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Modi ups the ante in border fighting

Updated October 13, 2014

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NEW DELHI: To judge from the shrill outrage of India’s television news channels, the bloody clashes along the Line of Control and Working Boundary are all Pakistan’s fault.

However, military officers in both countries and officials in New Delhi say the violence that has killed nearly 20 civilians escalated because of a more assertive Indian posture under the government of nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“The message we have been given from the prime minister’s office is very clear and precise,” said a senior Indian Home Ministry official. “The prime minister’s office has instructed us to ensure that Pakistan suffers deep and heavy losses.”

Know more: Times have changed, warns Modi

In his first extensive comments on the violence, Mr Modi told a political rally on Thursday, when 1,000 Indian mortars rained across into Pakistan, that “it is the enemy that is screaming”.

“The enemy has realised that times have changed and their old habits will not be tolerated,” he said.

Mr Modi’s approach towards Pakistan, supporters say, is aimed at emphasising India’s superior strength and making Pakistan’s military think twice before firing across the border.

It is a strategy he also used to stand up to China during a border standoff between Indian and Chinese troops that coincided with President Xi Jinping’s visit to New Delhi last month.

Since Mr Modi’s election victory in May, military commanders have been encouraged to step up border patrols and retaliate with more force if they come under attack. New Delhi has insisted there can be no talks with Pakistan “unless it ends shootings and pushing militants” into India-held Kashmir.

Officials say India’s new policy is being orchestrated by Ajit Doval, the country’s national security adviser, a decorated former intelligence official renowned for his role in dangerous counter-insurgency missions. He has long advocated tough action against Pakistan-based militant groups.

In August, after days of cross-border firing between India and Pakistan, Mr Doval attended a meeting at the Home Ministry along with the head of the paramilitary Border Security Force (BSF) and a decision was taken to give a free hand to the ground commanders in India-held Jammu, a top security official in the region said.

Until then, the BSF, which guards the section of the border with Pakistan, had complained that instructions on how to respond to provocations were unclear.

“It is a very tough stand that our top bosses want us to take against Pakistan and the tone is very different from the previous government,” said the Home Ministry official.

“The previous government indulged in lip service... but actually neither BSF nor the army was given a free hand.”

A spokesman for India’s defence ministry did not respond to requests for comments.

Pakistani military leaders say they have been taken aback by the level of aggression of Indian forces over the last week.

At a time when the Pakistan army is combating militants in the tribal areas they do not want the distraction of battling India on its eastern flank, they said.

“India is deliberately putting pressure on Pakistani security forces by opening this new front,” said a senior Pakistani military official posted on the border. “The message from India is clear: ‘We will teach you a lesson’.”

Indians in the border areas of held Kashmir said they themselves had noticed a change in tactics by the Indian forces.

“Pakistan fires one, our boys fire six back,” said Atma Ram, 71, who was standing about 300 metres from the electrified fence that separates the two countries in the Suchetgarh area near Jammu.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2014

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