Locked In U.N. Files, 15 Years Of Bloodletting At LoC

Locked In U.N. Files, 15 Years Of Bloodletting At LoC

29 January 2013
The Hindu
Praveen Swami

New Delhi: In classified protests to a United Nations watchdog that have never been disclosed till now, Pakistan has accused Indian soldiers of involvement in the torture and decapitation of at least 12 Pakistani soldiers in cross-Line of Control raids since 1998, as well as the massacre of 29 civilians. The allegations, laid out in confidential Pakistani complaints to the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), suggest that Indian and Pakistani troops stationed on the Line of Control remain locked in a pattern of murderous violence, despite the ceasefire both armies entered into in November 2003. Earlier this month, bilateral relations were severely damaged after a series of LoC skirmishes, which culminated in the beheading and mutilation of two Indian soldiers Lance-Naik Hemraj Singh and Lance-Naik Sudhakar Singh. The Ministry of Defence did not respond to an e-mail from The Hindu, seeking comment on the alleged decapitation of Pakistani civilians and troops reported to UNMOGIP. However, a military spokesperson said the issue had “not been raised by Pakistan in communications between the two Directors-General of Military Operations.” The Ministry of External Affairs also said the UNMOGIP complaints had not been raised in diplomatic exchanges between the two countries. “Ever since 9-11,” a senior Pakistan army officer told The Hindu, “we have sought to downplay these incidents, aware that a public backlash [could] push us into a situation we cannot afford on the LoC, given that much of our army is now committed to our western borders. Each of these incidents has been protested by us on both military and UNMOGIP channels.” UNMOGIP, set up after the India-Pakistan war of 1947-1948 to monitor ceasefire violations, does not conduct criminal investigations, or assign responsibility for incidents. The reports of its ceasefire monitors are sent to the organisation’s headquarters in New York, and forwarded to the Ministry of Defence in New Delhi. Ever since 1972, India has responded to UNMOGIP queries with a standard-form letter, saying it believes the organisation has lost its relevance following the demarcation of the LoC. Earlier this month, India argued in the United Nations that the organisation ought to be wound-up. Massacre for massacre The most savage cross-LoC violence Indian forces are alleged to have participated in was the killing of 22 civilians at the village of Bandala, in the Chhamb sector, on the night of November 26-27, 1998. The bodies of two civilians, according to Pakistan’s complaint to UNMOGIP, were 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”? First reported by The Hindu’s sister publication Frontline in its June 19, 1998 issue, the Bandala massacre is alleged to have been carried out by irregulars backed by Indian special forces in retaliation for the massacre of 29 Hindu villagers at Prankote, in Jammu and Kashmir, by the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The LeT attackers slit the throats of their victims, who included women and children. No Indian investigation of the Bandala killings has ever been carried out. However, an officer serving in the Northern Command at the time said the massacre was “intended to signal that communal massacres by jihadists, who were after all trained and equipped by Pakistan’s military, were a red line that could not be crossed with impunity.” The Lashkar, however, continued to target Hindu villagers in the Jammu region; 10 were killed at Deesa and Surankote just days later, on May 6, 1998. In 2001, 108 people were gunned down in 11 communal massacres, and 83 people were killed in five incidents in 2002 - a grim toll that only died out after the 2003 ceasefire. Brutal retaliation Even though the large-scale killings of civilians did not take place again, Pakistan continued to report cross-border attacks, involving mutilations, to UNMOGIP. Six months after the Kargil war, on the night of January 21-22, 2000, seven Pakistani soldiers were alleged to have been captured in a raid on a post in the Nadala enclave, across the Neelam River. The seven soldiers, wounded in fire, were allegedly tied up and dragged across a ravine running across the LoC. The bodies were returned, according to Pakistan’s complaint, bearing signs of brutal torture. “Pakistan chose to underplay the Nadala incident,” a senior Pakistani military officer involved with its Military Operations Directorate told The Hindu, “as General Pervez Musharraf had only recently staged his coup, and did not want a public outcry that would spark a crisis with India.” Indian military sources told The Hindu that the raid, conducted by a special forces unit, was intended to avenge the killing of Captain Saurabh Kalia, and five soldiers - sepoys Bhanwar Lal Bagaria, Arjun Ram, Bhika Ram, Moola Ram and Naresh Singh - of the 4 Jat Regiment. The patrol had been captured on May 15, 1999, in the Kaksar sector of Kargil. Post mortem revealed that the men’s bodies had been burned with cigarette-ends and their genitals mutilated. Less detail is available on the retaliatory cycles involved in incidents that have taken place since the ceasefire went into place along the LoC in 2003 - but Pakistan’s complaints to UNMOGIP suggest that there has been steady, but largely unreported, cross-border violence involving beheadings and mutilations. Indian troops, Pakistan alleged, killed a JCO, or junior commissioned officer, and three soldiers in a raid on a post in the Baroh sector, near Bhimber Gali in Poonch, on September 18, 2003. The raiders, it told UNMOGIP, decapitated one soldier and carried his head off as a trophy. Near-identical incidents have taken place on at least two occasions since 2008, when hostilities on the LoC began to escalate again. Indian troops, Pakistan’s complaints record, beheaded a soldier and carried his head across on June 19, 2008, in the Bhattal sector in Poonch. Four Pakistani soldiers, UNMOGIP was told, died in the raid. The killings came soon after a June 5, 2008 attack on the Kranti border observation post near Salhotri village in Poonch, which claimed the life of 2-8 Gurkha Regiment soldier Jawashwar Chhame. Finally, on August 30, 2011, Pakistan complained that three soldiers, including a JCO, were beheaded in an Indian raid on a post in the Sharda sector, across the Neelam river valley in Kel. The Hindu had first reported the incident based on testimony from Indian military sources, who said two Pakistani soldiers had been beheaded following the decapitation of two Indian soldiers near Karnah. The raid on the Indian forward position, a highly placed military source said, was carried out by Pakistani special forces, who used rafts to penetrate India’s defences along the LoC. Fragile ceasefire Part of the reason why the November 2003 ceasefire failed to end such savagery, government sources in both India and Pakistan told The Hindu, is the absence of an agreed mechanism to regulate conflicts along the LoC. Though both sides have occasional brigade-level flag meetings, and local post commanders exchange communications, disputes are rarely reported to higher authorities until tensions reach boiling point. Foreign offices in both countries, diplomats admitted, are almost never briefed on crises brewing on the LoC. In October last year, highly placed military sources said, Pakistan’s Director-General of Military Operations complained about Indian construction work around Charunda, in Uri. His Indian counterpart, Lieutenant-General Vinod Bhatia, however, responded that India’s works were purely intended to prevent illegal border crossings. The unresolved dispute led to exchanges of fire, which eventually escalated into shelling and the killings of soldiers on both sides. The November 2003 ceasefire, Indian diplomatic sources say, was based on an unwritten “agreement,” which in essence stipulated that neither side would reinforce its fortifications along the LoC - a measure first agreed to after the 1971 war. In 2006, the two sides exchanged drafts for a formal agreement. Since then, the sources said, negotiations have stalled over differing ideas on what kind of construction is permissible. “In essence,” a senior government official said, “we accept that there should be no new construction, but want to be allowed to expand counter-infiltration measures and expand existing infrastructure.” India insists that it needs to expand counter-infiltration infrastructure because of escalating operations by jihadist groups across the LoC. Pakistan argues that India’s own figures show a sharp decline in operations by jihadists in Jammu and Kashmir. Last year, according to the Indian government, 72 terrorists, 24 civilians and 15 security personnel, including police, were killed in terrorist violence in the State - lower, in total, than the 521 murders recorded in Delhi alone. In 2011, the figures were, respectively, 100, 40 and 33; in 2010, 232, 164 and 69. “You can’t say that you need more border defences to fight off jihadists when you yourself say there is less and less jihadist violence,” a Pakistani military official said. “The only reason there are less jihadists,” an Indian military officer responded, “is because we’ve enhanced our defences.” Indian and Pakistani diplomats last met on December 27 to discuss the draft agreement, but could make no headway.