It’s no surprise that the escalation of cross-border tensions in the midst of two important state elections has led Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other officials to issue tough statements to Pakistan. However there is also some evidence that the government is actually considering a change in its current stance of letting officers on the ground respond to ceasefire violations as they see fit, more or less proportionately, to one in which it escalates violence more readily.
Business Standard Consulting Editor Ajai Shukla describes army thinking thus:
With Indian posts on the LoC better constructed and more heavily armed than Pakistan’s, an escalation of firing imposes disproportionate costs on the Pakistan Army. The BSF too has been instructed to retaliate strongly. New Delhi’s decision not to call for a flag meeting underlines its conviction that the military cost will soon become too high for Pakistan.
The Economic Times reports that:
…the Pakistan Army has now given India a chance to do what it wanted to do for a long time – target and destroy permanent defences that were aiding in infiltration.
This sort of talk is understandable if meant as a warning to Pakistan, but any strategy aimed at stopping cross-border militant infiltration is essentially trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
On the face of it, it does seem that the border had been steadily heating up:
The data I located are similar, and show a discernible spike in 2013, but the casualty figures are much lower, with an average of one Indian fatality and eight Indian wounded per year between 2010 and 2013. Also note that the available data appear to exclude Indian ceasefire violations, if any:
Chart 1: Pakistani ceasefire violations along the Line-of-Control
There does seem to be a discernible increase. Even so, ceasefire violations at this level are strategically meaningless unless they are married to a specific objective. The most likely such goal would be to give cover to cross-border militant infiltration aimed at stirring up trouble in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
The former commander of the Srinagar-based XV Corps Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain believes that Pakistani troops have targeted the international border, rather than the Line-of-Control, this time round because “this is the best ground for infiltration and immediate targeting of suitable objectives in a very short time frame”.
But what do the data tell us?
Chart 2: Insurgent infiltration attempts in Jammu and Kashmir
It’s pretty clear that infiltration attempts into J&K by armed insurgents have sharply declined over the past decade, judging from Home Ministry data (sourced from here and here). One dip occurred following the 9/11 attacks in the US as a result of which Pakistan was forced to reduce support to armed groups in Kashmir. The second dip occurred in 2004 after the November 2003 ceasefire with Pakistan which made it harder to infiltrate fighters across the border using covering fire. Furthermore, the rise in ceasefire violations since 2011 has led to no increase in crossborder incursions.
This fall in insurgent infiltration attempts has also contributed to an unambiguous decline in militant violence in the state (data from South Asia Terrorism Portal):
Chart 3: Fatalities from insurgent violence in Jammu and Kashmir
The reduction in violence in J&K undoubtedly has many causes, but a decline in Pakistan-aided infiltration is clearly an important contributor. Consequently, a more aggressive posture on the border might play well to domestic audiences and TV channels, but would do nothing for political stability in J&K. On the contrary, if Pakistan does in fact intend for its border provocations to facilitate the movement of armed fighters into J&K, a “tougher” Indian policy would simply play into its hands (look here for a different argument that reaches the same conclusion).
An alternative explanation of Pakistan’s border behaviour draws on Pakistani domestic politics and on the power tussle between the military and civilian leadership in that country. But that’s for another time.