By Arun Joshi
At a time when the civilian killings, especially that of non-locals, has caught the nation and media’s attention, a much bigger picture of nine soldiers killed in gunfights in dense forests close to the Line of Control in Mendhar in the frontier district of Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir, has gone mostly unnoticed. This is a sort of guerilla warfare, in which the soldiers are at the receiving end. The reasons are obvious – it puts a bad spotlight on the situation on borders. The loss of soldiers in such a high number in gunfights raging in the forested areas along the LoC for the past one week is a sad commentary about the things on the borders. It can seriously imperil the internal situation, especially when there is no casualty of terrorists.
It is the fresh group of infiltrators from across the LoC that has wreaked the havoc, and most worrying aspect is that against the loss of the nine soldiers, there has been zero casualty of terrorists.
.This data is chillingly alarming. It reinforces the calculation that the soldiers were trapped in a situation where a group of freshly intruded terrorists could draw them to death. It raises questions about the strategies that the army has adopted in this spell of encounters that started last Monday, and, as per the army claim, are continuing till date.
Essentially it brings out two situations – one the infiltrators are quite familiar with the highly challenging and treacherous terrain of dense forests and high mountains. In normal circumstances, it is very difficult for the infiltrators to operate in the terrain with such audacity.
Knowing the terrain is very crucial in such critical situations, especially along the LoC that passes through rugged mountains, ravines, thick forests and some mountainous passes that are very hard to negotiate even in best of weather conditions.
Terrorists have obviously taken advantage of their knowledge of the mountains and forests. that has helped them to play hide-and-seek with the much larger Indian army deployments and the soldiers involved in this week-long operation. It is a different kind of guerilla warfare tactics with which the Indian army has not dealt with in this sector for long years. It is rugged terrain and best place for the well-trained terrorists to operate if they are equipped with necessary wherewithal in terms of ammunition and ration .
That is precisely what they have done in Mendhar, that is located about 200 kms north -east of Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir. The battalion approach of the army is not working.
Somewhere, down the line, it is becoming clear that the infiltrators are having the local support because without that they cannot operate for such a long period without getting trapped or killed. The local support offers them pathways in the mountains and the maps of the mountainous caves where they are protected from an overall onslaught by the forces. This enables terrorists to play hide and seek and trike at the time when they feel that they are well poised to do so. For the army to follow their footprints, or making attempts to do so, which are hardly visible in jungles, amounts to falling in their trap. That could result in more casualties.
The common understanding of the situation is that it is battle (s) of nerves. There is a need for patience and the strategy to draw the terrorists out and then neutralize them. It is strategic necessity; the army will have to put all their resources to ensure that they don’t cross over to the other side of LoC- Pakistan occupied Kashmir, and also not allow them to move forward, under the cover of jungles , to the Valley. The jungles have their pathways toward the Kashmir Valley. the twin border districts of Rajouri and Poonch have the routes to Kashmir Valley. The area of operations has to be restricted and that is what the best strategy at the moment can be for the army.
There is yet another possibility that more infiltrators have infiltrated with arms and ammunition to the Indian side of the LoC, while this particular group is keeping the troops engaged. This possibility is real and extremely worrying.
Why the army is suffering casualties and the terrorists are still out of its reach? This is a genuine, but what needs to be understand is that the dense forests and mountains along the LoC cannot be cordoned off like in the Valley. It is far more easy to zero in on terrorists and their hiding places in the Valley, which is mostly plain as compared to the mountains where the forests reduce the visibility and the plains-like strategy cannot be put in place nor there are houses which can be targeted and blasted.
This situation brings into light two questions – what role Pakistan is playing in this whole episode or series of other attempts at infiltration that have been successful? The simple answer to this has to be deciphered in the internal situation in Pakistan where terrorists have gained ascendency and legitimacy following the Taliban take over of Afghanistan. The government in Pakistan has provided new sanctity to the terrorist groups with its announcement to grant amnesty to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan ( TTP) , the group that had claimed responsibility for the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, and also responsible for the brutal massacre of the students and teachers of Army Public School, Peshawar in December 2014. This announcement has encouraged the terrorist groups to intensify their extremely violent campaign, and, it appears, quite clearly, that the section of the TTP along side Lashkar-e- Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, is working to cause further escalation in the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, both on the LoC and internally.
About the Author:
Arun Joshi is a senior journalist based in J&K. He has worked with Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express, and The Tribune. He has authored “ Eyewitness Kashmir: Teetering on Nuclear War” and three other books.
This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write up have nothing to do with it.