Hot Pursuit, Air Strikes, Limited War

Contributing Editor Air Marshal (Retd) AYAZ AHMED KHAN makes an enlightening study of possible scenarios on the India-Pakistan borders.

To end Kashmiris’ struggle for freedom, political hawks and Indian military commanders have been urging the BJP government to authorize hot pursuit and air strikes across the LoC. The intensified attacks on Pakistani posts and regular artillery bombardment of villages in Azad Kashmir when seen in the light of Vajpayee’s provocative speeches during his American yatra could be the forerunner of limited war between India and Pakistan in Kashmir. General Ved Prakash Malik the outgoing Indian Army Chief had made no secret of his plans to destroy training camps of Kashmiri freedom fighters allegedly in Azad Kashmir. Premier Atal Behari Vajpayee and Indian Army and Air Chiefs have made several threatening statements that terrorist bases in Azad Kashmir and in Pakistan should be destroyed by hot pursuit and air strikes.

After slaughtering eighty thousand Kashmiris, India has failed to break the will of the Kashmiris and the armed struggle has gained a distinct moment since the May-July Kargil war. This has unnerved the BJP government. The high casualties suffered by Indian troops during and since the Kargil clashes have caused physical and mental exhaustion, degraded fighting stamina and eroded the morale of Indian forces for sustained fighting. The Indian option of hot pursuit or limited war does not appear to be realistic for this and other reasons. There is clear evidence of fear and panic after every militant attack, ambush and land mine explosion. Indian troops are being killed in increasing numbers during ambushes and militant’s shock actions and by the reckless firing by own troops. In a situation of enhanced militant activity the statements of Indian political and military leaders to resort to air strikes, hot pursuit and limited war and hold on to Kashmir by brute military force will be counter-productive and dangerous. Hot pursuit, and air strikes across the LoC is not a child’s play as some Indian politicians, generals or air marshals may think. There has to be a clear aim and defined objective to a military action plan. The aimless idea of a limited war was the brainchild of the outgoing Indian Army Chief and the plans must have been submitted to the Defence Ministry for approval. These could be implemented in desperation. Indian civil and military establishment has not given up the option of hot pursuit and air strikes. It is in order to suggest to them to clarify the following:

  1. Have the so-called training camps or terrorist bases of any militant outfit been located anywhere in Azad Kashmir? The truth is that there are no training camps in Azad Kashmir or in Pakistan. Because the Indian intelligence agencies have no proof of the existence of such camps, the option of hot pursuit or air strikes will be naked aggression, and Pakistan must respond to it fittingly.

  2. The 16 Kashmiri freedom outfits better known as jehadi groups are now organized under the United Jehad Council. Since July 24 Indian government has been engaged in efforts to start dialogue with most of the Jehadi groups under the pretext that their fighters are indigenous Kashmiris and are sons of the soil. Even quisling Farooq Abdullah has acknowledged the indigenous character of the freedom-Jehadi parties, and his readiness for talks with them is because of it. It has been known to New Delhi that almost all freedom fighters belong to the Valley, or other parts of Occupied Kashmir. It is clear that Indian military forces are being heavily punished by local Kashmiri resistance groups, whose pursuit has been impossible because they melt away among the masses after every attack. The incessant massacres, siege and search operations of villages and localities since January 1990 are in fact failed hot pursuit operations inside Occupied Kashmir. These have produced no results, except intensification of the freedom struggle. Hot pursuit across the LoC into Azad Kashmir and Pakistan will be counter-productive and extremely dangerous.

Purposeless hot pursuit by a battalion or an Indian Brigade to chase, catch or destroy “fleeing militants”, is an unreal scenario, because there are no fleeing Mujahideen. Since 1989 the Kashmiri freedom fighters have excelled in hit and run operations. They are elusive targets. The so-called hot pursuit i.e. siege and search operations have failed within Occupied Kashmir, and are less likely to succeed across the LoC. The freedom fighters who are sons of the soil and are familiar with the terrain, resort to guerilla type attacks i.e. surprise and shock action. Their usual tactics are lightening ambushes and attacks on convoys, patrols, bunkers within defended and highly secure cantonments, brigade, divisional and Corps headquarters. Indian security forces have so far resorted to barbaric siege and search operations, massacres, rape, torture, arson and destruction of property in defenceless villages and city localities. But attacks on defended Pakistani posts or hot pursuit will be another matter and will not go unpunished. This has been comprehensively proved during Indian Army’s recent probes and attacks on isolated posts along the LoC. The LoC is heavily defended by Pakistan Army, and Indian Army’s hot pursuit will become a reckless venture and a nightmare for India. Attacking Indian troops will be defeated and destroyed. The existing low morale of Indian occupation forces is evidenced by the fact that when ambushed and attacked they have panicked and resorted to reckless firing causing heavy casualties to own troops; while the Kashmiri freedom fighters in most cases have safely escaped. So when the Indian Army has failed in hot pursuit operations in Occupied Kashmir i.e. in territory controlled by massive deployment of Indian forces, how can they carry out hot pursuit across the defended and extremely difficult terrain of the LoC. However, in utter desperation demoralized Indian generals and air marshals could get the approval of mercurial Premier Vajpayee to launch limited war operations in Ladakh, Kashmir or Jammu sectors. These are likely to be Corps size operations. The terrain along the LoC in Jammu province is suitable for armour thrusts supported by the Indian Air Force. The aim could be to capture Mirpur and cut off the Lahore-Islamabad GT Road at vulnerable places. In Kashmir and Ladakh sectors infantry operations would be preceded by incessant and prolonged heavy artillery bombardment. Indian Air Force is likely to be employed in strength in support of infantry assaults across the LoC here. The aim would be to capture of major towns and destruction of Pakistan Army concentrations and seize Azad Kashmir. This hypothetical limited war scenario should escalate quickly into nuclear exchange. It will be difficult to restrain Pakistan from the use of tactical nuclear weapons to stop naked aggression and avert danger to national security. Use of tactical nuclear weapons by either side will quickly escalate into an all out nuclear war with horrible consequences for South Asia. Sanity demands that India stops its military operations against the people of Kashmir, and publicly renounces the much trumpeted options of hot pursuit, air strikes and limited war. It would be wise for New Delhi to start dialogue with Pakistan and with the All Parties Hurriyet Conference for a peaceful settlement of the increasingly volatile Kashmir dispute.