Indian soldiers beheaded on LoC : India-Pakistan conflict. The contours of action and counter-reaction are well known. This is not the first time that Pakistan has done something like this with our Indian soldiers. It won’t be the last. The rogues who don Pakistan army fatigues have no respect for any norms. The Indian Army has obviously not taken kindly to two of our jawans being beheaded. There is no reason to doubt their resolve. Rest assured, appropriate response will follow.
However, due to a unique set of circumstances, Indian retaliation cannot remain limited to just military retribution. It must simultaneously be a public and political message.
This is because of two reasons. First, the BJP, while in opposition, had frequently indulged in invective rhetoric against Pakistan. Recall Sushma Swaraj’s demand to bring 10 Pakistani heads if Lance Naik Hemraj’s mutilated body part was not returned. It must therefore be held by the same standard while in power.
Second, Narendra Modi’s self-projected image as a strong leader restricts considerably his options of carrying out a secretive cross-LoC military operation. With Modi at helm, the stakes are high. It is not enough now for Pakistani heads to roll, it must be a public spectacle.
This is an important reason why some details of the 29 September surgical strike were released to media. In any armed conflict between two nuclear nations, the trickiest thing is to achieve the objective while staying within the nuclear threshold.
In this piece, I will focus on the options available before Modi and the areas that need him immediate attention.
What happened at Krishna Ghati sector?
First the details. By now, it is clear that a Border Action Team (BAT) from Pakistan army crossed into the Indian side of LoC and ambushed an Army JCO and a BSF head constable in the Krishna Ghati sector of Poonch on Monday morning. Another Indian jawan sustained splinter injuries.
In a media briefing on Tuesday, KN Choubey, BSF ADG Western Command said: “Taking advantage of the firing from the Pakistan side, BAT forces attacked our jawans and mutilated their bodies”. He added that Constable Rajinder Singh, who was injured, is stable.
The jawans who were killed and suffered mutilation at the hands of Pakistan army have been identified as Naib Subedar Paramjit Singh of 22 Sikh Regiment and Head Constable Prem Sagar of the BSF 200 Battalion.
In a media statement released through Twitter on Monday, the Indian Army Northern Command called it “an unsoldierly act by the Pak Army the bodies of two of our soldiers in the patrol were mutilated” and vowed that “such despicable act of Pakistan Army will be appropriately responded.”
Following the DGMO interaction, Pakistan army’s Inter-Services Public Relations said in a statement that it “did not commit any ceasefire violation on the line of control or a BAT action in Buttal sector (Indian Krishna Ghatti Sector). Indian blame of mutilating Indian soldiers’ bodies is also false”.
It added that “Pakistan army is a highly professional force and shall never disrespect a soldier, even Indian.” It also asked for “actionable intelligence” and warned India against taking any action.
If we ignore the amusing assertion that Pindi khakis are a ‘highly professional force’, it seems quite apparent that Pakistan is apprehensive of India’s retaliation. The denial, too, is interesting.
Beheading is not only a violation of Geneva Convention, it is considered an extremely provocative act. Pakistan’s blatant rebuttal of it despite overwhelming evidence points to some sort of plausible deniability. It might be trying to suggest (as in the past) that the action was carried out by its terrorist proxies.
It is possible that Lashkar operatives were involved because BATs are typically a unit of around 15, consisting of terrorist proxies and Pakistan army’s ‘Special Forces’. Even if there were terrorist proxies involved in beheading, the final responsibility lies with Pakistan army: A fact of which it is only too aware. The more important point is the timing.
How might India respond?
India’s traditional response to Pakistan’s provocation has been ‘strategic patience’, which some say is less of a strategy and more of a forced patience because in reality, India has few options. Nuclear weapons have neutralised traditional military advantage.
Whatever was left of ‘cold start’ doctrine has been put paid by Chinese proximity arising out of its strategic investments in Pakistan. India is well aware that it might have to open two fronts instead of one should it seek to initiate a full-fledged military operation against Pakistan.
Does this mean we must try to reopen the talks process?
The short is answer is: No.
A section of Indian commentariat and strategic circles advocate “talks” as an effective method of de-escalation of tension. This is self-defeating. To begin with, talks can be only be held with an elected, civilian government which unfortunately is not the real custodian of power. Nawaz Sharif has no agency.
Pakistan Army, a bunch of rent-seeking savages who impoverish the State to further its influence and dream of engaging India in a 1000-year war, understands only the language of force.
The first thing is to comprehend is this: India needs a multi-layered Pakistan policy, provided it is interested in investing in such a policy beyond short-term measures to control the narrative. All options, including military and diplomatic, must be on table along with a clear understanding that none of these come without a cost.
India’s aim should be to escalate Pakistan’s cost-benefit ratio while controlling collateral damage. No one wants a nuclear war but Pakistan’s hot-headed generals must be made aware that if such an eventuality takes place, India will emerge with a deep wound but Pakistan will cease to exist.
The surgical strikes — and owning of it — has proved the lie of Pakistan’s low nuclear threshold. It may indulge in a bluff but it wants war much less than it is ready to admit. Therefore, a limited military strike must definitely be an option.