The inward-oriented mindset of the 16 corps has a lot to do with the Pakistanis not being deterred
Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab
The main difference between 15 corps (responsible for the Valley) and 16 corps (responsible for areas south of Pir Panjal, which divides Jammu and Kashmir) is obvious. The former is focussed on combating insurgency with an emphasis on Operation Sadbhavana, while the latter does more of area domination close to the Line of Control (LC) to check infiltration. The area domination task got an added impetus by the unfortunate incidents in 2013 which witnessed maximum ceasefire violations in recent years by Pakistan in 16 corps zone.
To get the sense of how 16 corps was doing its task, FORCE team had recently travelled across the corps zone (10 and 25 divisions), a distance of over 271 km stretching from north of Chenab river till foothills of Pir Panjal which divides Jammu and Kashmir, to assess the existing dynamics on the military line. Our impressions were mixed. The field commanders (corps commander and below) have done the best they could and are prepared to give a taste of the bitter medicine back to the Pakistan Army. Senior commanders (army commander and COAS) can do much more to support tactical levels. However, despite defence minister A.K. Antony’s assertion in the Parliament that the army has been given a free hand, the political level remains the weakest link in the LC show of strength which continues to be tilted in favour of the Pakistan Army.
In a good decision, nearly 12,000 troops from the Romeo and Uniform Rashtriya Rifles (RR) force headquarters have been moved forward to the LC. They have been moved from Rajouri and Reasi after the relative abatement of terrorism in Jammu division. With this, there is now a formidable, if not entirely impregnable, two-tier anti-infiltration grid; the first tier is provided by the forward deployed troops on the LC itself facing Pakistani posts within 300 metres to 1.5 km along the entire 243 km stretch in 25 division hilly sector where infiltration occurs. The RR troops form the second tier behind the fence or Anti-Infiltration Obstacle System (AIOS) which runs like a necklace (well-lit at night) behind the LC. 16 corps also has five Border Security Force (BSF) battalions deployed in anti-infiltration role. This is not all. Encouraging efforts have been made to ensure that all anti-infiltration forces are visually networked at various levels like company, battalion, brigade and so on. Equipment available for surveillance includes BFSR, LORROS, HHTI, DIGI-scope, TIIOE and UAVs. When successful, the infiltration gets tracked in real-time by all forces.
Regarding weapons, except for artillery guns, all other conceivable weapons are available for instant use in both area domination and punitive roles. These includes 81mm mortars, AGL, AGS, Milan 2 ATGM, 84mm RL, 51mm mortars, 106mm RCL, HMG, MMG, LMG, AMR, KPWT tank guns in ground role, and even air defence and anti-aircraft guns in direct role. A few of these weapons were brought into the theatre this year to ensure deadly and decisive retaliation to Pakistani violations and BAT actions. Needless to add, this has been done selectively with devastating results. For example, Pakistanis after suffering casualties have vacated certain posts vulnerable to Indian fire and a few Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) villages on the LC have been abandoned; reminiscent of pre-ceasefire days. Moreover, counter-BATs, like Ghatak platoons, Special Forces teams and SSFs are in place with targets carefully selected and reconnoitred at division level.
Given the comparable preponderance of forces and equipment, the Pakistanis should feel deterred, which unfortunately, they don’t. And, this brings us to the weaknesses at the operational or senior commanders’ level. The first issue concerns habitat of soldiers. For forward deployed troops, no more than 50 per cent defences of all types and communication trenches are hardened, lacking in desired security and cover for troops. The defences should be constructed by engineers under ‘operation works’ and not be concrete-made by troops themselves which are unable to withstand direct heavy firepower. Next, the large numbers of RR troops moved forward to AIOS over last two years are living in tents in freezing temperatures without proper toilets and water supply. Given that 25 division has nearly 75 patrols and ambushes laid each night, troops are neither getting adequate rest nor minimum comfort to perform their tasks well. Considering that the northern army commander has financial powers to spend Rs 150 crore each year, these facilities should have been given priority rather than allow the slow pace of work under the Army Headquarters five-year roll-on plan for defences and habitat. Similarly, most surveillance devices being over a decade old (they were purchased from Israel after the 1999 Kargil conflict) need replacement or upgrades.
Probably, the single important reason why Pakistanis are not deterred despite large numbers on the LC is the inward oriented mindset. All forces — in the forward zone, behind the AIOS and the BSF — are focused on anti-infiltration role. And given the punishing routine of ambushes, patrols and constant observation round the clock for infiltrators, the Indian troops pose no threat to the enemy which is apparent in their deployment and routine. The Pakistani forces facing India are in two-tier of Mujahid and regular POK battalions behind them. The Mujahid or the ‘son of soil’ forces have six companies (each with about 120 men) which do patrolling, though less strenuous than the Indians, to ensure sanctity of the LC. The POK battalions are free and do training for ‘hot war’.
Thus, the contention of senior Indian officers that additional RR troops are add-on to troops on the LC in case of a ‘hot war’ is suspect as both forces do negligible desired training on regular basis. Serious training for ‘hot war’ requires nod from the political leadership. There are lucrative war objectives like Hajipir, Kotli, Mirpur, Bimber, Mangla and so on to be obtained across the military-held line. India has numbers in its favour and minimal risk of Pakistan’s nuclear red-lines here. What it lacks is a serious review of the defensive counter-infiltration mindset, for which it needs not only support but direction from the political leadership. And this, unfortunately, is not happening.