Not All Quiet on the Eastern Front

As we spill into the year 2014, the US departure from Afghanistan draws inexorably towards an end, the fate of our Western neighbour looks increasingly uncertain. There is a dreadful feeling that any chaos that may take place in the aftermath of the withdrawal of the foreign forces would have a direct impact on Pakistan in the shape of a fresh influx of refugees that would severely burden an already weak economy. One can understand the uneasiness about the political and military vacuum created once the NATO and ISAF are de-inducted and the forces that may fill this void. There is another sinister corollary to the emerging Afghan conundrum i.e. things are not quiet on the Eastern Front. Fire is being exchanged along the Line of Control (LOC) and there has been artillery shelling along the Working Boundary. There seems to be a method to the madness. If analysed critically three military strands seem to be emerging from the Indian policy to keep Pakistan under pressure as it struggles to politically and militarily engage with the Pakistani Taliban and prepares to meet the challenge that would be created with the emergence of fragile or fragmented Afghanistan.

The first element of this policy is an extremely aggressive stance towards Pakistan. Beginning this year there have been a spate of ceasefire violations along the LOC. The informal ceasefire that has held since 2003 hasn't actually collapsed but has been severely shaken. Things have not only begin to heat up on the LOC, the Indian occupation forces have increased their activity to eliminate alleged infiltrators in Keran Sector and have blatantly lobbed artillery shells into the villages next to the Working Boundary. To ratchet up the tactics of coercion, a flurry of hostile statements have emanated from the political and military leaderships of India blaming Pakistan Army and its intelligence agency for provocations leading to exchange of fire and deaths of soldiers and civilians. Although the prime ministers of the two countries having met on the sidelines of the annual September meeting of the UN General Assembly had agreed to resolve the issue of cease fire violations through a meeting of the DGsMO (the meeting that took place on December 24, 2013), Mr Manmohan Singh didn't let go of any opportunity to rail against Pakistan. From the podium of the UN General Assembly he labelled Pakistan as the 'epicentre of terrorism' and on his plane journey back from Beijing he blamed Pakistan Army for the LOC violations. All this is in stark contrast to Mr Nawaz Sharif genuine efforts to build up the process of peace. Unfortunately for all their war mongering the Indians got a sympathetic ear from the international audiences, while Pakistan received no bouquets for its peace initiatives.

The second element of this policy is to mend fences with China. On October 23, India and China signed a border defence co-operation agreement. This was a remarkable come down from the nasty border spat that had taken place earlier this year, when the Indians had blamed the Chinese border guards for penetrating 20 kilometres into the Doulat Beg Oldi Sector and establishing a border post there. Instead of bullying the Chinese, the Indians had sent their bellicose foreign minister Salman Khursheed to patch things up. This time it was their gentle and soft spoken Prime Minister himself talking of peace with the Chinese leadership. In a sentiment reminiscent of the heady early days of the Non Aligned Movement, when Nehru raised the slogan of Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai, the Indian prime minister talked of the two ancient civilisations of China and India resolving their differences through dialogue. It was in the same vein that the agreement to maintain border “peace, tranquillity and stability” was signed and sealed. The deal also sought to improve communication between the two armies. Although the disagreement over the border demarcation of several Himalayan border areas would remain an unresolved issue, this visit of the Indian prime minister to meet the new Chinese leadership is seen as a sign of the warming of the relationship between the two countries and of course, reason for more trade. China is already one of India's top trading partners.

The third part of this strategy is to expand defence relations with Russia. This was most visible during the 14th Indo-Russian summit held in Moscow, where the prime ministers of Russia and India met on October 21, 2013. In a joint statement after the meeting the Indo-Russian defence ties were described as “unmatched by any other relationship.” It was stressed that it formed the “crucial element of the strategic partnership.” While Russia is the key defence partner involved in joint design, development and production of key defence platforms, both countries want enhanced cooperation in the key areas of rocket, missile and naval technologies. Ahead of the summit, India and Russia had agreed to extend indefinitely their 15-year-old partnership for producing the Brahmos supersonic anti-ship missile and to develop a still more potent hypersonic version of the missile. The joint statement welcomed the completion of trials of the Vikramaditya (formerly Admiral Gorshkov) aircraft carrier, the delivery this year of the Trikant frigate, the sixth stealth frigate that Russia has built for the Indian Navy, as well as licensed production of the Su-30MKI fighter plane and T-90S tanks. The two sides also noted progress in the construction of the fifth-generation fighter aircraft and multi-role transport aircraft. Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees the defence industry, said that there were plans for further cooperation in aviation technologies and shipbuilding with Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony during his visit to Russia for the commissioning of the refurbished aircraft carrier and an annual meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission for Military-Technical Cooperation. The Russians have also drawn up comprehensive proposals offering the Indians helicopters and aircraft, and construction of new surface warships and submarines. India and Russia have already agreed to enhance cooperation in space technologies. A new working group for Glonass (Russia's equivalent of the US Global Positioning System) had been set up and India has been offered to partner Russia in this programme and to set up two Glonass ground control stations in India. India is the only country to which Russia has agreed to give access to Glonass military-grade signals, which will enable the Indian military to greatly improve the accuracy of its land-, sea-, air and space-launched weapon systems.

Meanwhile in Rajasthan's Mahajan Field Firing Ranges (MFFR) Russian and Indian mechanised and Special Forces (SF) carried out joint drills from October 18 to 26. The purpose of the military exercise was to deal with evolving scenario in the immediate neighbourhood i.e. Afghanistan. After the manoeuvres, the Commander of the Indian 6th Independent Armoured Brigade and the Chief of Staff of the 36th Army addressed a joint conference at Gajner, Bikaner and gave out salient details. Titled Indira-3, the exercise involved the use of tanks, Infantry Combat Vehicles (ICVs), helicopters and SF. The SF practiced raids similar to the one that got Osama bin Laden. According to reports, the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan has reignited concerns of the two allies, who had joined forces against the Taliban in the past. In the decisive phase of the exercise, the two armies concentrated on liquidating an imaginary rebel leader, securing their own lines of communication and destroying the whole stronghold for which a whole mock town had been created inside the MFFR. Observers noted that the Indians were using Russian tanks and guns. Pakistan does not want war with any country in the region, much less with India, but the developments that are taking place in the region must not be ignored and necessary safeguards taken.

The writer is a retired Brigadier and PhD. Presently he is Associate Dean Centre of International Peace & Stability (CIPS) at the National University of Sciences & Technology (NUST) Islamabad. [email protected]

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