Kashmir's Drone Wars

A Case Study

This article is the second in a small series documenting how drones are used to intensify fighting in Kashmir - the border region disputed by Pakistan and India. These pieces could not have been written without the help of Drone Wars UK and Alexander Haynes, both of whom do phenomenal work. Check out their sites and subscribe or share below if you’re interested!

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In my last post, I examined the Indian military’s use of a series of small DJI quadcopter drones to surveil Pakistani military positions across the countries’ de facto border in Kashmir. In this piece, I want to show exactly how Indian forces use these drones and how their use contributes to clashes, civilian harm, and overall destabilization in the region.

Back in July 2015, the Pakistani military released a trove of open-source material seized from an Indian drone that was downed near a network of outposts on the Pakistani side of the Kashmir Line of Control. At the time, Indian analysts downplayed the material, implying that the pictures and video were taken by a toy or even by a Pakistani drone shot down by Pakistani forces to frame India into a casus belli.

However, a close examination of the material reveals not only that the drone was Indian, but also that it flew a series of provocative missions in the days before it was shot down. After the drone was shot down, clashes erupted across the Line of Control, killing at least five civilians and injuring others.

The photos and videos taken from the drone after it was shot down not only show the path of the drone’s final days but also demonstrate how exactly these drones contribute to violence and instability in Kashmir.

The cache of material released by Pakistan includes six photos and a short video clip.

Of these, the first two pictures (below) were taken close to each other, at a company headquarters and a checkpoint along fencing that divides the Line of Control in the Bhimber area. The company headquarters is likely where the drone was based and could indicate that quadcopter drones are deployed with the Indian military at the company level.

From the company headquarters, the drone flew over a few valleys before it reached a network of Indian outposts abutting the Line of Control. It took pictures of one outpost (below), which I was able to locate here.

Finally, the quadcopter crossed the Line of Control to film Pakistani positions on their side of the border. For some reason, I couldn’t find a copy of the video among the documents released by the Pakistani military. However, I was able to find a copy hidden in the archives of a defense forum.

It shows the drone flying from the Indian side of the border, where it filmed the same Indian outpost shown above (in the bottom right of the images below).

(Note that you can virtually reproduce this same view using Google Earth)

From the Indian post, it crossed the Line of Control and filmed a Pakistani military position not far from the Indian position.

Again, here is that drone view reproduced in Google Earth:

It may be difficult to visualize the connection between these various locations and how they relate to the border between the two countries, so here is the drone’s path traced on a Google Earth image:

As the diagram shows, the drone violated the integrity of the Line of Control and crossed into Pakistani airspace, where it was shot down by this jolly fellow.

But how did this airspace violation and shootdown prompt greater instability in the region? In the days following the quadcopter’s crash, clashes between Indian and Pakistani positions across the Line of Control moved closer to the site of the shooting.

Prior to the downing, clashes had centered around the strategic Poonch area and other locations in central and northern Kashmir, hundreds of kilometers away from the airspace violation. However, immediately after the downing, Indian forces opened fire on Pakistani villages in Sialkot, just south of Kashmir, killing at least two civilians and injuring up to eight others.

In response, Pakistani forces opened fire on India in the nearby Akhnoor area, killing one and injuring three others. Both Akhnoor and Sialkot are only about 20 kilometers away from the site of the quadcopter downing, much closer than any of the earlier clashes.

The violence in southern Kashmir continued unabated for a few days, killing several more soldiers and civilians on both sides, before fizzling out.

But besides prompting clashes that often hurt and kill civilians, the use of drones for aerial reconnaissance actually makes the too-frequent artillery fire across the Line of Control only more concentrated, more destructive, and deadlier. In the below satellite image, taken just a few weeks before the drone’s shootdown, the differences between the Indian and Pakistani sides of the Line of Control are clear.

Each tiny, white pockmark represents an area (usually, but not always) near a military position that has been struck by shellfire. The Pakistani side is far more heavily damaged and deforested thanks to this drone-directed artillery than the Indian side, which, as shown by its relatively undisturbed forests and mountains, is not as subject to the same level of destruction.

As a result, Indian forces, supported and directed by quadcopters, are able to better direct their fire and exact more casualties and more damage upon their rivals across the border.

The use of drones in Kashmir contributes to an environment of mutual distrust and heightened instability on both sides of the Line of Control. Drones also improve the accuracy and efficacy of the weapons used to allegedly protect the sovereign territory of each side. Unfortunately, all too often, the victims of this instability and increased destructive power are civilians, who are killed on farms, in towns, and inside their homes because of drones and drone-directed fire. As the open-source evidence plainly shows, India and Pakistan should not only stop using drones to violate the sanctity of each others’ territory but should also stop firing on one another in any circumstance, to protect innocent life and cultivate peace across the Line of Control.

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