New Delhi | 10th Aug 2013
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
enior commanders in the India-Pakistan battlefield say that the rules of engagement enforced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are the cause of the multiplying number of deaths of Indian soldiers at the hands of the Pakistan army. According to them, present Chief of Army Staff General Bikram Singh "follows the PMO's directives in practice while publicly talking about a tough response" to Pakistani provocations, They claim that "cross-border incidents on both the Line of Control and the Line of Actual Control have risen sharply since June 2012" when Gen Singh took over the command of the Army from Gen V.K. Singh. However, a senior officer said that the dilution in response over the past year "is not the (present) chief's fault", and that Gen Bikram Singh had no option as a disciplined soldier than to follow the policy given to him by the political and bureaucratic leadership.
They pointed out that those commanders who adopted a "pro-active stance that would deter the Pakistanis usually suffered in their careers" while the "more cautious ones got promoted". They said that this was in contrast to the Pakistan army, "which always backed the man on the spot, even if he was only a JCO (junior commissioned officer)". Others said that "these days, babus in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) take even tactical decisions best left to the field commanders" and that "interference by the MoD in operational matters has reached the danger level" from the point of view of operational readiness to deal with threats.
These commanders say that Pakistani troops "taunt our forces every day" by saying that it is "Dilli ka hukam" that our soldiers do not respond to provocations from their side. A senior officer claimed that "almost every day, in some sectors, Pakistani troops open up an artillery barrage". He claimed that "the Prime Minister's Office has informally ordered that our boys should not respond to such hostile moves unless higher levels get consulted". In practice, he says, such consultations "almost always get replied to with an order to ignore the firing and the taunts". It has already been reported in these columns that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is regarded with distaste by the men in uniform for his Sunshine Policy towards Islamabad. The PM has been joined by Defence Minister A.K. Antony in being the butt of uncharitable comments related to the PMO-MoD policy of avoiding a robust response to provocative actions from across the border.
These commanders said that "proper rules of engagement" would have resulted in an "immediate and deadly response to the killing of five of our boys by the Pakistani military". But for the informal restrictions on counter-activity, "the Indian Army would have in hours inflicted such damage to the other side that they would have thought twice before launching provocative actions".
They claimed that in those few sectors where local commanders "with spirit were still allowed to function", the Pakistan side was quiet. There was anger at reports that junior officers would be punished for what was in their view "a failure of the higher command to appreciate that force is the best way to ensure calm". Several officers said that "since Kargil, it has become the fashion for higher-ups to blame juniors for their own mistakes". They said that scrutiny of postings would show that "those commanders who inflicted a robust response to provocations were quickly moved out of sensitive commands".
These officers said that the "zigzag pattern of deployment of our troops and the enemy" meant that preventing an ambush in the Poonch sector was "difficult". Therefore, they added, the only way of deterring such action was to ensure "a strong response to any hostile action". According to them, such a course has been informally countermanded by the political leadership, in deference to the desire to chase the chimera of peace with Pakistan, and warned that "unless the Army is given the freedom to act against provocations, more of our soldiers will pay the ultimate price".
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