Around 900 Militants Holed Up In Kashmir

8 April 2009
The Times of India

New Delhi: Officials say the ‘‘tactical’’ aim of militants trying to infiltrate into J&K is to disrupt the Lok Sabha polls in the Valley, in particular, which stretch from April 16 to May 13. At the same time, the possibility of terrorists gaining quick access through Rajasthan and Punjab to launch terror strikes in the mainland is not ruled out. There were also speculation about Taliban men infiltrating into Kashmir but this is denied by top officials in Delhi. That last year’s J&K assembly polls were successful and largely violence-free has not gone down well with Pakistan’s ISI-Army complex. At that time Pakistan was under US pressure not to create a “diversion” with India and remain focussed on the war against al-Qaida-Taliban. Satellite intercepts had pointed to considerable heartburn among jehadi groups. It is also felt that by heating up the LoC and instigating long-drawn firefights, the larger ‘‘strategic’’ game, covertly guided by Pakistan, could be to drag Kashmir on to US President Barack Obama’s agenda by bolstering Islamabad’s argument that the Af-Pak theatre was linked to Kashmir. This, Pakistani agencies hope, could lead to Washington pressuring New Delhi to resolve the “regional hotspot”. The violence levels in J&K have certainly shot up. Army and intelligence estimates indicate there are already around 800-900 militants present in J&K, with around 48% of them being of foreign origin. Moreover, another 400 or so from Lashkar, Hizb and Al-Badr cadres are waiting on the “launch pads” along the LoC for an opportunity to cross over. There are still around 40 terror-training camps directed against India operating on Pakistan’s soil. The recent winter-infiltration tactics of the militants, clad in multi-layered winter clothing, equipped with even ice-axes have become a source of concern for the security forces. “Militants used to infiltrate in larger numbers before the LoC fence was erected in 2004. Since then, with the fence slowing them down, the strategy shifted to sneak across in small groups,” said a senior officer. “But suddenly, this year, larger groups of 20-30 militants are trying to infiltrate in one go. They are much better trained and equipped, almost like regular soldiers now. If they are detected, they are ready to hold ground and fight back from positions of advantage,” he added. The new strategy ties down larger number of troops. So much so that even IAF Mi-17 helicopters are now being pressed into service to ferry troops and supplies to faraway encounter sites. IAF helicopters were, in fact, used during the two recent high-voltage encounters. First, a large group of 25 or so heavily-armed militants were intercepted in the Kupwara sector on March 20. Seventeen terrorists and eight soldiers, including an officer, were killed in the fierce five-day gun battle. Then, the security forces detected another large group of around 35 militants in the Gurez sector on March 25-26. But this time, only one militant was killed, with the others managing to give the security forces the slip.