Millennium Post

Pak army turns radical

Escalation in LoC ceasefire violations by the Pakistani army and in the infiltrations and the simultaneous increase in attacks on Indian Army personnel in Jammu and Kashmir raise three questions: One, does the last week’s Poonch ambush killing five Indian soldiers indicate a change in Pakistan-based terrorist groups’ strategy? Two, has the Pakistani army decided to again go belligerent on the Jammu and Kashmir issue? Do the happenings of the past few weeks reflect a change in the equation between the Pakistani Army bosses and the Nawaz Sharif government
The questions assume importance in the light of the Union Defence Minister AK Antony’s statement in the Parliament, after his initial goof-up, squarely blaming the Pakistani army for the killing of five Indian soldiers in the last week’s Poonch ambush.

The questions need to be dealt with in the backdrop of the post-Partition history of how Pakistan’s successive governments had made overt and covert attempts to grab Jammu and Kashmir. They used army, mujahideen and terrorist bodies to achieve their objective. Later, forced by the deteriorating internal situation, international pressures and realisation about the advantages of peaceful co-existence with their neighbouring mother country, Pakistani rulers twice responded positively to India’s initiative for peace and normalisation of relations.

The first attempt was made during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif-led governments and the second during the Manmohan Singh and the Pakistan army dictator Pervez Musharraf-led governments. But both the attempts were sabotaged first by Musharraf’s Kargil misadventure and the second by the Pakistani terrorists launching major attacks in India and the change of Pakistan government. In 2003, India and Pakistan reached a ceasefire agreement on the LoC.  In 2004, Musharraf also had to commit himself to not to allow the use of Pakistani soil by terrorists, for actions in foreign lands. After periodical violations post-2003, the ceasefire violations started escalating and the Poonch ambush was the 53rd incident this year.

Pakistan failed to honour its second commitment of not allowing its soil to be used by the terrorists to attack other countries. It also did not honour its promise of dismantling the terrorist infrastructure. The ISI-aided training camps located in the Pakistan occupied territory continue to function. Most of the terrorist groups who have been resorting to killings not only in Jammu and Kashmir but also in other parts of India are usually the trainees of such camps. Barring 2008-2010, which witnessed disturbances in Kashmir, the state has virtually been experiencing peace and normalcy in the previous few years. The main reasons for the welcome change included Indian security forces stepped-up counter-militancy operations, diversion of Pakistan army’s attention to its disturbed western areas bordering Afghanistan and the need to deal with the stepped-up terrorist activities within Pakistan.   

However, the happenings of the past few months indicate a shift in the strategy of both the terrorist groups and the Pakistan army’s top brass. There has been a spurt in infiltrations and terrorist violence in Jammu and Kashmir. The terrorists have switched over to making the Indian army personnel as their main target. The most gruesome aspect of such attacks was the Pakistan army men’s barbarity in killing Indian soldiers. On January 8, Pakistani troops beheaded one Indian soldier and gunned down another 500 metres inside Indian territory in the Mandhar sector. In a major action in last June, the Lashker-e-Toiba men attacked an Army convoy at Hyderpora in Srinagar in which eight soldiers were killed. In the last week’s Poonch ambush, a large group led by Pakistan Army’s ‘specialist group’ and including armed terrorists killed five Indian soldiers.   

These incidents raise the possibility of the Pakistan army’s top brass having decided to opt for aggressiveness on the Jammu and Kashmir issue. The objective behind the change in strategy could be to again bring back the now relatively peaceful state on the centre stage and to divert the attention of the countrymen from the escalating terrorist violence in Pakistan and also to have a psychologically neutralising impact on the terrorists. Whatever the reasons, it is apparent that the bonhomie which was supposed to exist between the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif soon after his assuming prime ministership and the Army chief General Kayani seems to have been disturbed with the latter regaining its supremacy.

In May last, Sharif, then Prime Minister-elect, had said in an interview to an Indian newspaper ‘I am determined to restore the authority of the PM’s office. The army will report to the PM who is the boss’. But there have been recent reports that it is Sharif who have paid visits to the Army chief rather than the latter going to Prime Minister for meetings. Sharif said in the interview ‘I am committed to resolving all outstanding issues including Kashmir. The Lahore Declaration of 1999 is a good starting point’. One cannot doubt Sharif’s sincerity as, but for Musharraf’s Kargil misadventure, he and Vajpayee would most probably have reached an agreement on Kashmir in 1999.  

But since the equation between Sharif and Army chief General Kayani, a Musharraf protégé, shows signs of change, he may not have a free hand for pursuing his well-intentioned efforts to resume the process for peaceful and normalisation of relations with India. He will perhaps have to wait until Kayani who may retire in the next few months is replaced by a new army chief.  New Delhi will have to take into account all such developments when it finds the situation conducive for resuming the peace process with Pakistan.
It’s worthwhile to end with the telling observation, ‘Peace is the skillful management of conflict,’ by Boulding Kenneth. 
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