The information of the martyrdom of the Commanding Officer, Major and two other ranks of 21 Rashtriya Rifles (RR), and an Inspector of JKP, at Handwara, North Kashmir on 03 May 2020, has been received with great anguish by the Army community at large. Cumulated is the operation of 05 April 2020 at Keran Sector, in which five terrorists were killed, and five of the Special Forces (SF) personnel lost their lives. Both these were in North Kashmir and possibly linked. While the former was a counter-terrorist operation, the latter was counter-infiltration. Both operations were undertaken by very well-trained and experienced units – 21 RR and SF. The data published shows that precisely each and every day of 2020, there has been a minimum one incident of either ceasefire violation (CFV), terrorist initiated incident against the security forces, counter-infiltration or counter-terrorist operations. As the incidents clearly prove, infiltration is being attempted regularly, though mostly gets blocked by the counter-infiltration grid. As is well-chronicled infiltration cannot happen without express connivance of the Pakistan Army establishment – the training that is imparted, the provision of warlike stores and equipment and the posts that facilitate infiltration.
Many writers have envisioned geo-political and geo-strategic reset thanks to the global pandemic – COVID19. It could be but normal to have similar expectations of a change of attitude of Pakistan ‘establishment’, to the long-standing adversarial relationship. The eventology of the last 45 days bespeaks differently. Let it be unequivocally stated that any mindset change in Pakistan is most unlikely. It must thence be taken that what has not happened in 72 years, and what has become a State policy, is bound to remain, ad infinitum, for that is the raison d’être of Pakistan.
Contextually, it may be relevant to gaze at the insides of Pakistan. The ‘selected’ PM seems to be getting on the incorrect side of the ‘establishment’ with deemed failure in the 20 months, on the score of both politics and economics. The high moral pedestal has taken a severe beating with the wheat and sugar corruption scandal that has prima facie implicated those close to the PM. The 18th Constitutional Amendment that gave provincial autonomy and the provinces 53-57% of the total financial award is the bone of contention between the Centre and the provinces and is fuelling up the fire of dissent. The ‘establishment’ is more interested in the increase of defence budget while the government is crying over the debt servicing expenses and developmental issues. If the declaration of Covid19 lockdown on 22 and 23 March showed differences between the PM and the DG ISPR, the implementation has widened them.
Succumbing to pressure from the hardline clerics, the PM allowed conditional congregational prayers, in mosques during the month of Ramzan with a 20-point plan. The conduct of the prayers since has been broadly violative of the agreed upon plan, endangering the drive to curb the spread of coronavirus. The economy is in dire straits for a very long time, with Pakistan having borrowed around $61 billion from international lenders in last five and half years, from July 2014 to December 2019, as per Sectoral Analysis of Foreign Economic Assistance. The foreign exchange remittances, FDI and FII are way downscaled; the foreign exchange reserves are very low at $18billion. The emergency loans from IMF and World Bank (approx $2bn) are enough for just debt servicing and routine management! And to top it, there have been 16 incidents related to terror in Pakistan since 01 Jan 2020 – six in April alone! It has also removed around 3,800 terrorists from its watch-list without any public explanation. To top is, the ‘establishment’ has placed an ex DG ISPR – Lt Gen (retied) Asim Saleem Bajwa, as Special Assistant to the Prime Minister for information and broadcasting, to exercise requisite control. As it is, with regularity the PM in his speeches and tweets, as also the Pak COAS has continually been referring to Kashmir!
That India has significant conventional superiority is a given, though this superiority has not deterred Pakistan from the continual support to terrorism in J&K. In posturing, it has relied on nuclear weapons – despite their political nature – to attempt to counteract on Indian conventional superiority, and to continue proxy war ad lib. Even the strong responses to acts of terrorism, the surgical strikes of Sep 2016 and the Balakot attack of Feb 2019, have not deterred terrorism. Similarly, own domination and occasional casualties inflicted across the Line of Control (LOC) are obviously being considered, acceptable. In sum, hence, despite the obvious internal turbulence, Indian conventional superiority and the turmoil of the global pandemic, Pakistan has calculatedly retained, its posture of anti-Indianism and retaining proxy war as State policy.
India must develop a framework of strategic defensive and offensive options against Pakistan. The usage of strong non-kinetic, non-contact offense will be most advantageous, based upon weaponised information, finance, cyber and the like – against Pakistan. India has the potential to establish effective cyber defence and offence options. We must utilise expertise and infrastructure to ensure permanent monitoring and exploitation of social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, and the dark web. Psychological warfare, fake news campaigns, propaganda, subversion, intimidation, demoralisation are commonplace in combat. We too need to recognise their importance. Narrative Warfare and influence operation are another realm that India needs to venture into, to generate long term influence. We also require countering adverse propaganda by Pakistan by focused plans. For this there is need of conjoined team of experts of security forces, social psychologists, and media/ social media experts. India will require an effective bouquet of quid pro quo hybrid options, a quiver full of variable arrows that can be selectively employed, to target what will pain the ‘establishment’ most, within the nation.
The terrorists in Kashmir Valley, having been radicalised and indoctrinated accept the reality of inevitable death eventually at the hands of the security forces. On the beckoning of controlling masters from across the LOC, they engage the security forces, cause damage, disengage and melt away to safe havens. The terrorists are also an admixture of well-trained and under-trained and operate to a plan. With this proxy war having been on for nearly thirty years, the terrorists know the terrain, or have guides, and know the populace. They also understand the SF tactics largely, though these might vary somewhat, situationally. The strengths of the SF and the shortfalls, if any in equipment, would have been implanted in the terrorists’ minds during their graded training regimen in Pakistan. They might also be receiving information of movement of SF from their operating bases, and broadly piece together the schedules through the over ground workers (OGWs). They also fathom that SF are sensitive to collateral damage and accusations of human rights violations, which they themselves have scant regard to. The terrorists would also have logistical sustenance arranged through sympathisers or OGWs.
As has been stated above, and repeated herein, support to terrorism in J&K is the raison d’être of Pakistan, a stated policy that it will not jettison, at least in the foreseeable future. The terrorists and the OGWs, trained and micro-managed by masters across the LOC, operate with guile and deviousness. The SF and RR in the Valley floor and the infantry units on the LOC are very well trained and experienced, know the terrain in detail, operate with grit and determination and exhibit immense courage and bravery. However, there may be need for revitalisation, for which three postulations are proffered:
- As the counter-terrorist operations are destined for substantive time, and in larger measure will be undertaken by RR and SF units, there is need to upgrade the capabilities of the cutting edge. Many issues are being addressed, like the induction of Sig Sauer SIG716 7.62×51 mm assault rifles. The operational sub-units and soldiers require tactical communication with high speed hands-free, helmet mounted data and voice transmission communication system, backed up by highly secure, reliable, seamless, responsive TAC C3I. There is also a need for hands free night vision goggles that include an infrared LED and an LED warning light (which is built into the unit to remind the user that the infrared LED can be seen by others who are using night vision devices). Mandatory are investments in intelligence, satellites and drones for close surveillance and target acquisition, and in time there will be need for armed UAVs, to be responsive in real time. Though there will be imponderables and contingencies that will present at the zero hour, the imperativeness is of need for a near real-time operational picture to those involved in the operation, the Commanding Officers, and up the chain. Other issues of personal protection and house-entry equipment are equally important.
- Constancy of learning from each operation is very important, as it shows the changes in terrorists and OGWs tactics. While after-action reports are prepared by respective units and formations, and requisite inquiries held, there is need for obtaining a larger picture and a higher level of professionalism. For that, specialist officers in teams, called say Operations Reconstruction Teams, be formed, to move at the wake of a major operation and reconstruct the same, for the express purpose of learning from it, and creating knowledge modules.
- The Corps Battle Schools (CBS) should train also on actuals, by reconstructing events and tasking inductees to practice operations and learn from them. The CBS must revitalise training dynamically, to ensure the units and personnel to remain on top of the situation.
Indian armed forces must contemplate that the adversarial Pakistan policy will continue as hitherto fore for indeterminable future, where Pakistan will aim at keeping the J&K pot boiling, without overt military aggression and crossing the threshold of open warfare. The counter-infiltration along the LOC and counter-terrorism operations in the Kashmir Valley will remain to be mainstay for the Army. Counter-infiltration and counter-terrorist operations are cat and mouse games, in which dynamism is an imperative. This has long-term implications, and India has to prepare to contest this continued aggression, strategically and tactically.
Refer South Asia Terrorism Portal at https://www.satp.org/terrorist-activity/india-jammukashmir
 Imran Ali Kundi, The Nation, Pak borrows $61 billion from int’l lenders in last five and a nalf years, 30 April 2020, accessed at https://nation.com.pk/30-Apr-2020/pak-borrows-dollar-61-billion-from-int-l-lenders-in-last-five-and-half-years
 Geeta Mohan, Pakistan removes 3,800 from terrorist watchlist without explanation: Report India Today, New Delhi, April 21, 2020, accessed at https://www.indiatoday.in/world/story/pakistan-terrorist-watchlist-names-removed-fatf-1669384-2020-04-21