Memories of LoC: Perish the drumbeat of war

Wafiur Rahman
Thursday, October 13th, 2016

Major Enamul Haq Khan (Retd)


DhakaCourier’s staff writer Wafiur Rahman interviewed a retired army man once posted on the Line of Control – the effective border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir – recalls his days in service, and insists war can never be an option to resolving the issue of the Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination.


A Pakistani development worker had posted on Facebook last year, comparing the bilateral relations between South Asian giants India and Pakistan as that to a ‘divorced couple’. The constant-sparring and love-hate relationship reached new tensions in the last few weeks after four anti-India militants raided an army base inside Indian-controlled Kashmir on Sept. 18, killing 19 soldiers. India said the attackers came from Pakistan, which denied involvement.


India responded to the attack nine days later by sending commandos to strike militant outposts a short distance inside Pakistani-administered Kashmir. Although the countries regularly trade fire across the border in contravention of a decades-old cease-fire, this was the first time India publicly acknowledged such a strike.


In recent days, India has accused Pakistan of violating the ceasefire more than two dozen times. The Indian army said it killed three militants who fired on another military camp and four others attempting to cross into Indian-controlled Kashmir.


So does this instigate another round of battle between the two nations apart from the cricketing field? According to Major Enamul Haq Khan (Retd), that is highly unlikely.


Why his view matters


A decorated army officer, Major Enamul had served three years from 1968-1970 right in the Line of Control (LOC) as part of the Pakistan army. He was first deployed 51 miles away from the nearest headquarter in Muzaffarabad. The area was hardly twenty miles from Kargil, the sight of the 1999 war between the two countries.


‘It was full of difficult terrains,’ he reminisced, ‘the deeper we ventured the more difficult the terrain. At one point our post was 100 metres away from the Indian post, but in between, there was a drop, an abyss of sorts, which was over 5000 metres in depth. During the day, things were okay, life in the bunkers were not problematic. But shootouts used to occur after the last light, ending at first light (a dusk till dawn kind-of routine), without any provocations. Soldiers at the borders were not accountable for how many rounds they fired or for what purpose.’


It was like a situational trap, he remarked, where such shootouts was like a norm. But there were exceptions of course.


Just before Eid, Major Enamul recalls sending loads of gifts, in the form of groceries such as ghee, milk, rice and more – all in huge bulk, in the same direction they would usually be aiming their guns across the LoC. Similarly, during the major Puja festivals such as Diwali, the Indian Army used to reciprocate the protocol and send baskets of goodies over to their Pakistani counterparts.


Uri, the scene of the recent unrests, is hardly half a kilometre from the LoC. Regardless of its proximity, Major Enamul describes how India has undertaken major developments – communication, infrastructure and more – at most of the towns in the border area, something which was not done by the Pakistanis. ‘Uri is just as good and developed as a township in the other states of India,’ he added, ‘as far as the timeline from 1947 to 1968 is concerned, these developments were evident, even now. Additionally Pakistan’s ineptitude regarding developments for Azad Kashmir and other border towns in the Pakistan part of Kashmir. Lack of education in the areas surrounding Muzaffarabad, including Poonch, in towns across the Neelum/Jhelum River and Bagh were persistent, although recently some development has visited upon those areas as well.’


He reveals that this was apparent in everyone’s perspective that the Indians developed the towns irrespective of which religion the townspeople followed, a feeling of comfort Pakistan-Kashmiris could never imagine. But there have been exceptions to being receptive, as Srinagar still poses somewhat of a troubled township for the Indian government even now.


As far as the war is concerned, the overall terrain in LoC areas is such that both the sides can see each other, and it would be foolish to vacate their positions and advance in such a terrain – the opposition can spot the progress miles away and strategize accordingly. Once the position is lost, it is very difficult to reconsolidate.


The media, according to him, is playing a pivotal role in portraying a potential war on plain land locations, but there is no possibility of that. As far as the nuclear arsenal is concerned, on a hypothetical note, if any of the two were to ever use it, it would be Pakistan. ‘First of all, it would be them because they have not forgotten about 1971, and secondly as a last resort. But even then, the consequences would have to be weighed in.’


‘Say if Pakistan attacks Chandigarh, capital of Indian Punjab, most of Punjab on both sides will be devastated, including its neighbour on the left – Afghanistan. If India decides to attack Karachi, then collateral damage would be inflicted on Rajasthan. Similarly for Quetta, their Iranian and Afghan neighbours would also bear the brunt of the attacks. Therefore, both the sides realise that deploying nuclear missiles is not the answer, despite what the media may predict.’


But to weigh in strength, Major Enamul cites India to have more manpower, resources and land to put up a substantial fight. And since it would want to retain its supremacy in South Asia, it would not even consider ‘nuking’ its enemies.


Strategically, India has deployed more than six divisions across the LOC, almost ten times more than those posted in plain lands. Technically they have 1.5 times more manpower across the Kashmir border compared to Pakistan. But no one would take the proverbial first shot. ‘Shots are still being traded as we speak. If the situation escalates from Uri, then maybe in the plain terrains there may be a little-to-scant possibility, but upwards, no one will take the initiative. It would involve artillery and mortar shelling, which, once reaching the target in plain lands, would disperse splinter and boulders which would devastate the area.’


But all this does not mean that Pakistan is weak, he counters, their resilience is known across major military academies across the globe. The fact that they fought in the difficult swamp-like terrains in Bangladesh during 1971 for nine months without naval or air support proves that they can fight if it comes to that.


All said, despite no one willing to go to war, Major Enamul observes Pakistan will keep this issue of Kashmir alive, just like India, for political benefits. The role of Kashmiri politicians on both sides will also keep the issue on their hand, ready to spring it whenever the need arises. He views the current situation as a ‘regular routine’ reflected time and again for political reasons.


Experts say it’s unlikely. While the loudest voices in India demand revenge against Pakistan, analysts say neither country gains if things get worse.


India is the world’s fastest-growing major economy, and Modi wants to focus on development, not defence. Several crucial state elections over the next year will hinge on how voters rate his Bharatiya Janata Party’s handling of the economy.


Pakistan lacks India’s conventional military capability. Its prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, is weak, and its powerful army chief is weighing retirement — an unsteady time for Pakistan to step into a major conflict with its more powerful neighbour, Major Enamul sums up. For the good of the region, let us hope his line of reasoning holds.

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