Sunday, 6 October 2013
LOC -The Downside of BAT Actions, Lt Gen Retired Syed Ata Hasnain
LOC -The Downside of BAT Actions, Lt Gen Retired Syed Ata Hasnain
The recent ongoing Pakistani intrusions on the Line of Control must be understood in the larger perspective of the Pakistan’s philosophy of keeping the LC alive by Border Action Teams(BAT). Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain explains the nuances to clear misconceptions about the LC dynamics.
During the 06 Aug 2013 flare up on the LC (LoC) in the Poonch Sector and the beheading incident in Jan 2013 the common string of information was that the targeted killing of Indian Jawans on the LC was executed by BATs. Even in the Army, not many would boast of knowing what BATs are, how do they function (modus operandi), what effects they have and how the Indian Army handles the threat. In the typical lackadaisical way that the public treats matters military not many sought more information on BATs, preferring to leave them to our professional Army to handle.
In a way that is a positive because the world of the LC is the domain of just a few who have had the honour and the ‘sugar high’ of serving in the razor sharp environment that presents itself daily in the ‘border areas’ of Jammu & Kashmir. It may be appropriate to clarify some of the basic ingredients of this high drama environment.
What is the LC?
The LC is different to the LAC (Line of Actual Control), different to the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) and much different to the Working Boundary (a term used only by Pakistan). The LAC alludes to the land boundary between the areas currently held by China and India along the Northern borders and the AGPL refers to the un-demarcated area north east of NJ 9842. To detail these aspects would be to digress from the main issue the LC, which is quite often called LoC by the media but the Army prefers to shorten it to the more colloquial LC.
The LC is an imaginary line running along the current frontier between India and Pakistan in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Although the Instrument of Accession of 26 Aug 1947 and Joint Resolution of the two Houses of Parliament of Jul 1994 place the whole of Jammu and Kashmir with India, the actual ground position has emerged over the last 65 years commencing with Pakistan’s invasion in 1947 the conflicts of 1965, 1971 and 1999 (Kargil), as also the proxy war launched by Pakistan since 1989. The LC runs well east of the actual International Boundary (IB) and is the alignment along which the operations of 1947-48 came to a halt thus creating Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK-often referred as Azad Kashmir, or AK, by Pakistan). Unlike the IB there are no boundary pillars (BPs) delineating the LC, however, there are a series of mostly unrecognizable landmarks such as boulders, trees and nullahs which have undergone change over years. The Indian and Pakistan Armies are in eyeball contact in their various pillboxes and picquets all along the alignment but at places terrain constraints may separate the two by two or more km.
It is an environment little known to the outside world, where the notion of ‘Grabbers, Keepers’ exists. Translating this into reality it means that any side grabbing a piece of ground for a tactical advantage gets to keep it unless forcibly evicted (recall Kargil 1999).
Events Leading to Current Status
All was well on the LC till 1989 or so except the sporadic shootouts of lower intensity which took place for the sake of ‘moral ascendancy’. A much misunderstood term, ‘moral ascendancy’ remains even today a task for the wily infantrymen and encompasses a range of sub tasks primary being the sanctity of the LC, (no loss of ground) and prevention of rogue actions by Pakistan.
In 1989 things started to change drastically with the belief among the Kashmiri populace that ‘Azadi’ or merger with Pakistan was becoming a reality. The proxy war within the Valley had to be sustained by Pakistan through induction of terrorists, explosives, military hardware and finances. The LC became the obvious conduit through which all this happened. Much against the common belief that the LC is manned metre to metre the ground reality is that there are large gaps dictated by terrain factors, logistics and climatic constraints. It is these gaps which were exploited and converted to ‘highways’ (a terrorist term) for movement of terrorists, potential terrorists(recruits), hardware, explosives and finances.
The Army was forced to redeploy and selectively reinforce at the cost of its counter terrorist operational grid in the Valley floor. This left many of its LC picquets weaker as a new dimension was added to the task of ‘sanctity of the LC’ this was Counter Infiltration. Sensing a great opportunity the Pakistan Army commenced selectively targeting Indian picquets with a mix of regular troops and well trained terrorists (those who had undergone Daura-e-Khas training). The purpose force back Indian Army counter infiltration ambushes, located between picquets and thus create the gaps needed for infiltration. Unprovoked firing by Pakistani posts further forced the creation of gaps. All this occurred in the Nineties and progressive lessons learnt by the Pakistan Army refined the BAT concept.
Characteristics of BATs
Border Action Teams comprise a mix of Pakistan Army regulars, Pakistan Special Forces elements and high profile terrorists (Jihadis) who are trained to cross the LC to execute raids on Indian picquets, ambushes and patrol parties or logistics elements. Strength has mostly been experienced to be 15 to 20. Beheading has been one of the modus operandi adopted by these teams to cause scare and impose immense caution on their targets. The immediate effect of information about concentration of a BAT opposite a particular segment of the LC is an inevitable strengthening of the defensive stance; stronger patrols, more protection for logistics elements such as mule trains which carry advance winter stocking stores; all this at the cost of the counter infiltration grid. The situation can then be exploited for strong infiltration bids through gaps. Quite obviously BAT actions are in the mold of terrorist acts launched with the intent of imposing caution and creating the tactical conditions for terrorist infiltration.
The Coming of the LC Fence
The inevitable question does the Indian Army sit on its haunches waiting to be attacked; far from it. Indian infantry units are known to have wreaked revenge and delivered telling blows on the Pakistan Army and terrorists. In years before the Cease Fire came into place on 26 Nov 2003 exchange of Arty Fire and direct firing heavy weapons was common place. Many an ingenius Indian gunner and infantry commander innovated and caused much destruction on the Pakistan Army. Among others the name of Brigadier Jasbir Lidder (later Lt Gen), Commander of the high profile 12 Infantry Brigade (Uri) is well known for his famous quip “When Uri rumbles, Chakhoti (PoK town opposite Uri) crumbles”. The ingenius LC fence constructed along the 16 & 15 Corps frontages under the outstanding leadership of then COAS Gen Nirmal Vij greatly altered the odds of infiltration. This needs to be understood in the right perspective as the annual reconstruction of the Fence (an expensive exercise in men and material) is very often questioned within the Army and the less informed bureaucratic circles.
The LC Fence
The LC Fence changed much more than just the awe inspiring landscape of the Pir Panjal and Shamshabari ranges. It altered what we call the ‘mathematics of terror’ in Jammu & Kashmir. Prior to 01 Jul 2004 (the date the Fence officially came in existence) Pakistan successfully infiltrated 2000-3000 terrorists across the LC each year. On an average 1400-1500 were killed in engagements with the Indian Army on the LC or in the hinterland. The residual figures were always in favour of Pakistan. Then came General Nirmal Vij who led the construction of the Fence from the plains to the obscene heights of the Shamshabari, flaying the ‘nay sayers’. It altered everything. The Indian Army now had an obstacle to concentrate upon and converted it from a mere line of barbed wire to a system comprising steel, lead, electronics, ether and human beings.
By 2006 the Indian Army had acquired the knowledge and experience of exploiting the LC Fence which was leaking just a few hundred terrorists annually while the Army eliminated double the number in its CI/CT operations. The mathematics were now reversed leading to the situation in 2011-12 when less than 300 terrorists roamed the Valley and 19 top terrorists leaders were eliminated with focused CT operations. The transformational ‘Heart Doctrine’ combined with this approach almost brought Kashmir to the doorstep of conflict stabilization awaiting conflict resolution.
The media and the public have often questioned how BATs can enter 400 500 meters into our side and conduct an operation. There is a simple answer to this. In 2003-4 when the LC Fence was constructed there was no ceasefire for most of the period; hence the Fence had to be constructed well away from the LC at most places. Where ever we were/are in domination the construction was well forward, hugging the LC. The Fence gives natural protection against rogue actions but where it is aligned well inside we per force have picquets/posts/detachments ahead but not necessarily on the LC as long as the area ahead can be dominated by fire. Small patrols are used to dominate this space and these are the patrols which are vulnerable to BAT actions. BATs can therefore enter minefields with considerable risk but no other obstacle prevents them from accessing the Indian Army’s patrol bases or routes of patrolling near (400-500 metres) the LC.
To expect Pakistan Army to use BATs more extensively after the Indian Army’s successful handling of the situation in J&K in 2011-12, is to state the obvious. We often hear of the phrase ‘keeping the pot boiling’ in Kashmir while Pakistan handles the Afghan border and its internal security threats. To execute this concept Pakistan requires its terrorist foot soldiers (boots on the ground) in J&K; to allow the fast dwindling strength to reduce even further would be a catastrophe for the ISI’s post 2014 strategy in J&K. Hence the necessity to once again force creation of gaps on the LC to facilitate infiltration.
Many veterans of the Army would recall some of the well known BAT actions which were launched against Indian Army units and the counter actions taken by the same units. The Indian Army has foiled many more BAT actions than the ones which have succeeded. Only a year ago 16 PUNJAB foiled a major action in the Tangdhar Sector.
Handling BATs at Different Levels
In my long years handling the LC from unit to a Corps Commander I always found the threats from BATs as the most challenging and relished countering these. In 2008 a Pakistan Army unit decided to send a 15 man officer led team across the LC to dislodge a small detachment of my brave Rajputs who had temporarily occupied a patrol base to dominate an area of the LC not usually visited or patrolled. In the ensuing clash between four young Rajput soldiers without a senior leader and the 15 Pakistanis the Rajputs lost one soldier and killed 7 Pakistanis. All hell broke loose on the LC in a frontage of about 3 to 4 Km. My orders to the CO were crystal clear “’the night is yours, I do not want the Pakistani bases, from where the soldiers had emerged, to remain standing”. The Rajputs shocked me next morning when they reported the destruction caused to the Pakistan Army posts. The last hurrah was when a Pakistan Army helicopter emerged late the next afternoon and took away the Pakistani Brigade Commander; it was later learnt that he was removed from command; so much for the moral ascendancy achieved by the Rajputs. As the General Officer of the division I asked no one and no one advised me. It was my calling and the risk was also mine.
The above example displays just how Pakistan Army’s proactive and provocative stance on the LC needs to be handled. The offensive response by Indian Army units has to be reflected in their attitude from the moment they step into their area of responsibility. Most BAT actions take place during handing/taking over between units when command and control is supposedly loose. Infantry units do not realize that each action of theirs even before they arrive in their AOR is under surveillance. Many units having fearsome reputation will never be tested; others with lesser credentials and poor body language of their troops would get tested early. The first engagement if handled with professional aggression will allow a unit a tenure with little turbulence. Destiny has brought many units of both Armies from the Kargil war once again face to face on the LC.
The reader must not go away with the impression that the Pakistan Army and terrorists rule the roost on the LC, far from it. Yet, it is imperative that our commanders be bold, trust their instinct, train their troops hard and wargame contingencies regularly. This is 24 x 7 soldiering where every movement has to be controlled and reactions kept ready; most important of all — time is the worst enemy of effectiveness on the LC. As a sector cools down so does the vigil and then one fine day it happens; there is only one solution to this constant reminders to all at the oddest time of the day or night. There is no rest on the LC; those who rest seldom live to tell the tales.
About the Author
Besides the optimum combination of ground soldiering, staff work and academics, Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, the scholar warrior, is best known for his path breaking tenure as Corps Commander of the high profile 15 Corps in the Kashmir Valley, where he employed the most unique methods to stabilise the turbulence that the Valley had experienced giving it the best chance for a return to peace. He remains the only officer of the Army to be decorated six times by the President of India and was recently honoured by the Vice President with the Capital Foundation Society’s award for excellence in the field of military leadership. This article first appeared in South Asia Defence and Strategic Review defstrat.com.