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Costs of filling gaps

General Musharraf's military regime has declared that "Pakistan would continue to su-pport with moral, political and diplomatic back...

Written by Gurmeet Kanwal |
November 3, 1999

General Musharraf’s military regime has declared that "Pakistan would continue to su-pport with moral, political and diplomatic backing militants seeking independence of Kashmir from India." Despite his peace overtures towards India, Nawaz Sharif had also promised `many more Kargils’ and Indian policy planners clearly understand that Pakistan’s new `chief executive’ has merely reiterated Pakistan’s `proxy war’ policy to annex Kashmir by any means and to bleed India through a thousand cuts. While the Pakistani army will for some time remain preoccupied with consolidating its stranglehold over the polity, India can ill-afford to let its guard slacken for, sooner rather than later, new attempts will invariably be made by the Pakistani generals to again enlarge the scope of the proxy war.

In this context, it is important to understand the complexities of guarding the Line of Control (LoC). In Kargil district, the LoC runs for about 140 kms from Kaobal Gali northwest of Zoji La pass up to NJ 9842, the last pointon the map till which the LoC was jointly delineated in 1972 after the Shimla agreement. It passes over some of the most difficult high-altitude terrain of the Great Himalayan, Zanskar and Ladakh Ranges, at heights varying between 15,000 and 18,000 feet. The wind-chill factor ensures that winter temperatures dip to minus 50 degrees celsius. The upper reaches in many areas are snow-bound throughout the year.

Due to the militarily impassable nature of the terrain, especially for large-scale sustained military operations, it had been the practice on both sides of the LoC to establish posts only on the tactically important mountain features throughout the year. During the summer months, some additional patrolling bases were established by both India and Pakistan from which long-range patrols (LRPs) could be launched for the surveillance of un-held areas. In the winter it is almost impossible to survive in these areas unless Siachen-grade equipment is utilised. For over 27 years the Pakistan Army had respectedthe sanctity of the LoC and there had been no attempt to alter it. Hence, the operational priority had been to thwart Pakistan’s efforts to open up new routes to infiltrate the so-called mercenary mujahideen through the river valleys and passes in the Kargil sector into the Kashmir Valley. Prior to the Kargil conflict, an infantry brigade, under the Leh infantry division, was responsible for operations in Kargil.

There were several large gaps in deployment on both sides of the LoC in areas that were considered unsuitable for large-sc-ale offensive military operations. For example, from Kaobal Gali to Ma-rpo La in the Dras sector, the gap in deployment was reportedly as much as 36 km. No army can physically hold every metre of territory along the country’s borders either in peacetime or in war; nor is it militarily necessary to do so. Whi-le the tactically important features of terrain are physically held, gaps are normally left in areas where the `going’ is difficult for an enemy offensive. Such gaps areusually protected by laying obstacles like land mines and are actively patrolled when a threat is discerned. It needs to be understood that in difficult mountainous terrain like that in Kargil, any regular army can achieve initial tactical surprise by intruding through the gaps and occupying un-held mountaintops. Hence, post-Kargil, everything has changed due to Pakistan’s perfidy in violating the sanctity of the LoC.

In order to ensure that it does not once again send salwar kameez-clad soldiers to surreptitiously lodge themselves on the Indian side of the LoC, the relatively more important areas in the erstwhile gaps will need to be covered by deploying additional infantry battalions on suitable ridgelines. The new deployments will not be in isolated posts every 200 or 300 metres apart, as has been speculated in the press. The additional posts on dominating ridgelines will be mutually supporting, logistically sustainable. The gaps between neighbouring posts will be actively patrolled on a regular basis.Strong battalion-sized reserves will be maintained at several pl-aces in the rear areas to take care of planned co-ntingencies and to react immediately in case of unforeseen eventualiti-es. Additional artillery regiments will be depl-oyed to retaliate whenever suspicious activities are detected or the enemy again attempts to infiltrate its mercenary marauders. Due to the now enha-nced threat perception, for more responsive co-mmand and control hea-dquarters, 8 Mountain Division has been inducted into the Kargil sector. However, a large-scale infantry deployment on snow-bound mountaintops alone is no panacea for the insidious designs of a spiteful adversary and, consequently, much has been written about the need for hi-tech satellite and aerial surveillance. It will be necessary to eq-uip infantry battalions with hand-held battlefield surveillance radars so that the reach of static posts as well as foot patrols can be enhanced, particularly in the poor visibility conditions that prevail in Kargil.

The troopsof infantry battalions and the artillery officers manning observation posts will need light-weight state-of-the-art passive night vision devices such as long range binoculars for surveillance and target acquisition. Un-a ttended ground sensors will also provide a viable technological capability for the surveillance of gaps, provided their employment in the snow-bound Kargil terrain is found to be practically viable. ASSOCHAM has estimated that an additional expenditure of Rs 4,000 to 5,000 crore will have to be incurred to maintain a division-sized force in Kargil annually as one brigade in Siachen costs the exchequer approximately Rs 1,000 crore every year. Neither the terrain nor the logistics requirements are exactly similar and the overall recurring costs are likely to be lesser than the estimates. For example, the number of posts requiring air-maintenance in Kargil sector will be much lesser than those in Siachen due to the proximity of most posts in Kargil to the Srinagar-Leh NH 1A. In Siachen, almostthe entire deployment of approximately 110-km on Saltoro Ridge is logistically supported without a single road. However, the initial capital costs of acquiring new surveillance technology and building the required infrastructure will be considerable and a quantum jump will be necessary in the defence budget.

Since the last of the Pakistani soldiers were evicted and driven back across the LoC in the Kargil sector in July 1999, unwept, un-honoured and unsung by their own nation, additional army forces have been stationed along the LoC, to reinforce the deployment and deny Pakistan another opportunity to launch a clandestine operation. Sustaining this deployment on the icy Himalayan ridges will undoubtedly be costly in terms of capital expenditure on surveillance technology, logistics infrastructure and additional air ma-intenance, but it is a price that has to be paid in the interest of national security.

The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi

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