Sweet-swapping, wickets, and artillery fire on the Line of Control: rituals of retaliation

Despite the ambush of Indian soldiers in Kashmir, despite the suspension of  talks between India and Pakistan, despite the attacks on Pakistani interests within India, and the media fury, you can tell that things are really serious when the two sides stop swapping sweets. “There was no exchange of sweets and pleasantries with Pakistani Army today at LoC [Line of Control] in Chakan-Da-Bagh Border crossing point in Poonch”, a senior Indian Army officer told the Indian press. But, to reassure everyone that things were not entirely out of control, he assured us that sweets were in fact exchanged between India’s Border Security Force (BSF) and Pakistan Rangers at Octroi Border outpost along the International Border (distinct from the LoC, which divides disputed territory) in Jammu district. Phew.

With this sweet-swapping in mind, it’s worth reading Ajai Shukla’s excellent account of the rituals, routines, and rules of retaliation along the India-Pakistan Line of Control (LoC), along which the most serious clashes have broken out this week since the 2003 ceasefire:

Before the 2003 ceasefire, both sides occupied themselves in an unending, unprovoked duel to gun down or kill with mortar and artillery fire as many opposing soldiers as possible. Tens of thousands of bullets were fired everyday, and the casualty count on either side often crossed a hundred soldiers each year. To put the current year’s count of 57 ceasefire violations in context, each day before the ceasefire would see those many exchanges of fire.

Bizarrely, an occasion like an India-Pakistan one-day cricket match would see soldiers get killed or wounded. Each wicket taken or boundary hit would see intense celebratory gunfire – directed at a nearby, or especially vulnerable, enemy post

For carrying out such ambushes and for attacking small enemy posts in tactically favourable terrain, both India and Pakistan have contingency plans worked out and rehearsed. When one side needs to send a signal, or to retaliate, one of those plans is implemented at short notice.

See also Praveen Swami’s well-reported piece on the dirty war that preceded last week’s ambush and all that followed:

The ambush comes […] amidst the first year that violence in Jammu and Kashmir has shown an uptick since the near-war of 2001-2002. In the last week of July alone, 12 jihadists were killed in northern Kashmir’s Kupwara district— levels of infiltration not seen in years. In the last major encounter, five terrorists were killed short of Hema post, on the Line of Control in Kupwara. The Line of Control (LoC) in the Jammu region has seen 42 exchanges of fire this year, the sources said, up from 28 in all of 2012.

This, however, we do also know: last night’s lethal ambush in Poonch was just the latest in phase in a secret war along the Line of Control that have continued apace since the beheadings of Lance-Naik Hem Raj and Lance-Naik Sudhakar Naik in January


In March, 1998, an Indian special forces unit is alleged to have killed 22 civilians at the village of Bandala, in the Chhamb sector; two villagers decapitated; the eyes of several others were allegedly gouged out by the attackers. The Pakistani military claimed to have recovered an Indian-made watch from the scene of the carnage, along with a hand-written note which asked, “How does your own blood feel?” The Bandala massacre is alleged to have been carried to avenge massacre of 29 Hindu villagers at Prankote, in Jammu and Kashmir, by the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The Lashkar attackers slit the throats of their victims, which included women and infants. Large-scale civilian killings did not take place again, but the Indian army continued to dish out at least as good as it got.

And, finally, see Myra MacDonald’s thoughtful piece from a few weeks ago on the distinct but connected question of why Kashmir is becoming re-politicised within Pakistan:

The outrage comes within a context – a time when Pakistan is trying to decide how to tackle Islamist militants, once nurtured by the army to counter India in Kashmir and Afghanistan, and now increasingly turning their guns on people at home.

It also coincides with a willingness in Pakistan to believe allegations made this month that an Indian police official had suggested the Mumbai attack was a false flag operation conducted by India against itself – a line that played into a penchant for conspiracy theories and a tendency to blame violence in Pakistan on “outside forces”.

The problem, both with these conspiracy theories and the more generalised sympathy for the goals of militant groups – be it the liberation of Kashmir or the quest for influence in Afghanistan – is that it makes it all the harder for Pakistan to come up with a coherent anti-terrorism policy.


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