15 men, on the Pakistani side sources tell us it could go to as low as five men.

"It tells us something about the Pakistani psyche," said a young officer. "They don't anticipate that we will infiltrate or send terrorists across. Apart from firing across the LoC, they don't see a threat."

Exactly the opposite prevails on the Indian side. Fifteen men are needed to carry out a range of duties, from defending the post to carrying out area-domination patrols and ambushes to stop infiltrators. It's a 24x7 job requiring high level of alertness and the need to stay constantly motivated. It's also boring and routine and people can get careless.

This is where incidents of the kind that resulted in the two Indian jawans being killed happen. It's likely that an inquiry is on to identify how the eight-men patrol, which was on an area-domination exercise outside the fence, got ambushed.

"There's a standard operational procedure that patrols are trained to observe when they come under sudden fire," said the young officer. "The first move is to scatter, distance themselves from the killing zone and then only close in on the enemy."

The probe is expected to determine how the patrol reacted, were there lapses, and if yes, of what kind? Did the men get careless or are there issues higher up the chain, in which case the conduct of the company commander or even the battalion commander could come under scrutiny? The loss of two men in routine cross border firing cannot be helped but in this case a patrol was ambushed and one man beheaded. Careers are at stake and the Army is unforgiving if such faults are proved.

What happens now on the LoC? The present calm in Poonch is welcome but is unlikely to last. Uri, Krishnaghati, Nangi Tekri are favoured routes for infiltrating terrorists. The compulsion for the Pakistanis to return to their "standard operating procedure" is a given. It keeps a section of the Jihadis on their side at a time when Pakistani troops are being killed on the western frontier by other Jihadis (more on that in my next piece). Take solace in that.


More about Surya Gangadharan

Surya Gangadharan is International Affairs Editor at CNN IBN and was in Egypt to cover the anti-government movement. He has covered wars in Afghanistan, the UN intervention in Somalia and Rwanda, elections in Pakistan and the civil conflict in Sri Lanka where he interviewed the top leadership of that time. He has worked for the Straits Times Group in Singapore and also for PTI, the Indian Express and India Today in India.