Between August 30 and 31, army chief General Bipin Rawat visited the Line of Control (LoC) near Gurez, spent time with the troops and, among other things, peered through binoculars across the border. Gen. Rawat, a former General Officer Commanding of the Baramulla-based 19 Infantry division, which has over 15,000 soldiers strung across the LoC, was at the frontlines to review the operational preparedness of the formations. The photograph, shared by the army on social media, instantly became a meme.
The Indian army is watching the LoC very, very closely. And for good reason. Army officials say the chatter – field intelligence, radio intercepts and interrogation of captured Pakistani terrorists — suggest that Pakistan’s deep state has restarted the infrastructure of terror. This infrastructure allows so-called non-state actors, such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), to recruit, motivate, train and, finally, send hundreds of its citizens as terrorists across the LoC with India.
The apparatus to inflict this war of a thousand cuts has been in operation for 30 years now, almost without respite. In recent months, it had halted just once. On February 26, soon after Indian air force jets bombed the JeM training camp at Jaba Top in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, the terrorist networks were put on pause. The fact that Pakistan was also under intense scrutiny from the Financial Action Task Force over funding terrorism didn’t help matters either.
Pakistan has shifted gears after India’s dramatic August 5 decision to revoke the special status of Jammu & Kashmir under Article 370 and bifurcate the state into Union territories. It has unleashed a shrill multi-pronged campaign, frantic attempts to globalize the issue citing nuclear war and a social media offensive. On the ground, it has been pushing terrorists to carry out attacks in Jammu & Kashmir.
“After August 5, Pakistan has been relying on terrorist networks to create trouble. War-mongering is going on. Anything can happen,” a senior army official says.
According to the army, terrorist camps and launch pads have been activated across the LoC in traditional militant hotspots. The three ‘clusters’ of terror training camps in Mansehra, Kotli and Muzaffarabad are seeing fresh recruits. They are being brought to the border where they wait at ‘launch pads’ designed to get them across the border with India. Army officials suggest over 100 terrorists have been positioned at launch pads.
“There are desperate attempts to push in more terrorists,” the official says. Terrorists who successfully infiltrate have the potential to carry out mass casualty attacks. And this is the real fear, army officials say. “Should a major attack like Pulwama happen, the Indian state is not going to sit quietly,” the official says.
Security forces believe the unprecedented month-long blackout of mobile phone communications and internet in the region has hindered Pakistan’s attempts to revive civil unrest. Another key factor hurting attempts to revive militancy is the critical shortage of weapons in the Valley, senior officials say. Presently, terrorists crossing the LoC bring with them their own weapons. This is insufficient for fomenting an insurrection. Hence, there are frantic attempts to push in more weapons. Terrorist groups are attempting to smuggle in weapon caches through the international border in Jammu and Punjab.
Pakistan, meanwhile, has pre-emptively deployed some forces along the LoC. This, Indian army officials say, was mainly to counter India’s deployment following the February 27 Balakot air strike. The Indian army’s Operation Zafran was launched to counter the possibility of conventional retaliation by Pakistan. Pakistan, in response, deployed 3-4 infantry battalions (of 800 soldiers each) to the LoC. These include some light commando battalions-well-equipped soldiers who are better trained than regular infantry. Other units include some special forces personnel mixed with terrorists, the so-called Border Action Teams or BATs.
The Indian army continues to remain on high alert. Working in their favour is the three-tiered security fence which runs 550 kilometres along the LoC. The fence is manned in three layers by the army from Ladakh right into the hinterland, making it difficult for terrorists to seek safe haven. Troop levels along the LoC were reinforced with a fresh brigade (2,400 soldiers) brought in from Assam. “When a terrorist comes to the fence, we know,” says the army official. “But it’s the unfenced parts of the border, the part going over steep valleys and rivers, which are vulnerable,” he adds.
The infiltration attempts are continuing. Old tricks like pushing in terrorists with commandos from the Special Services Group (SSG) are on in full swing. Failure to prevent them from entering India could have catastrophic consequences. This was first published in India Today.