Village panels play key role in blocking terrorists' routes
13 December 2003
RAJOURI: The newly-constituted Village Defence Committees (VDCs) have started playing an important role in blocking the movement of terrorists at strategic points in the border areas of Jammu and Kashmir. The VDCs, mooted as a self-defence mechanism in the mid-Nineties, did not evoke much response. In a focussed campaign, particularly in the Muslim-dominated Rajouri-Poonch belt, the security forces have now been able to establish VDCs in strategic points where there is free movement of terrorists. For instance, in many sensitive areas such as Marah, Draba and Surankote town where terrorists used to pass through with ease, the VDCs have made a great difference. The handpicking of some areas for setting up VDCs has paid rich dividends as it has blocked routes to various other terrorists-infested parts of Jammu or even Kashmir and now the militants have to take longer routes to reach their destinations. In Marrah area of Poonch district, 38 VDC members, mostly Muslims, have blocked the routes terrorists take and now the latter have to trek an additional 15 to 20 km. In the Draba area in the same district, the VDC personnel have blocked the terrorists' routes across the mighty Pir Panjal ranges. In Surankote town, another major crossing and once considered a hub of terrorists, 100 VDC members were recruited in the last two months. The age-profile of the recruits to the VDC ranges from 18 to 75. A week's training is imparted to these men to prepare them for the difficult battle in their own terrain. Senior police officers, however, point out that the VDCs are provided with the archaic .303 rifles, which cannot match the assault weaponry of the terrorists. The bulk of the newly constituted 200-odd VDC members are Muslims and their identity is kept a secret. They are emerging as the prime providers of information about the movement of terrorists. The security agencies claim that as the local intelligence network of the security forces has been strengthened in these spots, the terrorists are in disarray. A senior police officer said, 'this is a small beginning, but it will encourage others'. Recently, a wireless message of the Lashkar-e-Taiba commanders in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to their juniors to recall two-dozen local terrorists, who may possibly have already crossed the line of control, was intercepted in Poonch by official agencies.