Pakistan mobilised its Northern Light Infantry, an Army unit based in Gilgit, during the severe cross-border firing with India on the International Border that started on 2 October and continued until 11 October. It also increased the strength of the Pakistan Rangers, a counterpart of India’s Border Security Force, apart from amassing “non state actors”, that is terrorists, along the border, say intelligence sources. However, sources also point out that this input is yet to be corroborated by “other sources”. The Northern Light Infantry was deployed around a kilometre from the 192 km-long International Border (IB) that separates India’s Jammu from Pakistan. While the IB is manned by the BSF, the Line of Control, which starts further north, is manned by the Indian Army. The men of Northern Light Infantry were believed to have infiltrated into Kargil in 1999 and forced a war on India.
The build-up is being seen as an attempt by the Pakistan army and the ISI to escalate the situation in a manner to test Prime Minister Narendra Modi — to see how far he would go in countering the threat from them. The free hand given by the Modi government to the Border Security Force, resulted in India matching the Pakistani misadventure bullet by bullet, and then giving back some more.
The latest intelligence information, however, says that Pakistan has now de-escalated the situation, with all these additional “personnel” falling back to their original positions.
Sources also say that Pakistan has started using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) along the IB in an attempt to spy on Indian troop deployments and movements. Confirming to this newspaper that sounds of UAVs have been heard near the IB, the Inspector General of BSF, Jammu, Rakesh Sharma said, no violation of Indian airspace by Pakistani UAVs had taken place: “The moment a flying object crosses 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 UAV to come close to the International Border.”
Intelligence information also has it that a large number of Pakistani border posts have been severely damaged or destroyed in the October cross-border firing, in which both sides resorted to shelling with 81mm mortars, apart from using small arms fire. This was confirmed by the BSF IG, Jammu, who said that the border outposts (BOPs) of the Pakistan Rangers that fired on Indians “were targeted and neutralised”. Not all of them, but most of them. He refused to put an exact number to the Pakistani BOPs that were either heavily damaged or destroyed.
Reports about civilian casualties on the Pakistani side vary. BSF sources say that Pakistan often quietly evacuates its civilians residing along the border before opening heavy fire on Indians. Since information is censored or often concocted, it is difficult to assess the extent of the collateral damage.
Sources also say that Pakistan has been changing tactics over the last five years, from sniping to using small arms fire and heavy shelling of not just Indian border posts, but densely populated civilian areas inside India, as witnessed in October 2014. “The intention is to kill, cause maximum civilian casualties,” said a source. This year there has been only one incident of sniping, when on 16 July a jawan was killed at a border outpost and three others were seriously injured. Compared to that, between 2 and 11 October 2014, around 400 Pakistani shells fell on the semi-rural town of Arnia and its neighbouring border villages, causing several deaths. Arnia, located around 4-5 km inside Indian territory in Jammu, had never witnessed cross-border firing or shelling before this.
To reply to the unprovoked firing from Pakistan, the BSF used the heavy-duty 81 mm mortar for the first time in October 2013. But that exchange was “limited” when compared to the firing that took place in October 2014. As the BSF IG puts it, “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…” “The very first salvo comes to the village, clearly indicating their intentions,” he added.
This time, firing took place all along the IB, with the heaviest fire directed at Arnia.
The common consensus on the border areas is that a change in government at the Centre has unshackled the security forces from the “weak” response they were forced to give in earlier years. The orders are clear now, say sources: we will not fire first, but will reply in kind when fired upon. The field commanders, those who are on the ground, are authorised to take the decision to fire back, without waiting for a nod from the higher-ups.
The other consensus is that the 2003 ceasefire agreement has become a joke, with Pakistan showing no intention of adhering to it. “Pakistan wants to keep the Kashmir issue boiling in the eyes of the international community. And so it will continue to violate the agreement,” is the common refrain. It is significant that the October firing started within five days of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at the United Nations, where he said that no talks with Pakistan were possible under “a shadow of terrorism”.
It is also significant that the firing started on Dussehra. “It has been noticed that Pakistan generally resorts to firing on Hindu festivals, Rakshabandhan, Gokulashtami, Dussehra. It is part of their psy-ops,” said a source. When this newspaper visited the border areas, there was widespread speculation that following this pattern, Pakistan would start firing on Diwali. Pakistan violated the ceasefire agreement again on the International Border, this time in the Samba sector, on Thursday, 23 October, the day of the Diwali.