Kashmir: terror build-up triggers alarm
7 December 2005
NA: Up to 100 cadres have crossed LoC since October 8 Activation of new Lashkar cells in Jammu Degradation in defences because of quake SRINAGAR: A large-scale build-up of Lashkar-e-Taiba cadres in the mountains above the Bandipora area of northern Kashmir has sparked fears of a major escalation in terrorist activities this coming spring. Intelligence sources told The Hindu that up to a hundred cadres are thought to have crossed the Line of Control since the October 8 earthquake, which destroyed large swathes of Pakistan- occupied Kashmir. If these assessments are correct, the renewed Lashkar build-up would mark the highest level of cross-border infiltration since 2002, when a ceasefire went into place along the LoC. High-profile attacks Using mountain hideouts along the arc from Bandipora to Kupwara and Handwara as bases, newly arrived cadres have participated in a series of high-profile fidayeen attacks in recent weeks. Srinagar, which has seen a series of bombings and shootouts targeting security forces and politicians, has been a major target for Lashkar operations, but strikes have also taken place elsewhere in the Kashmir valley. Many Lashkar operatives involved in these attacks appear to have infiltrated in the wake of the earthquake, using the opportunity offered by the disruption of Indian border defences. Ejaz Ahmad Butt, a Pakistani national arrested in the course of a November 28 attack at Srinagar's Lal Chowk, told The Hindu that he, along with six other Lashkar cadres, had crossed the LoC through the Dudhnihal sector, before heading for a hideout in the Rajwar forests. Butt said his group made three abortive infiltration attempts after the earthquake, turning back for fear of interdiction by Indian Army patrols on two occasions and having been ordered to return by Pakistani troops on another. 'The Pakistan Army said the time was not right for us to cross the LoC,' he said, 'and that they would communicate when we could do so to our commanders.' Butt's group eventually crossed the LoC on October 25, cutting the fencing to clear a path into Jammu and Kashmir. Other recently arrived Lashkar operatives have used the same route to operate in the Jammu region, to the south. On November 16, the Jammu and Kashmir police arrested top Lashkar operative Samiullah Arain, who had been tasked to execute strikes in the State's winter capital, Jammu. A resident of the Badshahi Masjid area in Lahore, he operated under the code- name 'Abu Muslim.' Investigations into the Arain case threw up evidence of the activation of new Lashkar cells in the Jammu region, similar to those authorities have recently discovered in and around Srinagar. Arain, it transpired, was to be received in Banihal by a long-standing operative, Abdul Ghaffar of Patnala village. Ghaffar, who had trained at Lashkar camps in Pakistan since 2001, is also believed to have been despatched across the LoC shortly after the earthquake to prepare for the arrival of new cadres. Increased presence Residents of the mountains above Bandipora have reported an increased terrorist presence. Last month, the Army authorities temporarily closed a military-run school for villagers at Aragam, after Lashkar terrorists threatened the students' parents. A government-run higher secondary school in the area was also forced to relocate, after the Lashkar claimed that co-education violated Islamic principles. While senior Army officials insist that the heightened infiltration is not a consequence of failures in policing the LoC, Indian defences do seem to have suffered some degradation as a consequence of the earthquake. Several dozen bunkers, essential to positioning troops on the high mountains for counter-infiltration patrols, were destroyed, along with considerable stretches of counter- infiltration fencing. Although the heightened infiltration is yet to manifest itself in increased violence, the Lashkar's renewed political activity in the wake of the earthquake has been causing concern among Indian strategists. Reports in the Pakistani media claim that the Lashkar has used its high-profile quake relief operations to recruit cadres and raise funds for the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir.