Secret skirmishes scar LoC

12 June 2008
The Hindu

New Delhi: Indian troops stationed along the Line of Control had come under repeated attacks before an assault which claimed the life of a soldier earlier this month, an investigation by The Hindu has found. At least seven skirmishes have taken place since January in the Mendhar-Poonch belt alone, in addition to the June 5 attack on the Kranti Border Observation Post, near Salhotri village, which claimed the life of 2-8 Gurkha Regiment’s Jawashwar Chhame. Less than three weeks before the Kranti Post attack, troops on the Forward Defended Locality ‘Tony Hut’ had been pinned down by fire from a Pakistani position named ‘Papa Bunker’ on Indian military maps. Observers at the FDL — one of hundreds of fortified complexes that dot the LoC — reported that 10 mortar rounds were fired from around Papa Bunker, punctuated by several bursts of machine-gun fire. Indian commanders called a flag meeting with their Pakistani counterparts the next day, but to little avail. Pakistani officials flatly denied that their soldiers had opened fire on the Tony Hut FDL, officers involved in the meeting said. Nearby Bicchu FDL saw a smaller exchange of fire on March 28. Records show that four bursts of machine gun fire were directed at the post from around Baltal, code-name for the opposing Pakistani position. Earlier, on the night of February 28, the Gora Border Observation Post was hit by nine 81-mm mortar rounds and several bursts of machine-gun fire. Flares were fired in the sky to help the attackers illuminate their target. However, Indian military investigators were unable to establish whether the attack was initiated by jihadists or Pakistani troops. January saw three smaller incidents of fire directed at Indian forward posts. One involved a burst of machine-gun fire aimed at the Bicchu FDL from Pakistan’s Baltal Post — the same positions involved in the March 28 skirmish. The others took place the same day, January 23, and involved Kripan One FDL, which was hit by repeated bursts of machine-gun fire. Most times, the fire appears to have come from units of jihadist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami and Al-Badr, who often mass next to Pakistan military posts before attempting to cross the LoC. “The firing from across the LoC has not been intense enough to support infiltration attempts,” one senior military official said, “so it has most likely come from frustrated jihadi units.” Indian forces have begun taking a more aggressive posture. On June 9, for example, Indian troops fired in response to shots fired from across the LoC in the Krishna Ghati sector. However, senior officials say they wish to avoid a disproportionate response which could lead to an unravelling of the ceasefire.