ISLAMABAD: India has deployed US-manufactured drones along the Line of Control (LoC) in the disputed Himalayan state of Kashmir region against Pakistan in a development strategic and defence experts warn will destabilise the region.
Although India is keeping mum on the deployment, sources in Pakistan disclosed that the surveillance drones with night-vision cameras have been deployed in Poonch and Rajouri sectors along the LoC.
“The data centre of these drones has been established in Srinagar for monitoring and dissemination of information to deployed troops,” sources added.
What is significant about the deployment is that it will not only add to the already tense relationship between Pakistan and India but also complicate ties between Islamabad and Washington.
Pakistan is upset over the development due to the fact that the United States has refused to supply similar drones to Islamabad despite repeated requests.
“It is a matter of grave concern,” said former ambassador Ali Sarwar Naqvi. He said Washington and New Delhi had signed a strategic partnership pact during President Barack Obama’s term and India has possibly acquired the US drones under that agreement.
He suggested that the Pakistan government raise the issue with the US but at the same time take appropriate measures to pre-empt any negative fallout of the deployment of drones along the LoC.
India has been using surveillance drones supplied by Israel.
In July 2016, Pakistan shot down an Indian ‘spy drone’ near the LoC in a sign of the decades-old tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours. “The spy drone was being used for aerial photography,” the military’s media wing said at the time.
But India’s access to US-manufactured unmanned aerial vehicles is a real worry for Pakistan.
Defence analysts caution that supply of armed drones to India can further speed up an arms race in the region and also push the two hostile neighbours closer to a military conflict.
In recent years, the Indian military establishment has been actively pursuing programs to conduct swift and limited attacks against Pakistan, and acquiring armed drones is a part of New Delhi’s defence strategy.
For Lt Gen (retd) Talat Masood, who once headed the Pakistan Ordnance Factories that supply arms and ammunition to the military, deployment of drones would significantly increase the risk of war between Pakistan and India.
“The drones, which can reach anywhere in Pakistan, obviously can heighten tensions and increase the risk of a conflagration,” he told The Express Tribune.
The development came at a time when tension between Pakistan and India is running at an all-time high. The two states were close to a limited war when India claimed that its special forces had conducted ‘surgical strikes’ in Azad Kashmir in the wake of a deadly attack on its military base in Uri in September last year.
Pakistan dismissed the claim as baseless and said India just staged a farcical drama to divert global attention from a popular uprising in Occupied Kashmir.
The United States has dislodged Russia as the top arms supplier to India. New Delhi is also on the cusp of sealing a US nuclear reactor deal worth billions of dollars.
In return, Washington has given New Delhi access to high-end military technology, such as a new system to launch planes off aircraft carriers, and leaned on other countries to back India’s membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime, which cleared the way for the sale of the unarmed Predator.
India’s military has also asked for the armed version of the Predator to help target alleged militant camps in Pakistan but US export control laws prohibit such a transfer.
In September, the US reportedly backed India’s membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime, a prerequisite for buying the drones, followed by a letter from the Indian air force to the San Diego-based General Atomics, conveying its willingness to purchase the Avenger.
The Avengers can fly for 18 hours, carry 3,500 pounds of munitions and reach an altitude of 50,000 feet which will surpass Pakistan’s more limited in range and payload drone series. India’s request for 22 Predator Guardian drones was made in June, 2016.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2017.