New military calculus on the J&K border

Indian soldier in action. (Representative photo)
Indian soldier in action. (Representative photo)

The masterstroke of Modi government’s Kashmir policy namely the J&K Reorganization Act has put Pakistan in utter disarray. It has shattered many of its self-created myths. Its biggest embarrassment is how to arrest the fast dwindling trust that it supposed the valley-based Kashmiris reposed in her bombast. That is why in a recent golf play sideline, Pakistan Army’s Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had quipped to one or two confidants that there were no deaths following the Indian Reorganization Act 2019 in Kashmir and “things cannot be allowed to go like that. Something has to be done.”

Pakistan exhausted all options of possible reaction to India’s Kashmir move. The OIC did not come to its rescue. The Arab countries gave her a cold shoulder. China firmly told her not to involve her regular troops inside Kashmir and Russia admonished both China and Pakistan not to precipitate the conflict in Ladakh region.

The Islamic radical organizations spearheaded by Let, JeM, The India Front and the splinters like Ansar, HuM etc. remained Pak Army’s last resort. Therefore, when the Army Chief called the second meeting on 16 August at GHQ, he had ordered video conferencing with the chiefs of these jihadist organizations also.

Finally, Pakistan decided to accelerate infiltration and intensify border firing and shelling at as many vulnerable points as is possible. The strategy is to convey an impression to the Kashmiris that Pakistan will not show any relent in its designs of disturbing the border peace. We have seen that during the summer Pakistan has been increasing border firing all across the long border from Gurez and Telel down the vulnerable points along the Krishnaganga Valley and the Rajouri-Poonch-Mender sector. At some places on the LoC, Pakistani troops are at advantageous positions like Krishna Ghati in Poonch or Nowgam sector in Kupwara district. The aim is multifold; to give support to infiltrating jihadist, to keep Indian troops on tenterhooks and thus reduce pressure on Sino-Indian border in Eastern Ladakh, and most importantly to provoke India into major retaliatory action so that Pakistan can go to the international community and cry wolf. However, India is not going to be provoked into an emotional reaction and Kashmiris of the valley are not expecting any big favourable result from intense Pak firing.

Of late, and on the instance of China, Pakistan has decided to integrate the region of Gilgit-Baltistan now under its illegal occupation into the mainland. The Pakistan Election Commission has been directed to take legal and administrative steps in this connection. The decision is of the Army and not the civilian government. China has been insisting on Pakistan to define the status of Gilgit-Baltistan because CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) passes through the region which China has formally recognized as disputed. Incorporation of Gilgit-Baltistan has deeper ramifications than just the Chinese angle.

Before we proceed to deal with that part of the analysis, let us have a word on the increasingly worsening situation on the border in Kashmir. Firing and shelling have been a long term policy of Pakistan to scare the local population on the Indian side so that clandestine infiltration of jihadists is not detected and not challenged. The departure of locals from the border enables Pakistan to concentrate more on the strategy of digging tunnels through which arms and ammunition could be transshipped. Pakistan has also increased drone-dropping of arms and ammunition. Together with that, local Kashmiri terrorists trained in PoK or training camps in higher reaches of Kashmir have intensified their attacks because in the 16th August meeting of the Pak Army top brass at GHQ it was decided to send the “tanzeem” meaning terrorist organization volunteers to the launching pads on the night of 20-21 August for infiltration. Pakistan’s ISI deliberately leaked the Operation Plan to convey a message to the Kashmiris that Pakistan is fully seized of their “problems”. India has very wisely concentrated on the developmental programmes as well as mass contact programmes in Kashmir Valley and people are increasingly getting disenchanted with Pakistan’s bombast.

In some circles it is hotly discussed that to put an end to Pakistan’s calumny once for all and stop the border firing and shelling, Indian military planners should consider recapture of Gilgit-Baltistan and cut off the area from the reach of Pakistan. Their narrative is that India should leave Muzaffarabad untouched but forge an entry upstream Krishnaganga by building a new bridge for the passage of Indian troops to Gilgit region. Thus with Indian troops in Gilgit and at Uri, the entire Krishnaganga Valley becomes somewhat encircled or isolated and insecure and any attempt of infiltration can be easily thwarted. Recapture of Gilgit will give us access to Wakhan and Afghanistan. This would also thwart the forays of PLA, and China will think twice before making any adventure. This plan has to be meticulously discussed and analyzed at the highest planning level at the Army Headquarters. We need a formidable assault force with equally formidable war machinery to bring this plan to completion. We have a legal caveat in taking Gilgit-Baltistan as it is our area illegally occupied by China.

It is rather surprising that a very interesting and perceptive reportage filed by the Hindustan Times of 23 September has gone somewhat unnoticed by ordinary commentators though, of course, echelons at the army headquarter will have taken note of it. It merits a mention at this point. Tasking up the thread that it was General Bajwa who conceived the idea of integrating Gilgit-Baltistan, the HT writes that Moeed Yusuf, Special Assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan on National Security Division and Strategic Planning, has been a principal player in Islamabad’s decision to revoke the notional autonomy granted to Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and incorporate the disputed region as one of Pakistan’s five provinces, Pakistan watchers in New Delhi said, describing Pakistan’s young National Security Adviser as one of the project’s key driving forces. Looking at the assimilation of Gilgit-Baltistan into Pakistan mainland, Islamabad takes into consideration the usually choked and overcrowded Straits of Malacca in the Indo-Pacific which provides passage to nearly 80 per cent of the world trade.

Pak Army has also in its view the opposition by the local people to the CPEC which according to their calculation will one day pose a serious threat to the environment and ecology of the entire region as work progresses and pollution sits.

The effort to change Gilgit-Baltistan’s disputed status also fits in well with Moeed Yusuf’s long-standing project to turn the Line of Control with India into an International Border. Back in 2009 when he was still an academic and building his ties to the establishment in Pakistan and the United States, Moeed Yusuf had advocated converting the LoC into the International Border, with both sides maintaining sovereign control over the respective parts of Jammu and Kashmir.

A Pakistani watcher has observed that Moeed Yusuf had visited New Delhi in 2018 where he had been exploring the possibility of formalizing the LoC as the international border between the two countries. “By then, he had actually entrenched himself in the establishment in Washington via the US Institute of Peace and worked closely with the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence,” he said. In December 2019 Imran Khan picked him as a special adviser but not without some murmur in the Pakistani bureaucracy. Even one South Asian expert at the USIP namely Dr Christine Fair also alleged that Yusuf had been sharing sensitive information with Pakistani agencies using his position and access within the USIP. Creditably, as part of a sensitive Pakistan establishment, his understanding and familiarity with the American system helped to position him as the main strategic thinker for the Pakistani leadership, particularly on dealing with the US Administration, Congress, bureaucracy and the think tanks.

A close reassess of Yusuf’s line of thinking suggests that he would not mix up the issues but treat the solution of Kashmir problem irrespective of its element of violence. But what the Indian policy planners are convinced is that Moeed Yusuf does not favour Pakistan opting for the mediation of the US on Kashmir because knowing the propensities of the US policy planners, he is very much apprehensive that the US  could come up with the Trump-like Middle East Plan. That would spoil  Pakistan’s case.

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