Trouble in J&K sparks gunbattles along LoC

30 August 2008
The Indian Express
Manu Pubby

Pir Bhadreshwar (Line of Control): For the past four years, all had been quiet at the strategic Pir Bhadreshwar (PB) ridge where the Indian Army overlooks Pakistan’s Khairatta Valley. The ceasefire agreement was holding, a new Army mobile network had been set up for easier communication, the Bhadreshwar temple was receiving a steady stream of devotees. Things began to change in July after the Poonch and Mendhar sectors—north of PB—reported heavy cross-border firing and an increase in infiltration attempts. While defences in PB were strengthened, it received a taste of the changing mood along the LoC on August 16. A barrage of 60 mm mortars (generally used by the Pakistan Army) and rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) landed at the Nira post, destroying a bunker and leaving the troops rattled. Five days later, another round of mortars fired at an Army post missed its target and landed in a wooded area. “The RPGs were fired from across the LoC at a point that is just below one of Pakistan’s posts. The mortars came from some distance away, well within the Pakistan-held territory,” says Lt Col TJ Singh, Officiating Commanding Officer of 2 Sikh Light Infantry, which is holding the ridge. All along the LoC, such incidents have now become common. After a period of relative peace that started with the 2003 ceasefire, things have started heating up, with more than 30 violations reported this year, mostly within the last two months. Since July, 16 violations have taken place just in the 300-km patch of LoC that lies south of the Pir Panjal range. While minor incidents involving small arms fire—that could even be wished away as fire by militants—were reported over the last few years, what has changed is the nature of violations with mortars and RPGs being used. While this has been in sync with Pervez Musharraf’s declining power in Pakistan, the worrying trend is that the incidents matched up with the Amarnath land row. While there were no violations in the beginning of the year, in July, seven firing incidents took place along the LoC. In August, the number increased to eight. Infiltration attempts during these months also followed a similar trend, putting Army units in the hinterland on full alert. However, what has really stretched the Army is its role in containing protests on the land issue that were on all along the LoC in Rajauri and Poonch—areas where the population is mixed and chances of a communal flare up extremely high. Adding fuel to fire are intelligence reports and intercepts coming from across the border that say the primary goal given to fresh infiltrators is to try and mingle with the protestors and cause damage. While deployments on the LoC were not affected—the only change was that the Army took over several BSF positions to free them for law and order duties—there has been a tremendous stretch on resources. More than 60 companies - approximately 5,500 troops - have been put on law and order duties in the Jammu region alone. “After the recent incidents, the threat perception for the Army has changed. The threat has multiplied and three fronts have now been opened—the LoC, fighting militants and containing protests,” a senior Army officer says. While these new factors will play out over the next few months, the Army has noticed another worrying trend across the border. Training camps and launching pads that had been lying dormant for the past few years after Musharraf cracked down under US pressure are showing signs of revival. Intelligence reports say across the Rajauri-Poonch sector, 16 camps have been activated again and training is going on in full swing. The 27-odd launching points near the LoC are also being turned on. What is alarming is the numbers—while 100-120 militants were trained and ready to cross over in this sector last year, in the past eight months of this year itself, close to 400 militants are estimated to be active at the training camps.