`It all depends on Pakistan's intention'

Published : Jan 02, 2004 00:00 IST

Interview with Lieutenant-General Hari Prasad.

Lieutenant-General Hari Prasad, Commander of the Northern Army, is arguably in India's hottest military seat. Charged with the defence of India's most sensitive frontiers with Pakistan and China and with counter-terrorist operations, Lt. Gen. Prasad must deal with both the prospect of full-blown war and the reality of the ongoing sub-conventional war in Jammu and Kashmir. He is also responsible for the construction of a counter-infiltration fence along several hundred kilometres of the frontier, one of the most ambitious physical defence projects ever undertaken by any military anywhere. In a rare interview he gave Praveen Swami, Lt. Gen. Prasad discussed his military plans for the winter, and the state of the ongoing Line of Control (LoC) ceasefire. Excerpts:

This winter is going to be an extremely busy time for the troops under your command, particularly since you are going to be pushing troops forward along the Line of Control. Are you concerned about the physical demands this deployment will make on troops? And what results do you expect from this forward deployment?

We expect a reduction in infiltration. Terrorists will not be able to replenish their dwindling numbers due to the ongoing operations in the hinterland. Our troops are well equipped for the tasks and their morale is high.

There seems to be a consensus that infiltration has been relatively low this year. Is this strategy on the part of Pakistan, or the result of your posture on the LoC?

Placing a second tier of troops for a counter-infiltration posture has been effective. Besides dealing with infiltration, troops deployed on the LoC have other tasks such as dealing with enemy fire and incursions whereby they cannot focus entirely on counter-infiltration. Thus, the concept of a second line along the LoC. As a result, an infiltrator has to confront the first tier of troops on the LoC, and thereafter a second tier of ambushes and patrols. Also, our troops have now been provided with surveillance devices such as hand-held thermal imagers to detect day and night movements. The ongoing LoC fencing is also making good progress. About 40 per cent of the fencing is complete and the remainder shall be completed by October next year.

How effective will the fencing actually be? After all, there is a fence in place in parts of Jammu, on what we call the international border and the Pakistanis the working boundary, and some infiltration still takes place there.

At present, the fence in the Jammu area along the international border is only 80 km, and not over the entire length of 218 km. However, I agree there cannot be zero infiltration even after the fence is in place. However, the quantum of infiltration will certainly reduce substantially. An infiltrator attempting to cross over the fence would have to contend with concertina coils, spikes and a second layer of concertina in addition to various sensors and alarm systems. Thus, we would be able to detect an infiltrator easily. We have already had successes owing to the fencing and are optimistic that it will be of tremendous help.

How well is the current ceasefire on the LoC going, and how long do you expect it to last?

Your guess is as good as mine! It all depends on Pakistan's intentions. If they want to keep the proxy war going in Jammu and Kashmir, they will have to continue infiltrating terrorists. The ceasefire until now has been holding. We've had only one infiltration contact so far after the ceasefire. This was in the Neelam Valley area, where later we saw blood trails heading back along the LoC. In this case, the Pakistani troops did not fire to support the infiltration. I am thus optimistic. I believe Pakistan has an interest in continuing with the ceasefire in view of the damage inflicted by us in retaliation to their firing. There is also a consensus for peace building up across the LoC. If you travel to the Neelam Valley, you will see civilian commuters on the other side waving to our troops as they pass by.

And the popular mood in Jammu and Kashmir itself? What do you make of the ongoing peace process?

Its not for me to comment on a political process, but, again, I am an optimist and there is an important sign of the popular move that I see. We are raising six new Territorial Army battalions, to provide home-and-hearth security to rural communities across Jammu and Kashmir. There will be four such battalions south of the Pir Panjal, and three to its north. We have received 10 applications for each job available, including from people in the Kashmir Valley. These figures speak for themselves.

Finally, there are signs of a new terrorist build-up in some areas, like Sillan Dhoke in Poonch. How optimistic are you about the long-term prospects of the ground-holding tactics of the kind represented by Operation Sarp Vinash? After all, you cannot have large numbers of troops everywhere to deny ground to terrorists.

You are right. Troops cannot be deployed physically everywhere. However, holding ground at key locations is important. In the case of Hil Kaka, pulling out troops entirely would result in terrorists reoccupying the area and demoralising local residents who after a long time are living without fear. That is the reason these new Territorial Army units are being raised. Vulnerable communities in the rural areas would then have inherent security. As for Sillan Dhoke, we are keeping a very close watch, but it would be incorrect for me to discuss our future course of action at this time.

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