January 15, 2013

Fight Pakistan fire with fire, Army chief orders commanders on LoC

By Rajat Pandit, TNN | Jan 15, 2013, 12.24 AM IST

NEW DELHI: India on Monday demonstrated its renewed resolve to fight fire with fire along the volatile Line of Control, directing all its battalion commanders on the fiercely-contested boundary to retaliate with all their might if the Pakistani Army provokes them by violating the ceasefire or pushing militants into J&K.

"I expect all my commanders on the LoC to be aggressive and offensive in face of provocation and fire...No passivity is expected from them. Their response has to be measured and for effect," said a tough-talking General Bikram Singh, a day ahead of Army Day celebrations.

The fact that the Army chief issued an unequivocal warning to Pakistan to cease and desist from misadventures along the border is a confirmation there is going to be no immediate de-escalation of tension, especially as a defiant Pakistan refused to own up to the beheading of an Indian soldier and mutilation of another's body by its elite SSG commandos on January 8.

Speaking around the same time that Pakistan brushed aside India's charges at the brigadier-level flag meeting at the Chakkan-Da-Bagh crossing point in Poonch district, Gen Singh accused Islamabad of resorting to "outright lies".

Pakistani Army's cross-border raid on January 8 was a "premeditated and pre-planned" operation that would have needed at least 10 days of preparation and reconnaissance, he said. The Indian jawan's beheading was a "gruesome, most unpardonable act" that went against the "basic ethics" of soldering and tenets of the Geneva Convention, he added.

Although Gen Singh emphasized the current tension would not escalate into a conflagration, holding that several stages have to be crossed before the two countries go to a full-scale war, he did admit the first stage of the spiral had been reached.

The blunt acknowledgment coincided with hardening of the anti-Pakistan mood which would test those in the government who want tension to be defused for the sake of the peace process. The toughening of the popular sentiment found reflection in Congress's endorsement of Shiv Sena's opposition to the participation of Pakistani players in the India Hockey League as well as BJP's bellicose exhortation that Indian troops decapitate 10 Pakistani soldiers for each Indian one.

Gen Singh said the Indian Army was quite clear that it "reserved the right to retaliate at a time and place of its choosing", confirming what TOI had reported on January 10.

India has reasons to be furious. This is not the first time Indian soldiers have been beheaded by the Pakistani Army-jihadi combine, with their heads being taken back as "trophies" across the LoC, admitted Gen Singh.

Infamous Pakistani terrorist and al-Qaida member Ilyas Kashmiri was part of the raid on an Indian post in the Nowshera sector in 2000, for instance, during which one Indian soldier of the 17 Maratha Light Infantry was beheaded and six others killed.

More recently, two jawans were decapitated during the turnover between the 19 Rajput and 20 Kumaon Regiments in the Keran sector in July, 2011. "We have to put pressure on Pakistan, nationally and internationally, to make its Army accountable," said Gen Singh.

"Though the beheading has angered us at the strategic level, it was a tactical operation and we will respond at the tactical level now...We do not plan to up the ante. We will uphold the ceasefire as long as the adversary respects it but will retaliate if provoked," he added.

The Army chief admitted the January 8 cross-border raid had exposed "some tactical lapses" on the Indian side but said this was not the time for an inquiry to be conducted since it would affect the morale of the forces. For now, even as corrective measures are underway, "we won't remain passive when attacked", he said.

On the Siachen Glacier-Saltoro Ridge imbroglio, the Army has told the government it should not let go of the "strategic gains" achieved after shedding a lot of blood - over 850 Indian soldiers have died in the glacial heights since 1984 - till the "trust deficit" with Pakistan is bridged.

Pakistan has to first agree to the sequential pre-requisites of authentication, delineation and demarcation of the relative troop positions before any talk of demilitarization. "The area is strategically important for us and we should continue to hold the heights," said Gen Singh.

No comments: