July 2005 News

Terror Trail Heats Up

30 July 2005
The Indian Express

Gurez: The soaring cliffs, the thickly vegetated ridges and the still glaciated mountain tops in the Gurez sector in north Kashmir look like a picture postcard of calm-from a helicopter. Down below, it's anything but. This is Ground Zero of what has been a very, very violent month forcing Indian troops on high alert to battle the sudden spurt in militant infiltration across the 742-km-long Line of Control (LoC). Ground Zero lies 51 km ahead of the picturesque Habba Khatoon peak in the forested area west of Baruab. Here, the Army conducted Operation Makalwain, named after the mountain stream from where the bodies of 15 Jaish-e-Mohammed militants were fished out. Tipped off by a Bakarwal (shepherd), 20 Punjab Battlion had intercepted a group of heavily armed militants, who took advantage of gaps in the LoC fence-frayed by heavy snow-and intruded 15 km inside north Kashmir. From July 11 to July 21, in an area sandwiched between the Kinari glacier and a thick grove of pinewood forests, the Army fought the militants with helicopters being used to drop more troops on steep mountain ridges. Eyewitnesses said there were at least 25 militants in the group that had infiltrated and with only 15 reported killed, the search is still on. The fear is: the rest may have crossed over to nearby Sonamarg. Almost at the other end of the LoC, in Krishna Gali in the Poonch sector, 11 Sikh Light infantry battalion of the Indian Army killed six militants trying to cross over. Using Israeli handheld thermal imagers, they tracked down the militants who, using rubber gloves and heavy-duty pliers, clawed their way through the fencing to cross over. Be it north or south of the Pir Panjal, the Army is faced with a spiralling cycle of infiltration and violence. Said 15 Corps Commander Lt General S S Dhillon - his forces are in charge of preventing intrusions north of the Pir Panjal range: 'Until April this year, infiltration was below normal, perhaps due to heavy snow and the ongoing peace process. Between May and June, infiltration picked up and was slightly above normal. But this month the intensity has been high, the total number of militants killed in July 2005 is more than July 2003 and 2004 put together.' Between January-July 2005 there have been 139 infiltration cases, as compared to 356 in the same period in 2004. But in July 2005 alone, there were more than 15 infiltration attempts, with 58 militants killed. The groups infiltrating are led by the Hizbul Mujahideen, followed by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammed. It's clear that the militants are making desperate attempts, said J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. 'The sudden spate of infiltration indicates the militants want to get out of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), with Pakistanis being accused for London and Sharm-el-Sheikh bombings.' But this, perhaps, is a simplification of what threatens to affect the carefully nurtured peace process. 16 Corps Commander Lt General Sudhir Sharma, in charge of forces south of Pir Panjal, took a clearer view: 'The desire to push in militants in large groups can only be explained on account of a backlog due to heavy snows this year. My assessment is infiltration attempts will continue for at least the next two months.' But both Corps Commanders were quite blunt in saying the infiltration spurt could not have been possible without the passive support of the Pakistan Army. In fact, The Sunday Express was witness to an operation at Natu post in Poonch sector, where the 93 Infantry Brigade monitored movements of suspected militants in two houses just short of the LoC, and under the shadow of a Pakistani Army post. Army sources estimate nearly 700 militants are waiting in holding camps in PoK, in order to be thrust into J&K. While the Army says there are 53 functional camps - including three in the Northern Areas - across the LoC, captured militants have only confirmed being trained but provided no details of camp locations. Top Army officers say there are 28 control stations functioning in PoK, these are in touch with as many as 1,113 radio sets in the Valley alone. And the total number of messages amounts to anywhere between 13,000-15,000 intercepts every month. But this does not include satellite phones used by top Lashkar militants. Last Saturday, the Romeo force killed three LeT commanders and recovered satellite phones in Mendhar. These indicate the Lashkar operatives were in touch with the militant group's Pakistan-based operational commander Zaki-ur- Rehman, Kashmir-based Abu Al Quama and his deputy Mohammed Muzamil on a daily basis. It was from Mendhar that the LeT planned the attack on the makeshift temple in Ayodhya earlier this month. Helped by the multi-tiered fencing on the LoC, the Army has been able to push back many infiltrators. Yet, efforts to plug the flow of funds to the militants hasn't been so successful. According to estimates, more than Rs 533 lakh passed through hawala channels into militant hands between January-July 2005. The figure for the first seven months of 2004 was Rs 409 lakh. In short, the militant infrastructure - training, communications and funding - is ticking away across the LoC, despite Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's repeated commitments to the contrary.


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