On the LoC, in fact

Written by Shekhar Gupta | Updated: Jan 21 2013, 08:01am hrs
Before we decide whether to be liberal or jingoistic following the recent incidents on the LoC, it might be useful to check out the facts. Because facts are important even in times when the idea in many of our TV studios and among some of the commentariat seems to be, dont confuse me with facts.

That two Indian soldiers, or rather non-commissioned officers (NCOs), were ambushed, killed and their bodies mutilated, is indeed a fact. That a Pakistani NCO was killed, and another probably a commissioned officer grievously injured in another sector along the LoC, is a fact as well. That these hunting missions that sometimes involved, sadly, head-hunting were not uncommon along the LoC in the past, is a fact. That there has been heavy and frequent exchange of fire along the LoC in recent weeks, is also a fact. Then what are we arguing about

Lets also examine some currently growing beliefs now and put them to the test of facts. That there was never such a thing as a truce on the LoC, that it has always been ablaze. That there has never been a peace dividend and there never will be, so why waste time. That infiltration, militancy and jihadi propaganda have continued unabated. And the hope that the truce will give Indias army some respite to take some of its units back to its conventional deployment or training areas, and the Pakistanis the reassurance to move some of theirs to their more problematic western borders, is a sham.

These are the beliefs on which much of the angry commentary has been based over the past fortnight. Now check these out against facts, some of which I have put together with the help of my colleague and Associate Editor Muzamil Jaleel, who is not just brilliant and brave but also a kind of widely acknowledged dean of the school of Kashmir reporters. This is the 10th year since the truce negotiated between Musharraf and Vajpayee (in case the BJP needs a reminder). Each year since then, the number of armed forces casualties in all of Kashmir, and particularly on the LoC, has fallen. In all of 2012, for example, the army lost two lives on the LoC (in fact, in all of Kashmir), while during the peak years before the truce, when the LoC was really ablaze, we lost one or two every day and so, for sure, did the Pakistanis, if not more. The Indian soldier has never been anything but aggressive and effective on the LoC, and again, in the more critical flashpoints along the LoC, India has the tactical advantage, contrary to self-flagellating propaganda by some self-styled apologists. In 1965, 71, and many minor engagements since then, we have successfully nibbled territories while it was open season along what used to be the Cease Fire Line (CFL), rationalising our tactical posture to our advantage. Siachen is one of the more notable examples of this active soldiering. Please see the table that demonstrates three things: that the armed forces casualties have consistently fallen since 2006. In fact, in the years just preceding the ceasefire, the army had lost anything between 400-600 lives per year, and that is not counting the Kargil surge of 1999. Of course, the Pakistanis suffered even greater loss of life. So in its 10th year, the ceasefire has already saved a minimum of 8,000-10,000 soldiers lives on both sides.

The second thing the table tells you is the equally steep decline in the numbers of militants killed. And third, reduction in the number of militant operations carried out by our armed forces and police. Does it mean that the jihadis are having a free run Not quite. It means, on the contrary, that militant activity has declined to almost negligible levels. That may, in fact, be the trigger for the recent Pakistani activism on the LoC. Another fact to challenge the last couple of beliefs comes, inevitably, from the Pentagon. In a 2010 report to Congress, titled Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, the Pentagon talks of over 1,30,000 PAKMIL deployed to the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and NWFP. More than 1,00,000 PAKMIL troops were moved from the eastern border with India. Surely, most of them have not been thinned out from along the LoC. But these formations were integral to the Pakistan armys Order of Battle (ORBAT) against India. What suits us better To have them facing the other way now, or back where they used to be

My friend, and senior Panjab University alumnus, Sushma Swaraj, gave the call to bring ten heads for one. I would humbly say two things to her. Trust the army. This is a very, very tough army, brutal, battle-hardened and one with a more than even score in exchanges across the LoC. This is not some soft, under-equipped, shoddily led army of 1962. And whatever our complaints with budget cuts and acquisition delays, it is enormously better equipped than Pakistans. In fact, the words that Sundarji once used to describe how his army could deal with Pakistan are enormously more relevant now: en passant. So they know what to do, and when, and for heavens sake, theyve been doing it more than effectively even in the days, to repeat a phrase we used earlier, when the LoC was really ablaze.

And the second thing Well, please allow a repetition once again. This time the story of a 2001 conversation with Atal Bihari Vajpayee on why he invited Pervez Musharraf to Agra (Two PMs, one big idea, National Interest, August 1, 2009, http://goo.gl/WKv1X). He said he was informed of the death of Major Anshoo Saxena (8 Sikh, seconded to 6 Rashtriya Rifles) in a clash with militants in Kupwara. Since the family was from Lucknow, his constituency, he called his father who spoke bravely, even calmly, and said, why only one son, if he had more, he would sacrifice them for his country. Vajpayee said, he thought, how many families will keep losing their boys like this in both countries Didnt his generation have a responsibility to try and put an end to it That is when he decided to accept an approach from the Pakistani High Commissioner to L.K. Advani and invited Musharraf to Agra. Remember, once again, Major Saxena died on June 25, the summit was held from July 14. Vajpayee let his army fight and exact retribution before, during and after Kargil. But he never gave up his quest for peace.

He can no longer speak, sadly, but he will draw some satisfaction from the fact that the truce he sealed in 2003 has saved nearly 10,000 soldiers lives on both sides, and several times more of innocent civilians. He will be equally disappointed with the recent clamour to legitimise, mandate and even incentivise head-hunting as a normal soldiering activity. As also with the turning away of sportsmen, poets, singers and actors. It is a venture in which he, as well as his successor, have invested so much intellect and emotion.

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