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Fifth Edition

A Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

Sept 2002

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Praveen Swami

 

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TOP OF THE PAGE

Do Peacemakers Make Peace? US Diplomacy and Conflict on LOC

Praveen Swami


Conventional wisdom has it that the United States' energetic diplomatic activity in South Asia helps ensure that nuclear-armed India and Pakistan do not go to war. Recent events along the Line of Control (LoC) have once again underlined the impression, however, that United States' peacemaking may in practice be encouraging sub-conventional aggression by Pakistan - and protecting that country from a proportionate response by India.

Speaking in Islamabad on August 23, 2002, military spokesperson Major-General Rashid Qureshi - known for his obfuscation and more than occasional dishonesty on the role of his Force during and since the 1999 Kargil war - claimed that Pakistani troops had beaten back a air-supported Indian military offensive in the Gultari area, facing Drass and Kargil on the Indian side of the LoC. Scores of Indian soldiers, he claimed, had been killed in the Pakistani military response to 'Indian aggression'. Qureshi made his remarks at the time when Deputy-Secretary of State Richard Armitage was in New Delhi as part of a larger mission to secure de-escalation along the LoC.

Two questions are key here. First, what actually happened? And second, what did Qureshi hope to achieve by proclaiming that the situation on the LoC was especially fragile?

Towards the end of July 2002, there was, in fact, a clash in which India used air power against Pakistani Forces for the first time since the Kargil war, but it was on the Indian side of the LoC, and followed the discovery that Pakistani Forces had occupied Indian positions. At 1:15 PM on July 29, eight Mirage-2000 aircraft sorties were carried out against Pakistan-held positions at Loonda Post, on the Indian side of the LoC in the Machil sector. 1,000-pound precision-guided bombs were used to obliterate four bunkers occupied by Pakistan, while 155-millimetre Bofors howitzers were used to hit troops who had dug into forward trenches prepared by Indian troops in earlier years. At least 28 Pakistan soldiers, Indian military intelligence officials believe, were killed in the fighting.

It isn't entirely certain just when and how the Pakistan Army managed to take Loonda Post, and those who might know aren't talking. The affair, however, made two things clear. First, India was willing to respond with massive force to any violation of the LoC. If the Pakistan Army believed India would not be willing to risk either horizontal or vertical escalation of localised conflict, the expectation was belied. The fact that the air strikes were carried out in broad daylight was an easy-to-read Indian gesture underlining its determination.

There is, on the other hand, no evidence that the clash Qureshi spoke about ever actually took place, though it is known that the situation in the Kargil sector has been fraught since at least May 2002. Earlier this summer, Indian troops reoccupied Point 5070 in the Drass sector, a peak named, like others, after its altitude in metres. Point 5070 dominates the strategically-vital Mushkoh nullah (stream), to the east of Drass sub-sector, the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting during the Kargil war. Fighting continues over Point 5303 in the Marpo La area, to the west of Drass. The conflict last lead, on August 19, to intense artillery exchanges up and down the LoC in the Kargil sector.

Both these offensives, particularly the effort to recapture Point 5303, have been hampered by Pakistani fire from Point 5353, the highest feature in the Drass area. The mountain was occupied by Pakistan after the end of the Kargil war, as a result of local tactical errors by the Drass-based 56 Brigade, which were compounded by high-level command failings, provoked by the political need not to concede that a crucial position had been lost. The Indian Army, which has lost seven soldiers and nine civilian high-altitude porters in the fight, has been arguing for the use of full-blown artillery and air strikes to regain the position, which gives Pakistan the ability to bring accurate artillery fire to bear on a section of the Srinagar-Leh highway. So far, aware of the possible consequences, the Union Defence Ministry has blocked calls for an assault on Point 5353, but patience is wearing thin.

Qureshi, it seems probable, may have resorted to his Gultari fiction in order to prevent precisely such an assault. His fiction did serve to suggest that any localised conflict along the LoC could spiral out of control - or, indeed, that Pakistan would seek to ensure it did. This stance is at par with the tactical thinking that led to the Loonda Post occupation. Pakistani strategists apparently and deliberately ignored the prospects of a major Indian response, and the potential for the conflict to widen, given that both armies currently have troops massed along their frontiers. They did this, secure in their belief that American 'peacemaking', however well-intentioned, provided a kind of insurance policy for ill-considered and irresponsible military adventures.

Armitage, to his credit, does not appear to have fallen for the Pakistan military's loud protestations. If they are actually serious about de-escalating tensions along the LoC, however, the Deputy-Secretary and his policy-establishment colleagues do need to think carefully about just what they are doing in South Asia, and how their actions impact on the regional conflict and its potential for resolution.
 

Author is Chief of Bureau, Mumbai, Frontline

By special arrangement with Institute of Conflict Management, New Delhi

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