Rakesh Sharma, Inspector General, Jammu Region, of the Border Security Force spoke to Joyeeta Basu about the heavy cross-border firing between Pakistani and Indian sides in early October. Excerpts:
Q: Was the cross-border firing of October was of unprecedented levels? That from our side the response has never been so strong?
A: Pakistan has been resorting to unprovoked violence without any rhyme or reason. It has been Pakistan's habit to start unprovoked firing on the border areas as and when they have some internal problems, or any issue arises out of the "K" factor. This time, the unprecedented act was on their part. They started targeting our civilian population. As a professional force, we in the Border Security Force follow two golden principles on the International Border: Number one, we never open fire and this time also we have not opened fire. We retaliated, and retaliated in self-defence. Number two, we did this for the safety of our border population because they targeted them in the border villages. Pakistan's intention was very dangerous and therefore we had to take stern action. Targeting the civilian population is not acceptable to any country. We will not accept this in the future also.
Q: How intense was the cross-border firing?
A: The firing was initiated by the Pakistani Rangers on 2 October and it continued until 11 October. In between there was a one-day lull. In these roughly nine days, Pakistan heavily fired on us and we appropriately fired back on them. It was small arms firing and intensive shelling. It continued for whole nights on almost all the dates. Starting from around 9 or 10 pm in the night and continuing till about 8 or 9 in the morning. So you can well imagine how intensive the firing was. Whether it was small arms or mortar high trajectory arms, a large number of ammunition was fired by Pakistan and we also fired upon them an equivalent number and maybe a little more... I do not have the data to corroborate it, but it's generally believed that this time it was the most intensive firing we've seen. Whatsoever BOPs (border outposts) of the Pakistan Rangers were firing on us, they were targeted and were neutralised.
Q: All posts?
A: Most of the posts, I would say. They were replied back. And in this process, we are not aware of the collateral damage. We do not have any means to verify it. But we can only say that we were forced to retaliate. If they fire on us we cannot serve them sweets. You cannot exchange sweets with all the firing and shelling going on over your head.
They have caused damage to the border population and the border infrastructure on the Indian side for no reason. If a reason is there, they can always lodge a protest with us, call for a flag meeting, we can address the issue directly. There is a mechanism, but they do not follow the mechanism. They follow only one mechanism: start firing, create sensational news in Pakistan and then falsely accuse the Indian side that they started the firing. They have the privilege of firing that we do not have. We have the privilege of retaliating.
Q: Why did Pakistan target the town of Arnia? Was this deliberate targeting?
A: Absolutely. You have visited Arnia. You will not find any infrastructure there belonging to any security force. It is purely a civilian area. Shells have landed in the middle of that town, clearly indicating that they have intentionally targeted the civilian population. Whatever damages have occurred in Arnia (and the border villages), is not collateral damage. It is intentional, targeted shelling of the civilian population, which is basically an international crime. The very first salvo comes to the village, clearly indicating their intentions.
Q: Is there any possibility of having any flag meeting in the near future?
A: They have not asked. And we have also not asked. Why should we ask? It is their mistake. They must come and ask for a flag meeting, and we will consider their request. Why should we approach them? Flag meetings are held with the ground commanders only to deescalate the situation or to resolve dispute on the ground. We have been holding flag meetings in the past as well. For example, in the first bout of firing which was in August, we held a flag meeting between the two sector commanders and deliberated on various issues. Pakistan assured us that there would be no cross border firing. When there is a dispute at the ground commander level, they will discuss and resolve it. And whatever is not solvable, they will refer to the higher level. But you see, the flag meeting happened on 29 August and on 2 October Pakistan violated (the decision taken at) the flag meeting and started unprovoked firing. So how can you believe the Pakistan side at these flag meetings?
Q: Pakistan also uses sniper fire because of which jawans have been killed. What is Pakistan's response when these issues are raised with them at flag meetings?
A: In the last flag meeting we lodged a strong protest with the Pakistan side that their troops, the Rangers are targeting our jawans in forward areas with sniper fire. We have given them proof. They as usual, are denying. We are giving them proof, protest notes that your people have fired, your Rangers have fired on our jawans with sniper rifles. This will unnecessarily escalate the situation and tension in the border area. Please refrain from doing so. They promise that they will look into it and again resort to some new strategy.
Q: Is it true that Pakistan is sending unmanned aerial vehicles into India?
A: No, there is no air violation. The moment a flying object crossed the international border it will be considered as an air violation and then we have the right to shoot it down and protest it. But it is being observed that maybe they are flying some UAVs well inside their territory and trying to observe what is going on on the Indian side. We will not allow any UAVs to come close to the IB.