Islamabad may not be awed but it certainly is shocked by the ferocity and volume of the Indian response to ceasefire violations along the International Border in Jammu and Kashmir. Given complete freedom to act by the government, the Indian Army and Border Security Force are firing back at will from every spot the Pakistanis have targeted. The volume and intensity of India's return fire is much higher than the usual calibrated response the Pakistanis have come to expect. Top government sources told Mail Today that Indian forces are systematically targeting infrastructure and force deployment nodes on the other side.
The damage on the other side is so high that Pakistan is, according to an internal report sent to South Block by the Indian mission in Islamabad, "ducking for cover" (see accompanying report). A media blackout of sorts is in place in Pakistan's affected areas so as to keep a lid on the extent of damage suffered; Pakistan's military establishment is on the verge of losing face, and it doesn't like the evolving situation one bit.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the picture of confidence on Thursday evening during a function at Air Chief Arup Raha's residence. "Everything will be all right soon," he said. The government is understood to have also told Indian forces not to seek any flag meeting with the other side, thus sending the signal that it is in no mood to ease situation on the border with Pakistan until the ceasefire violations come to a complete halt. Top government sources said that firing on the International Border was a result of Islamabad's frustration over New Delhi blocking all of its attempts to internationalise the Kashmir issue.
India's massive retaliation to the ceasefire violations has resulted in at least 35 deaths across the border, as per an assessment based on open sources. The government is not prepared to hold any discussion with Pakistan until the firing stops as it wants to underline the point that Islamabad cannot dictate the terms of dialogue.
The border move is no flash in the pan; it comes after a series of deft diplomatic moves. A top government functionary said a series of steps were taken in recent weeks to block every attempt by Pakistan to internationalise the Kashmir issue. To begin with, the UN Military Observer Group (UNMOGIP) was made irrelevant. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to the UN General Assembly in New York ensured that Kashmir was not allowed to dominate the agenda. Coupled with some diplomatic engagements with Japan and China, the moves ensured that the Kashmir issue became irrelevant. Calling off the foreign secretary level dialogue with Pakistan because of its continued parleys with Hurriyat leaders also played a part in frustrating Pakistan.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is busy touring Haryana and Maharashtra where Assembly elections are due, has remained in close touch with the service chiefs to get the updates on the situation on the border. Sources said New Delhi is prepared for a long haul and will not stop at massive retaliation until its objective of keeping the sanctity of ceasefire was met.
Firing along the Line of Control would not have attracted international attention, sources ascribed as the reason for why the International Border was chosen for a series of ceasefire violations. But it hasn't worked, and there is no pressure on India to scale down firing, said sources.
India does not want to give any space to Pakistan that can dilute or weaken New Delhi's basic condition of 'no dialogue in the shadow of gun'. By resorting to tactics like ceasefire violations, Islamabad is only making matters worse, sources said.
Another reason for Pakistan's latest border tantrum is the government's concern that the BJP may do well in the forthcoming Assembly elections in the state and thus have a major say in a possible coalition government.
Sources said there has not been major ceasefire violation along the Line of Control since Wednesday, but the International Border, particularly in the Jammu region, continues to be rocked by firing. Secretary (Border Management) Snehlata Kumar has briefed Home Secretary Anil Goswami who also met National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
BSF chief D.K. Pathak is on the ground assessing the situation and personally supervising operations. "Pakistani troops are targeting the civilian areas because they think that they are not being able to cause any big damage to the BSF posts," he said adding at present there are no talks about flag meeting. IAF chief Arup Raha also said that firing on the border was "serious" and government wanted quick resolution of the problem.
The latest episode marks a considerable toughening of India's stand on border standoffs. Similar resistance was shown during the stand-off in eastern Ladakh's Chumar area last month. After India refused to budge, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) vacated its positions in the disputed territory and agreed to the pre-1 September situation.
'Pak didn't anticipate reprisal'
It seems Pakistan's military establishment did not anticipate a strong Indian response to the shelling at the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border. According to an internal report sent by the Indian mission in Islamabad to South Block, Pakistani military establishment is now running for cover in the face of India's retaliation.
Pakistan Rangers have been resorting to unprovoked mortar shelling and heavy firing along the International Border, particularly since Monday. But the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi is firm about disciplining Pakistan. Top sources in the government told Mail Today that NSA Ajit Doval has told the security establishment that the BSF should respond with full force and shouldn't ask for any flag meeting with the Pakistani Rangers.
According to the Indian mission's report, India's retaliation has been so effective that Pakistani television channels have been directed by the Pak GHQ and ISI to completely black out any media coverage of the damage caused on the Pakistani side, and not to show any visual of the casualties or damage on the ground.
Even the Dawn newspaper was asked on Wednesday by the Pak Army commanders to tone down its initial report about a few persons being killed in retaliatory Indian fire. Pakistani diplomatic sources admit that even though they have petitioned the UN, in reality the Pakistan Army has tied itself into knots. Its aim of targeting India was to divert attention of Pakistani people from the internal strife and to test the new Indian government. But the plan has clearly backfired.