CONSIDERED AS one of the “shortest” and “safest” infiltration routes into Kupwara district from across the Line of Control (LoC), the Machil sector has once again come under the spotlight with the killing of three Indian soldiers there on Tuesday.
Situated at an altitude of more than 6,500 feet, this sector is marked by dense forests, with the weather and terrain described as inhospitable. Here, Indian and Pakistani bunkers are located at a close distance, with the LoC just 50 km-80 km from Kupwara town.
According to official sources, militants have been using various infiltration tracks in this area to reach Kupwara and Lolab Valley. And, after the surgical strikes conducted by the Army in September, there have been many incidents of ceasefire violations, including on October 29, when a soldier was killed after his patrol was attacked.
The National Counter Terrorism Authority had confirmed more than four infiltration attempts in the area over the last few months.
In July, days before protests broke out in the Valley over the killing of militant Burhan Wani, J&K government agencies had identified two new infiltration tracks into Handwara and categorised Kaobal Gali, Sardari, Sonar, Kel, Ratta Pani, Shardi, Tejian, Dudhinial, Athmuqam, Katwara, Jura and Lipa valley as the most active routes into Kupwara, Bandipore and Baramulla districts.
The agencies had reported that militants from Shardi, Ratta Pani, Kel, Tejian and Dudhnial cross the LoC through the vast and treacherous terrain in Machil.
Last December, the Army conducted one of its biggest search operations in the area from Manigah to Machil after militants killed Santosh Mahadik, Commanding Officer of 41 Rashtriya Rifles. The search, following information that the militants were hiding in the dense forests of Haihama and Kalaroos, ended in vain despite the involvement of over 700 soldiers and special forces paratroopers.
A senior police officer told The Indian Express that there were many locations where militants or Pakistani regulars could sneak in from Haji Naka to Machil without being spotted. “Of late, militants have been using the forests of Machil to sneak into Kupwara,” said the officer.
In August, three personnel of BSF, which forms the second line of defence in Machil, were killed in an attack in this area. The LoC is just 6 km from the last inhabited villages and on the other side is Kail which, officials allege, is a major launchpad for militants.
According to J&K agencies, there were at least 179 active militants, foreign and local, in the state before Wani’s killing in July. Once focus shifted from anti-militancy operations to the massive public protests, infiltration of fresh batches of militants from across the LoC increased manifold, said sources.
By mid-August, more than 100 new militants had infiltrated into Kashmir, with most of them sneaking through various tracks in Kupwara district, said sources.
The “hotting up of the LoC” has given a fresh impetus to infiltration because cross-LoC firing has made regular patrols and other measures to check infiltration “very difficult”, they said.
“In the hinterland, the fresh recruitment of local boys has risen sharply after Burhan Wani’s killing and the subsequent protests. It is clear that the focus of Pakistani militants is the LoC, especially in Kupwara district. Most of the Pakistani militants are also based in Kupwara district,” said the officer.
In 2010, Machil hit the headlines for the killing of three villagers in an encounter that triggered widespread protests in Kashmir. An Army probe subsequently proved that the encounter was fake and awarded life terms to six of its personnel, including a former commanding officer.