India-Pakistan: J&K: Borders Aflame

According to official statistics, at least 3,595 incidents of violation of the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) by the Pakistan Army have been recorded along the Line of Control (LoC) and the International Border (IB) in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in the current year, 2020, till October 6. There were 367 incidents in January, 366 in February, 411 in March, 387 in April, 382 in May, 387 in June, 398 in July, 408 in August, 427 in September, and 62 in October (till October 6).

These violations have resulted in the death of 15 Security Force (SF) personnel and injuries to another 22 persons (three civilians and 19 SF personnel).

Though over two months are still left, 2020 has already recorded the highest ever number of CFA violations (3,595) in a single year, since 2005, when the first incident took place. This comes on the tail of the previous high of 3,168 in 2019.

The formal CFA between India and Pakistan along the IB, LoC and the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) in J&K, began on the midnight of November 25, 2003. Pakistan was never willing to sign the CFA as it knew that a peaceful border would deny it the opportunity to infiltrate more and more terrorists to keep Kashmir on the boil. But under immense pressure from several quarters, it did sign at a time when terrorism-related fatalities in J&K had started to decline, after 2002.

Indeed, as the border became relatively peaceful after the signing of the CFA, fatalities fell further, and rather sharply. Pakistan sought to infiltrate increasing numbers of terrorists into J&K to shore up the flagging movement, but faced difficulties, since fire cover provided by the Pakistan Army and paramilitary units located across the border was essential to create opportunities for successful infiltration.

According to an official statement, the first CFA violation took place on January 19, 2005, when mortars were fired from across the LoC, targeting an Indian post in the Poonch sector, resulting in injuries to a girl. Officials then had claimed that the shelling may have been intended to provide cover to a second batch of infiltrators trying to sneak into the Indian side in the same District, of whom five had been killed a day earlier.

2005 witnessed just one incident. There were three violations in 2006, 24 in 2007, 86 in 2008, 35 in 2009, 70 in 2010, 62 in 2011, 114 in 2012, 347 in 2013, 583 in 2014, 405 in 2015, 449 in 2016, 881 in 2017, and 2,140 in 2018.

The first fatality in Pakistani firing since the CFA, however, took place on November 25, 2007, when a soldier was killed, and another two were injured in two separate firing incidents from the Pakistani side along the LoC in the Poonch Sector. Since then, including the November 25 incident, at least 59 civilians and 114 SF personnel have died in CFA violations. Between August 5, 2019, and September 10, 2020, alone 26 civilians and 25 SF personnel have been killed due to violation of the CFA by Pakistani forces along the border.

Some of the recent fatal incidents include the following:

October 5: A Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) of Army was killed when the Pakistani Army carried out mortar shelling and firing in the Baba Khori area of Nowshera sector, along the LoC, in Rajouri District. It was reported that at least three Pakistan army personnel were reportedly killed in retaliatory action by the Indian side.

October 1, 2020: Two soldiers were killed and four were injured when Pakistani troops violated the CFA along the LoC in Nowgam sector in Kupwara District.

September 30: An Army trooper was killed and another injured when Pakistani troops resorted to heavy firing and mortar shelling in forward areas along the LoC in Poonch District.

Though the surge in such incidents, on year on year basis, since 2010, barring 2011 and 2015, did not help Pakistan in its aim to push Kashmir into the turbulence of the late 1990s and early 2000s, it served its policy of continuing the proxy war in J&K despite rapidly dwindling support among the local masses. Pakistan made several efforts to increase the volatility at the border testing India’s patience.

While reliable open-source trends are not available, the Indian retaliation has been proportionate. According to reports, the India-Pakistan border witnessed the worst kind of CFA violations in October 2014, since November 2003, with complete pandemonium prevailing. Major General Tahir Javaid Khan, Director General Pakistan Rangers, claimed, “India is not just violating ceasefire but fighting a small-scale war with Pakistan. On 6 October, alone, 51,000 small arms were fired across the boundary, while on October 7, more than 4,000 mortar shells were fired.”

Later, on September 28, 2016, India carried out a ‘surgical strike’ inside Pakistan in retaliation to the September 18, Uri attack. New Delhi hoped that this would deter Pakistan and the border would become relatively peaceful. In fact, CFA violations increased further, thereafter.

In the wake of the Pulwama suicide bombing of February 14, 2019, in which 40 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed India carried out an aerial attack, on February 26, 2019, a second ‘surgical strike’ targeting the biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan.

These ‘surgical strikes’ provided Islamabad grounds to increase the presence of its forces along the borders, while India told the international community that its safety and sovereignty was at continuous risk. The border became more volatile.

India has adopted a policy of using “double the force” in retaliating to Pakistani violations of the CFA. Notably, the then Defense Minister of India, Manohar Parrikar, when asked about his directions to the SFs with regard to CFA violations by Pakistan, declared, on December 30, 2014, “our (NDA Government’s) response is, don’t hesitate. React appropriately without holding yourself back,” adding further that Indian Forces should retaliate “with double the force.”

Meanwhile despite sustained efforts, Pakistan has failed to increase the level of violence in the J&K, but has succeeded in keeping the insurgency alive. Though terrorism-linked fatalities, at 271, remain under control in the current year, this figure is still very high as compared to 2012, when J& recorded the lowest number of such fatalities, 121, since 1990.

Further, current reports indicate that at least 600 terrorists were waiting at various launch pads across the border, to infiltrate into Indian Territory. Available data suggests that there were at least 176 attempts of infiltration between August 2019 and July 2020, resulting in 111 successful infiltrations. Vijay Kumar, Inspector General of Police, Kashmir Range, disclosed, on September 25, 2020, that 170 to 200 militants were active in Kashmir, of which 40 were foreigners.

Tranquility at the border is one of the prerequisites for establishing a lasting peace in J&K. New Delhi is yet to come up with a viable strategy to effectively deal with Pakistani mischief at the border, other than its “double the force” formulation that is yet to deter Pakistan.