As the guns fall silent in Kargil, New Delhi is preparing for the awesome and expensive task of permanently manning the previously unguarded and desolate mountainous frontier. More than two divisions (nearly 40,000 troops) based in Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar have been diverted to the frontier, leaving a vacuum which is weakly filled by some 20 paramilitary battalions inexperienced in dealing with the insurgency in Kashmir.
Since 1972, when the ceasefire line between India and Pakistan became the line of control (LoC) after their third war, the Indian army has been manning observation posts in the Kargil area for around four months after the snows melt in June. Patrols used to be sent out along the craggy ridges, but these were infrequent since the army was confident that the pact between the two enemies and the geography itself were a guarantee against any intrusions.
That has now changed. The 140-km-long line of control (LoC) in the Kargil region now needs constant supervision. The resources of India’s 1.2 million-strong army will now be stretched not only in terms of manpower but also financially, says a senior military officer involved in the re-organisation.
And unless the deployment of counter-insurgency (CI) forces gets an entirely new “doctrinal approach”, the officer says the army’s resources and resilience would be weakened. Two-thirds of the length of India’s land border are mountainous, but with a detente holding out with China for years and no real trouble along the LoC since 1972, there had been a winding down of the army’s focus on mountain fighting, other than on Siachen.
The change in doctrinal approach would mean that the Indian army would have to concentrate more on mountain warfare once again.
Having fought so hard, the army has no choice but to man the area heavily, says another senior military officer: “India may have won the battle against the intruders but it has lost the war.” Several battalions of the 8th Mountain division which fought to evict the intruders from several key features have been asked to remain behind and move up to positions along the LoC. They expect to be stationed there through the harsh winter, till relieved in mid-2000.
It will cost India about INR 125 million (USD 2.9 million) per day to maintain the 8000-10,000 soldiers along the LoC in the Kargil region. This is in addition to what it already spends in defending Kashmir and counter-insurgency operations (CI Ops). (Indian intelligence officials estimate Pakistan spends around INR 20 million -approx. USD 4,65,100— a month annually to sustain Kashmir’s militancy, whereas India’s daily expenditure on CI Ops in Kashmir is itself around INR 20 million. India also spends INR 30 million-approx. USD 6,97,600- a day in maintaining troops in the Siachen glacier.)
Following the experience in Kargil, billions of rupees more will be spent in the purchase of new equipment, such as hugely expensive ordnance, high-altitude clothing, radar, surveillance hardware and ground sensors. A three-member Indian army team from the Weapons and Equipment (WAE) Directorate is presently negotiating with Israel, South Africa and Russia for INR 2 billion (approx. USD 46,51,16, 27) worth of ordnance, weapon-locating radar and artillery rockets with a 15-km range.
India also plans to build up an inventory of 10 to 12 weapon-locating radar through local manufacture. Two years ago, the defence ministry had finalised the ‘purchase’ of similar radar from the American company Hughes, but the economic sanctions which followed last year’s nuclear tests put an end to that deal. Negotiations are also underway with Israel and South Africa for immediate purchase of at least two Long-Range Observation and Reconnaissance System Tripods with day and night capability, for INR 15 million (approx. USD 3,48,830) each.
That’s a heavy shopping list and it is one that will have to be continuously upgraded. Like the army officer said, it is going to a long war.