Views from Srinagar
THE hostilities between India and Pakistan, both states having conducted nuclear tests, has touched a new high after a series of killing with the recent incident of seven Indian soldiers killed in Nagrota, near Jammu. In the wee hours on 29 November militants dressed in police uniforms stormed into an army unit located about three kms from the headquarters of the 16 Corps of Indian army. A fierce gun battle ensued which lasted for about 12 hours and led to the death of seven Indian soldiers and three militants. India blamed Pakistan for the attack, adding one more chapter on bitterness and hostility in the already edgy relations between the two countries.
In a separate gunfight that coincided with the Nagrota attack, Indian defence sources claimed that three infiltrators were killed and a senior BSF officer and five jawans were injured near the International Border in Chamliyal area of Samba sector.
The recent attacks have taken place amid heightened tensions following a similar attack on a highly fortified army camp in Uri near the Line of Control nearly two months ago. The Uri attack had reportedly claimed lives of 19 Indian soldiers, besides injuring many. An offensive posturing after the attack had created ripples across the valley with the apprehensions of full-scale fallout between the two hostile neighbours.
The Nagrota incident came after a brief lull in cross-border firing between Indian and Pakistani troops, who have been exchanging heavy mortar and artillery fire across the LoC and the International Border.
Incidentally, the Nagrota attack came on a day when Pakistan saw a change of guard in its Army with General Qamar Javed Bajwa taking over as the new army chief. In his farewell address, the outgoing military chief warned India not to mistake his country’s “restraint” over recent tensions in Kashmir for weakness. Indian media immediately put two and two together and declared the attack as a handiwork of the army.
Since July 8 when mass uprisings started in Kashmir, both the countries have been accusing each other of ceasefire violations. The situation made an abrupt turn after the Uri attack with the armies exchanging heavy fire thereby causing huge damage to life and property. Many villages along the borders have been evacuated fearing the damage due to firing.
Post the Uri attack, deep anger was gauged in India with censure from politicians and media trials becoming a norm. The relations touched the lowest ebb and India adopted tough posturing against Pakistan, issuing threatening statements and wowing to “teach Pakistan a lesson.”
The renewed animosity between the two sent fear ripples among Kashmiris who were already struggling to come to terms with the longest ever shutdown and the death of near 100 people. The killing of Hizb militant Burhan Wani had sparked violent protests against the Indian government in the valley, described by some as the “largest anti-India protests” in recent years.
Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar on the militant attack instructed the army to take firm action against those responsible and also stated that the deaths of the soldiers “will not go in vain”. Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre stated that the “entire nation was traumatised” over the death of the soldiers and was “united in this hour of grief”. He also stated that the Prime Minister, Home Minister and Defence Minister had come to a conclusion that some sort of a “response” needs to be given to Pakistan. “A jaw for a tooth” became a popular slogan. Minister of State for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and the former Army chief Vijay Kumar Singh stated that India will give a “befitting reply” to the attack. The overwhelming opinion got built up against any scope of constructive dialogue with Pakistan.
On 24 September, Prime Minister Modi formally responded to the attack during a BJP rally in Kozhikode, Kerala; in his address, he held Pakistan responsible for the attack, saying that India would “never forget” Uri .
On 26 September, the Indian government stated it would exercise its rights under the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty to the full and would expand its utilisation of its rivers flowing through Jammu and Kashmir, thus intending to have the pound of flesh and bowl of blood as well.
As for Pakistan, the erstwhile Army Chief Raheel Sharif claimed that India was propagating a “hostile narrative” in response to the attack and also stated that the Pakistani armed forces were “prepared to respond to the entire spectrum of direct and indirect threat”.
Consequently, on September 29, eleven days after the attack, the Indian Army claimed that it conducted “surgical strikes” against suspected militants in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Indian Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) Lt Gen Ranbir Singh said that it had made a pre-emptive strike against “terrorist teams” who were preparing to “carry out infiltration and conduct terrorist strikes inside Jammu and Kashmir and in various metros in other states”. He said “significant casualties have been caused to the terrorists and those who are trying to support them.”
The claims by Indian army sent jubilation across the country. The whole country became ecstatic with the newly invented war phrase: ‘The surgical strike’. The news channels went euphoric with the success of “teaching Pakistan a lesson”. Many speculated that more was in the offing. The war strategies were surgically dissected and discussed threadbare for future use.
Now, after the Nagrota attack, as after every stand-off in Kashmir, the fear is that this could eventually escalate into a major clash between the two nuclear-armed states, particularly when the heat of Uri attack and the ‘surgical strike’ is yet to cool down. Advocating the importance of fighting a war, Parrikar recently said, “For 40-50 years, we have not fought a war. I am not saying we should go to war. I am saying that because we haven’t fought a war, the importance of the army in our minds has dwindled.”
On Pakistan side, things have not been any different. Threats and the counter-threats have been pouring from there as well.
Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif in an interview with a TV channel stated, “Tactical weapons… our programmes that we have developed have been developed for our protection. We haven’t kept the devices that we have just as showpieces. But if our safety is threatened, we will annihilate them.”
Reports indicate that India has a possession of 118 warheads and Pakistan of 130. A war between them could simply be devastating. Notwithstanding statement of BJP Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy who on 23 September, 2016 said, that if 100 million Indians died in a Pakistani nuclear attack, India’s retaliation would wipe out Pakistan; the analysts opine that “if a war does become a reality, more than 21 million people will be directly killed, about half the world’s protective ozone layer would be destroyed, and a “nuclear winter” would cripple the monsoons and agriculture worldwide.” Let us hope that good sense prevails in both countries.