Nowhere in the world have two nuclear countries confronted each other for decades across an unresolved border except for Pakistan and India. The 745 km odd Line of Control (LoC) between the two countries continues to be a fragile flash point where fierce gun battles and firefights are routine. While the politico military stalemate at the strategic level plays itself out, the impact at the operational/tactical level is not only complex but also very challenging. A very high degree of professional competence, leadership and maturity is required by our troops who are manning the LoC gallantly, in very trying and onerous conditions.
The history of the LoC has its origins in the ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan after the UN mandated ceasefire on 1 June 1949 brought an end to 14 months of fighting. As per the Karachi Pact signed between the two countries in July 1949, the Ceasefire Line (CFL) was demarcated on a one inch map, and the United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was created to oversee its sanctity. The CFL was transgressed by both Pakistan and India in the 1965 conflict, but both the nations returned to their respective sides of the CFL after the Tashkent Agreement. After the 1971 War however, both sides retained the gains they had made across the CFL in terms of the Shimla Accord and the erstwhile CFL was renamed as the Line of Control (LoC). This line was marked on a set of 25 maps by field commanders of both sides and exchanged on 11 December 1972. From the operational stand point, two clauses of the Shimla Agreement which govern the fundamental principles of the rules of engagement and have military applications on the LoC are given below:
Article 1(ii): Pending the final settlement of any problem between the two countries, neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation and both sides shall prevent organisation, assistance or encouragement of any acts detrimental to the maintenance of peaceful and harmonious relations. Article 4(ii): The Line of Control shall be respected by both sides and both sides shall refrain from threats or use of force in violation of this line.
India, with due respect for international conventions and acceptance of political primacy has observed these principles, and has not unilaterally taken any steps to alter the prevailing situation. Pakistan on the other hand by hosting terror bases in POK and assisting them to cross the LoC have violated the very fundamental premise of Article 1(ii) above.
Challenges at the Ground Level
Though the LoC has been marked on set of maps, ambiguity remains on its exact alignment, which is a cause for dispute at the post or lower levels. Firstly, the line itself is marked with a rather thick felt pen; by itself this thickness covers 10 to 20 meters on ground. In an atmosphere of acute jingoism where each side talks of not losing or giving up even one inch of its territory, 10 meters is rather significant. Disputes resulting in heavy exchange of fire and loss of life are caused by an alleged encroachment of even few meters of the perceived LoC.
Secondly, in most cases, both sides are approximately 800 m to 1.5 km apart and in some places even 2 to 2.5 km away. The intervening area between the two sides thus gives rise to ambiguity and is a recipe for adventurism/misunderstanding. Since the LoC is neither marked nor demarcated on ground there is a huge difference in perception on the actual or accepted alignment. Each perceived or actual transgression is hence contested by effective fire.
Another peculiarity of the LoC which makes soldiering difficult is its very unmilitary alignment. Since the LoC generally conforms to an abrupt cease fire, serious tactical anomalies manifested themselves on the ground. The line at places runs along the base or middle of a spur line leading to anomalous situations. In certain areas, the Pakistanis on higher ground, dominate the lower Indian posts and in others, it is the Indians who are on higher ground and in a dominating position. The posts under domination hence become the hapless victims of retaliatory fire. For example, if Pakistan opened fire on an Indian post they were dominating, the retaliation would be exercised elsewhere, where Indian posts were in a dominating position, often causing a ripple effect and leading to an escalation in hostilities. This could continue for a few days till the situation was brought under control. Commanders on the ground however, know what is expected of them. Contrary to some belief, there is much tactical and operational autonomy and complete coherence and synergy in the politico–military interface at the strategic level. Operational commanders have enough leeway to handle situations on the LoC which demand instantaneous response and management.
Support to Terrorists and Infiltration
As mentioned earlier Pakistan’s complicity in the unacceptable practice of encouraging, supporting and assisting terrorists is single biggest cause of the fragility of the LoC. Most crossing attempts take place at night often in poor visibility conditions, like rain or snow. Since the terrain is hostile, with thick undergrowth, perennial nallahs, and undulating broken ground, concealed movement is very much possible. Unless the troops are extremely vigilant, a group of 5 to 8 terrorists could slip by within 50 to 100 meters of own troops. Terrorists make multiple attempts at many places on different days and periods of night to enhance their chance of success. Once detected, the effective fire fight would normally last a few seconds to a few minutes. The initial contact is crucial and has to be telling, else the terrorists slip back or hide in the numerous folds and broken ground. The exhausting and frustrating cordon and search operation to flush out the terrorists which may follow, often runs into days with mixed results, sometimes causing casualties by IED’s or fire by cornered terrorists sitting in ambush. The overall situation calls for very high degree of alertness, training, motivation and above all resolve. The stress and strain on troops operating very long hours in state of high alert in a very tense atmosphere is telling. It is the junior leadership of our young officers and NCO’s which has been the bedrock of our success and sustenance despite the odds stacked against us.
Challenges Of Command
Command of unit or formation along the LoC is the most challenging assignment for an officer and true baptism by fire. A commanding officer on arriving in his designated operational area of command would be briefed extensively and thence taken to a few vantage points. From these vantage points he would be indicated the LoC running upto 1 to 1.5 km away and stretching across many kilometres of frontage.
On assuming operational control it would be his sacrosanct duty then on to guard it with his life and limb and ensure its dominance. His task is made complex by the fact that his opposite number goes through similar training, but may have an entirely different perception of the alignment of the LoC. In addition, he needs to ensure the safety of his command and their operational readiness for conventional operations at any given time. To top it all he has to ensure no infiltration by highly trained and adept terrorists abetted and supported by the opposite side. There are innumerable risks and daily challenges which he faces in the exercise of his command. An exciting, demanding and high adrenalin rush tenure, which is in the end very satisfying and exhilarating. A real-time test of one’s aptitude for higher direction of war.
The LoC is an oddity in the international arena of relations between nation states. An anomaly which needs to be put to rest by resorting to a more rational and credible border which satisfies most of the demands of contesting parties. Till that comes forth, the challenges of operating on the LoC shall remain a daunting and difficult task, demanding the highest levels of soldierly skills and fortitude.