On Monday, eliminating one Pakistan army sniper and killing three Pakistani soldiers in a cross-LoC raid staged over consecutive days, the Indian Army avenged the death of four of its soldiers, lost in recent Pakistan army action on the Line of Control (LoC). This response marked the near-end of one of the most violent years on the LoC — the ceasefire between India and Pakistan, in place since 2003, now exists more in its breach than in adherence to it by the two sides.
As per official data (see table below), there have been 820 ceasefire violations so far this year — nearly four times the number in the previous year. There were 228 ceasefire violations on the LoC last year, an increase from only 152 in 2015.
“2017 has been very violent on the LoC. In spite of the violence though, there was some control we could exercise. This is reflected in the number and kind of kills (the number of militants killed during infiltration). Our casualty figures on the LoC are not that high, if you consider the number of ceasefire violations occurring this year,” an official source said.
The Army has lost 31 soldiers on the LoC this year, including 14 who died in ceasefire violations. Another 17 died in counter-infiltration operations and other incidents on the LoC; the ‘other incidents’ include Pakistani Border Action Team (BAT) and cross-LoC action at local levels, for which no official data are available. However, sources confirmed that there has been a significant rise in cross-LoC action by both sides this year.
Interestingly, the Pakistan army doesn’t release any data about its casualties on the LoC: it even refused to share that data with Pakistan’s Parliament earlier this year. Sources estimate that the Pakistan army would have lost at least 12% to 15% more soldiers than India on the LoC this year, but it is shy of acknowledging this to protect its popular — if somewhat misleading — image in the country.
Explaining the rise in violence on the LoC, sources said that the cycle started with the September 18, 2016 terror strike on the Uri Army camp, in which 19 Indian soldiers were killed. This was followed on September 29, 2016 by the Indian Army special forces’ surgical strikes on terror launch pads across the LoC after which the “Pakistan army came under a lot of pressure and started firing all across the LoC,” an official source said.
“In retaliation,” the source added, “the intensity and gauge kept increasing. What started with small arms soon went to 51 (mm mortar), then 81 (mm mortar) and eventually 155 (mm Bofors guns) — from direct firing weapons to indirect firing weapons later on. Both sides were causing damage to the other side, at the place of their advantage. We were hitting them mainly in 25 Division (Rajouri) while they were targeting us in 28 Division (Kupwara). Honestly, it crossed all limits on the LoC.”
The rise in violence on the LoC has been so dramatic this year that it led to the Army deploying additional troops from other parts of Kashmir. Nearly a brigade of additional troops from the Infantry and the Rashtriya Rifles battalions were moved to the LoC, most prominently on the Shamsa Bari mountain range in Kupwara division.
Besides the cycle of retribution, sources said, the violence on the LoC was also driven by the Pakistani desire to push more militants into the Kashmir Valley in order to capitalise on the unrest following militant commander Burhan Wani’s killing on July 8 last year. “They wanted to make 2017 bloodier — they tried sending in more militants and thus, our casualties were more. But we also killed more militants,” the source said.
There have been 310 attempts at infiltration from the Pakistani side so far this year, rising from 270 in 2016 and 130 in 2015. Till last year, no infiltration was being attempted north of the Gurez valley because of the area’s tough terrain and heavy snow cover. In early summer, Pakistan tried to push across militants north of Gurez, but its attempts were unsuccessful. It then resorted to using the traditional routes for infiltration between Akhnoor and Gurez, mainly through Kupwara, sources said.
“Pakistan will always try to have ascendancy on the LoC to push more people in. For that, it is necessary to violate the ceasefire. Such violations are over a large frontage to cover up the exact area of infiltration. Sector-specific ceasefire violations are less significant compared to such attempts,” the source explained.
This year, as per official data, 59 militants have been killed on the LoC while attempting to infiltrate. In comparison, only 37 militants attempting to infiltrate were killed in 2016 and 30 in 2015. The Army also foiled 33 attempts at infiltration this year, compared to 27 and 18 in 2016 and 2015 respectively.
Last winter, the Army was hampered on the LoC by heavy snowfall, which caused extensive damage to the LoC’s fencing. It left, sources said, “a highway open for militants to infiltrate”. The Army hopes the snowfall will be much lighter this winter, making it easier to prevent militants from trying to cross over from the Pakistani side.
Will that lead to a lower level of violence on the LoC next year? “That is not in our hands alone. We have to be prepared for everything,” is the mantra for the year ahead.