While the recent spate of ongoing ceasefire violations at Uri marks an early start to tensions with Pakistan on the Line of Control (LoC) in areas north of the Pir Panjal mountain range, it is the first time in nearly 15 years that the Army has used field artillery in this sector.
According to official data, there have been 411 ceasefire violations on the LoC so far this year. Of these, only eight have been in 15 Corps Zone, north of the Pir Panjal range. These ceasefire violations, in Rampur and Uri in North Kashmir this month, saw the use of 105 mm artillery field guns, although for a short period. This is the first time that artillery guns have opened up in that sector since India and Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire on the LoC in November 2003.
Artillery is used as a last resort by the Army, after all personal weapons and mortars held with the infantry have been used.
Areas on the LoC south of the Pir Panjal, in the 16 Corps Zone, witnessed artillery firing, including 155 mm Bofors guns, after the tension between India and Pakistan escalated following the surgical strikes in September 2016.
According to official data, the Pakistani Army used heavy calibre weapons, namely 120 mm mortar, on the LoC against the Indian Army five times this year.
Official sources told The Indian Express that while the situation in Uri is tapering down towards normalcy, they were uncertain about the future trajectory in the area. The higher level of tension on the LoC in North Kashmir, sources said, is dictated by the low volume of snowfall received this winter, besides Pakistan’s desperation to augment the depleting ranks of experienced militant commanders in the Kashmir Valley.
Official data shows that there have been four attempts of infiltration on the LoC by 16 militants this year. Four of those militants were killed by the Indian Army, while seven returned to the Pakistani side; only five militants have been successful in crossing over to the Indian side.
“Pakistan has started its activity early on the LoC. The lack of snow this season has opened the infiltration routes in 15 Corps Zone pretty early. Militants are at the terrorist launchpads across, and we are going to proactively ensure that it is not able to easily send them across and respond to ceasefire violations in equal measure,” said a senior Army official at Udhampur-based Northern Command Headquarters.
“The leadership of militant groups in the Valley was eliminated last year. There are around 135 local recruits who have neither the experience nor the training to fight effectively. You can count the experienced militants, such as Saddam Padder, on your fingertips. Pakistan is desperate to induct some more experienced people into Kashmir, and such incidents will only pick up now onwards,” said the official.
Stating that they expected a “hot summer” in Kashmir, sources said that besides an increase in infiltration attempts on the LoC, they expect an increase in incidents of militancy, which will include weapon snatching and looting of banks. While incidents of militancy previously spiked with the state government’s durbar move to Srinagar in April-end, sources expect the spike earlier this year, from next month itself.