At the best of times, it is difficult to make sense of events in Kashmir as these go from street turbulence and stone-throwing to LoC duels and attempts at infiltration. The last two weeks have witnessed infiltration bids all along the LoC in the Valley zone — in fact, more than I can remember anytime in recent years. The Jammu region is quiet in comparison, with a few exchanges of fire across the LoC in Naushera and Krishna Ghati.
The focus of the infiltration seems to be in the Uri area, followed by the Naugam (Lipa) sector and Machil. This is a pattern witnessed years ago — in 2010, when the street agitation was at its height, efforts were made by Pakistan to infiltrate terrorists to give impetus to the movement, through high-profile acts in the hinterland. There was also an attempt to induct maximum leaders as terrorists without leadership are easy fodder for security forces.
The sudden recourse to infiltration attempts has many reasons. To understand these, a brief explanation of the Pakistani concept is necessary. Those who keep recalling the goodwill of the ceasefire, the four point formula, the peace process with Pakistan, need to shelve all that — the Pakistan we see today is driven by a perception that it has never been strategically stronger — and the situation in Kashmir was never so much in its favour.
However, while the streets may erupt at its bidding, through social media instigation and separatist rabble-rousing, boots on the ground are deficient. The terrorist strength in the hinterland bestows the capability to execute acts which tie the army and other security forces down — and make news. Of the less than 300 terrorists estimated in the Kashmir hinterland, more than half are locals. Pakistan’s handlers have little faith in the capability of local terrorists, Burhan Wani notwithstanding: Emotional fervour when a local terrorist is neutralised is fine — but banking on the passion of locals is something the Pakistani controllers have never relied upon.
In 1991, they infiltrated mercenaries from the Afghan conflict of the 1980s, followed by more Pakistani terrorists after 1996. The generational change, with the rise of new militancy in 2013-16, passed the mantel to local Kashmiri youth, Pakistan’s control slipping marginally.
In 2014-16, Pakistan focused on Jammu, high-profile terror acts, trans-LoC firing and infiltration. Terror acts from within the Valley were of a lower order and the attrition was high. The separatist movement has also virtually come to be localised to just the Valley. The Jammu region and areas north of the Chenab have been peaceful for most of this time.
India’s initial assessment, that a new military leadership in Pakistan may see a change of tone towards the positive, has been belied. In Pakistan under General Qamar Bajwa, the emphasis appears to have returned to the Valley, the centre of gravity, where Pakistan intends to support ongoing street turbulence with hit-and-run operations, small-scale ambushes and terrorist acts. That explains the multiple attempts at infiltration through non-traditional areas. It is also deemed essential to fill up the Valley before the Amarnath Yatra, which offers maximum scope to execute high-profile acts.
Counter-infiltration is one of the most difficult operations — it demands 24×7 vigil and far more troops. It is not just a question of securing the LoC fence, but also of securing our posts against possible rogue actions from border action teams (BATs), responsible for ambushes on some of our patrols. In 2002, the Army inducted thermal imagers for night surveillance. Renewal of this equipment is essential as this is in its last cycle. The more of this equipment, in good shape, the better our counter-infiltration will be.
Intelligence networks deliver quantum results. Even the most mundane information must never be held back: It must reach where it is needed by the fastest means with senior commanders seriously monitoring the response of ground troops.
The Uri sector is witnessing a surge of infiltration efforts through areas which have been quiet for years. The recent discovery of suicide vests on five terrorists killed in the South Jhelum area is a repeat of what was seen with two or more terrorists in the Naushera sector of the Jammu division. This is an interesting development because the proxy conflict has seen many other shades of typical Islamic terrorism the world over — except suicide bombing.
This method will need rabidly radicalised individuals: Pakistan cannot rely on Kashmiris for that, whatever the state of radicalisation in the Valley. However, it can find enough volunteers from its jihad factories. Thus, the importance of effective counter infiltration to prevent a new threat.
Uri offers multiple choices for targeting. The distance, of 46 km to Baramulla, has several army camps, labour sites, the National Hydro Power Corporation campus and frequent army convoys — all these offer lucrative targets. In December 2014, a terror attack on an artillery gun position at Mohora, on the Jhelum road, led to large-scale casualties. Infiltrated groups can travel further inwards, along routes which are difficult to monitor, and reach Rafiabad, where they become part of the Sopore and Baramulla terror grids.
Much depends on the successful ability of the counter-infiltration grid to prevent a surge. There will be leakages, however strong the grid, because there are human and terrain factors which cannot all be countered. Thus, along with these efforts, the outreach and engagement with the people and counter-propaganda efforts must be professional and continuous to make a difference in the campaign to mainstream Kashmir with the rest of India.