On January 8, 2013 Pakistani soldiers crossed over the ‘Line of Control” in Mandhar sector of J&K and killed two soldiers, beheaded one of them and took the head back as a trophy. Most of the discussion in the media has focused on the response that India has made or should make to this specific act. This note focuses on possible motives and motivation behind this act and how this should shape our response.
As far as the Pakistan Army is concerned the most important event that will shape its behavior in the next two years is the accelerated withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan. This withdrawal provides it a golden opportunity to restore its hegemony in Afghanistan. Ideally the Army would like to reestablish the dominant position it had before the Taliban driven out of Afghanistan and established its headquarters and operating bases in Pakistan (Queta Shura, Wazirstan et al). Failing this it would be happy with a regime that subserves the Pakistan Army’s interests. This is likely to be the central and most vital objective of the Pakistan Army and its primary operational instrument the ISI, during the next two-three years.
The tantalizing hints of a change in Pakistan Army doctrine purportedly downgrading India’s unchallenged position as “sole enemy,” are likely diplomatic publicity designed to restore Western perceptions of Army led Pakistan as a “trusted ally”. At the same time the Jehadis within the Army–ISI and the “Good Taliban” need to be reassured. The following statement of Maj-Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, DG, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) keeps open the possibility of doing both: “Army prepares for all forms of threats. Sub-conventional threat is a reality and is a part of a threat matrix faced by our country. But it doesn’t mean that the conventional threat has receded (quoted in the Express Tribune).”
Signal to Who?
What then could be the motivation for this relatively small but aggressive action across the LOC? Several commentators have asserted that this action is designed to send a signal to the Indian Army. To buttress this argument they have pointed to the increase in cease-fire violations compared to a year ago. It has been argued that with the resumption of military and civilian Aid to Pakistan, the Army is again emboldened to ratchet up hostile actions against India, without fear of a serious response from the Indian Government. The factors mentioned by these analysts are certainly relevant for the assessment of the motivation and timing of specific actions of the Pakistan Army and ISI. However, another possibility is that the hostile action is a signal to Pakistan’s own Jehadi’s , both within the army and outside it.
One of the interesting pointers in this direction is the statement of LeT’s Hafiz Saeed, that this incident was part of the hostile and violent Indian actions across Pakistan and India’s repeated attempts to undermine peace! When a terrorist wanted by the USA, with a reward on his head, a hate monger who gives vitriolic speeches against Indians, talks about “Peace” it is worth noting! Not because it reflects a change of heart, but because it reflects what his handlers would like him to say. The fact that newspapers report that he visited POK a few days before the aggressive act, and may have had a direct or indirect role, suggests that the Army wanted the Jihadists to be fully aware of this action, even if India downplayed it (as perhaps they mistakenly expected). Subsequently he gave an interview to the Us press trying to portray himself as an ordinary person
The second pointer is how quickly Pakistan’s civilian government (EAM Rabani) responded by its diplomatic statement of willingness to refer the incident to the UN, knowing full well that with Pakistan currently chairing the UN security council, India would be more than usually reluctant to refer the incident to anyone outside established bilateral channels. The civilian government has repeatedly faced demands from Pakistani Jihadists to take India to the UN on Kashmir. This was followed by an appeal from the OIC for a fact finding team to J&K. The Army knew beforehand that such an opportunity could arise and perhaps used it as an argument to obtain prior Civilian government approval for limited action on the LOC, that could be used to counter Jehadi criticism of the Army and government “inaction” on Kashmir. A third pointer is the discovery of mines with Pakistani markings from the Maoist insurgents and reports of ISI activity in the troubled Rhongiya areas on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. The Huriyat leaders who visited Pakistan soon after the incident were reportedly told by the Army brass as well as the leaders of the LeT and the JeM not to participate in any Indian Govt peace initiative for the next year. More recently the release of ‘Afghan Prisoners’ purportedly to meet the Afghan demand (for handover of Taliban leaders based in Pakistan) half way and to aid the Afghan peace process has been followed by reports that the released leaders are back fighting the US forces. As the middle ranks of the Taliban fighters had been depleted by US drone strikes, the Pakistan Army as usual thought it could play both sides of the aisle by replenishing depleted Taliban ranks in Afghanistan while presenting this as a peace gesture to the Afghan government (and the USA/UK).
The hostile Pakistani army action across the LOC is a signal to the Pakistani jihadists (once referred to by a Pakistani friend in Washington as “Paltu Kuttas” – ‘Pet dogs’) that the Pakistan army and Government are not abandoning their anti-India policy, in their respective quests: The Army for a dominant role in Afghanistan, financed and underwritten to the maximum extent possible by the USA and the civilian government for normalization of relations with India so as to remove the stigma of being dubbed “terrorist central” and to reduce the control of the Army over the political system and government. The greater challenge for India is therefore to,
(a) Help stave off a fundamentalist takeover of Afghanistan, and (b) Prepare for a renewed threat to India (including J&K) from Pakistan controlled jihadists operating from fundamentalist (re-)controlled regions of Afghanistan. This requires a multipronged Indian effort to increase the cost to the Pakistan Army of a policy of training, financing and directing jihadists and terrorists across the sub-content.
PS: An earlier version of this note was sent to a newspaper for consideration in mid-January, soon after the incident occurred.