'We have exercised the utmost restraint'

Print edition : August 15, 1998

Interview with Lieutenant-General Krishan Pal.

Lieutenant-General Krishan Pal, General Officer Commanding of the Army's 15 Corps, with its headquarters in Srinagar, and ex-officio Security Adviser to the Government of Jammu and Kashmir, has been on the front line in the military showdown along the Line of Control. In an exclusive interview in March 1998 (Frontline, April 3), Lt.-Gen. Krishan Pal had called for hot pursuit action and strikes on terrorist bases located across the LoC. Pakistan's objective in provoking the recent exchanges of fire across the LoC, Lt.-Gen. Krishan Pal says, is to invite international intervention in the Kashmir dispute. The 15 Corps' responses to provocation, he said, have therefore been measured. Excerpts from an interview he gave Praveen Swami in Srinagar.

Why has there been a greater level of firing across the LoC than is routine at this time of the year?

-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Pakistan is desperate because we have destroyed terrorism in the Kashmir Valley. First, the terrorists present in Kashmir are unable to strike; the evidence of this is clear. Although they banned the Amarnath Yatra, we ensured that the terrorists were unable to bring off any action even for effect, like firing from a distance with machine guns or shooting off rockets. The mercenaries whom Pakistan has sent in are hiding on mountain heights, passing time until their two-year tenure here is complete and they can return to collect the remainder of their payments. Second, we have had conspicuous successes in checking infiltration, and have been inflicting heavy losses on groups which have tried to enter through the Kupwara sector, for example. So, having failed in their attempt to gain Jammu and Kashmir by means of sponsoring an insurgency, they now hope to secure their goals by bringing about international political intervention. That is why they are attempting to create a war-like situation along the LoC.

Just how serious has the firing been? And what has been the nature of your response?

The firing has undoubtedly been considerably heavier than in the past. Pakistan has viciously targeted civilian areas, up to 30-40 km inside the LoC. You have been to the LoC and seen how they have deliberately fired on homes, schools and civil buildings without any military facilities nearby. They believed this would push us into an intemperate military response. But the only result has been that the people of Jammu and Kashmir have seen just how much Pakistan cares for them! They will never forgive Pakistan for the destruction it has caused here.

But Pakistan television, as well as some international publications, have been showing pictures of considerable civilian damage on the Pakistan side as well.

Look, when you have artillery exchanges, some collateral damage will be there. It is very tragic, but unfortunately there is no way to avoid this when we are confronted with blatant aggression from the Pakistan side. In Pakistan's case, civilian casualties are high because Pakistan deliberately positions its guns in the middle of populated areas. Chakoti is one example, and there are many other similar villages. If they want to protect civilian lives, then they should do as we do, and position their artillery well away from places where civilians live and work, instead of hiding behind innocent people. I want to make clear that I have not even used 40 per cent of my firepower, and I mean 40 per cent of my firepower, against the Pakistanis. If I had done so, the other side would have been obliterated. We knew what they were trying to do, and despite taking casualties, have exercised the utmost restraint. We have matched them round for round, calibre for calibre.

What do you make of the future? In the past, heavy firing has often been a cover for infiltration. Do you see an escalation of violence within the Kashmir Valley as being imminent? There are also rumours that heavier weapons may be used by terrorists in the future.

There will undoubtedly have been infiltration during this period, as sending out patrols and setting up ambushes becomes next to impossible when there is such heavy shelling. But as I told you, the mercenaries Pakistan is sending in are not interested in getting killed. The minute they establish themselves in inhabited areas, local people tell us of their presence, and we eliminate them. So all they are interested in doing is hiding out and staying alive until it is time to go back. But we are chasing them on the heights, and have succeeded in destroying a large number of their hideouts and inflicting heavy casualties. As for weapons, what heavier weapons are there than those they have already used?

Soon the passes will close on the heights, and we will renew our offensive. I will have three additional brigades in operation soon, which will become available after the end of the Amarnath Yatra. We will be able to destroy the terrorists in the Valley. Pakistan's game has failed, and the sooner they accept this fact, the better it will be for both them and us.

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