A winter of violence

Published : Feb 11, 2005 00:00 IST

A ceasefire violation along the Line of Control and renewed armed offensives by militants break the winter calm of Jammu and Kashmir.

in Srinagar

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose (The more things change, the more they remain the same).

THE French saying holds true as far as Jammu and Kashmir goes. The year 2005 started on the usual violent note.

By carrying out a series of suicide attacks on Central government establishments, the militants have issued a message, loud and clear, that urban militancy is still alive in the Kashmir Valley. At the same time, the signals received from the Line of Control (LoC) have alarmed the security establishment. The 13-month-long ceasefire with Pakistan, on which the peace process hinges, was violated for the first time in a major way. Taking soldiers of the 2 JAK Li by surprise, 60 mm mortar shells weighing 16 pounds (about 7.3 kg) each landed at a forward post in Kalas area, 6 km from Poonch town, at 6-35 p.m. on January 18. This was followed by 12 rounds of fire from an 82 mm mortar weighing 24 pounds (about 10 kg) between 7-25 p.m. and 8 p.m. It was the first time anywhere along the LoC that mortar shelling was witnessed since the November 26, 2003, Id ceasefire agreed upon between the Indian and Pakistani armies.

Some reports sought to link the incident in Poonch town with a counter-infiltration operation of the Army at Krishna Ghati on the same day. But these were mere guesses as the two incidents occurred at two different spots, and the two infiltration routes are separated by several snow-capped mountain ridges. The reports that the firing may have been the handiwork of militants are also not backed by past experience and common sense.

Militants have used mortars requiring tripods to fire in the hinterland where they have some strength. For instance, 60 mm mortars have been found in the possession of militants in the Surankote area of Poonch district and the Lolab valley of Kupwara district. The militants, who wanted to avoid any contact with the Army along the LoC while entering Indian territory, would not act foolishly to alert the soldiers to their own presence and the direction in which they were moving, a senior Poonch-based Army officer said.

Before November 26, 2003, the bulk of the infiltration was aided by the frequent firing and shelling by the special forces of the Pakistan Army, usually referred to as Border Action teams, as it provided the militants the required covering fire. In the absence of covering fire, the Indian Army has been able to patrol the LoC with a lot more freedom.

The Pakistan Army's misadventure seems to be in line with the toughening of the its government's political stand on Kashmir and its decision to take the issue of construction of the Baglihar dam by the Jammu and Kashmir government on the river Chenab to the World Bank. Although the Pakistan Army was quick to deny any violation of the ceasefire, offices of the Northern Command of the Army point out that following the same analogy the Pakistan Army had denied for a decade its involvement in facilitating the entry of militants to this side of the LoC.

Writing on the Pakistan Army, Stephen Cohen, in his recent book Idea of Pakistan, says "The task of special forces [of Pakistan Army] is the proxy application of force at low and precisely calculated levels, the objective being to achieve some political effect, not a battlefield victory."

Some observers see in the ceasefire violation a political message from the Pakistan Army at a time when its President Pervez Musharaff has not hidden his impatience over India's refusal to consider his proposal to redraw the borders of Jammu and Kashmir. An editorial in the Pakistani English daily Dawn, published on January 20, did not miss the serious concerns raised by India. It said: "Indian officials alleged that the Pakistani side had fired some shells into the Jammu area of occupied Kashmir. Pakistan has denied the charge and ordered an inquiry into the happening, but the mere fact that Indian officials should have levelled such an allegation is cause for concern."

INFORMATION obtained by Frontline from official sources point to renewed attempts by the Islamist Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) to re-establish its terror network in the State. Four days before the misadventure by soldiers of 10 corps of the Pakistan Army, wireless messages were intercepted by India's field communication monitoring stations between the control stations of the militants situated on the Pakistani side of the LoC and those on the Indian side.

In a message intercepted on a given frequency between an LeT commander from a militant control station in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and his cadre in Poonch, the commander said that infiltration would be stepped up as "General Musharaff had mellowed down towards the tanzeems, which would make infiltration easier".

The intercepts were crosschecked with the human sources of the security agencies and it was found that four militants had infiltrated in the Balnoi area of Mendhar on the night of December 28/29. Again, on January 9, the brother of the slain LeT commander Dilawar, along with three militants, infiltrated from the same sector to fill the vacant ranks. Incidentally, Dilawar was killed two days before the encounter, which the Army described as a major success. The only detected infiltration, which was foiled, was on the night of January 17/18 in the Krishna Ghati sector in which five militants were killed. This time the militants were carrying mines, probably to explode the fence structure.

The renewed infiltration attempts at the peak of winter indicate that the much talked about border fence is not impregnable. Militants have been able to pierce it with the help of insulated cutters and rubber pipes. The year 2005 will test the innovative strength of the engineering units of the Army in this battle of strategy and technology to combat infiltration along the 740-km-long LoC.

The message from the militant outfits for the urban areas was no different. While local newspapers in the Kashmir Valley linked the heavy rush outside the Passport Office in Srinagar to the possible opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarbad road, Al-Mansorian, a shadow outfit of the LeT, issued statements warning government employees and the public not to go to government offices which house security camps. The warning was not taken seriously amid the claims of the security agencies that militancy in the State was waning as infiltration was at its lowest in 15 years.

The Lashkar carried out its threat when it attacked the Income Tax and Passport offices. On January 7, two fidayeen managed to sneak into the Income Tax Office mostly manned by Kashmiri Muslims and guarded by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). A 24-hour joint operation of the BSF, the CRPF and the State police left four personnel and a watchman, identified as Waheed Ahmad Sheikh, dead. The two militants were killed in a hide-and-seek drama that started at 9-55 a.m. and continued until 4 p.m. the next day. Almost a week later, heavily armed militants sneaked into the fortified Passport Office complex near the Bakshi Memorial Stadium. The complex was guarded by the CRPF from all sides. A 25-hour gun battle between the militants and the security forces ended with the death of two CRPF men and two militants.

The attacks come in the wake of the ongoing municipal polls, which are being held after two decades. The polls have witnessed enthusiastic voting. The militants also struck at a National Conference rally, killing two persons, and killed a Congress candidate for the civic polls in Baramulla. Despite the fall in the overall level of violence in the State, the unilateral offensive by the militants in the urban areas has shown no apparent decline. In fact, the number of attacks using grenades and improvised explosive devices has shown an increase in 2004. Comparative data obtained from defence sources reveal that 148 grenade and 139 IED attacks occurred in 2003, whereas in 2004 the figures were 182 and 244 respectively.

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