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Army is fighting a war, and not terrorism, in J&K

By Nitin A Gokhale
Last updated on: December 08, 2014 10:43 IST
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'In both the attacks last week, terrorists had come equipped for a prolonged fight and were eventually prepared to die. This is a new breed of fidayeen Pakistan has invested in,' says Nitin A Gokhale.

Indian soldiers search for the terrorists in the Uri sector on Friday, December 5, 2014.

For the past six months Pakistan is using the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and other terrorist groups to launch frontal attacks on Indian security forces and assets instead of aimlessly targeting civilians. The sooner all of us understand this, the better it is.

The last three attacks on Indian assets -- one in Afghanistan and two in Jammu and Kashmir -- are a clear demonstration of Pakistan's last throw of dice in sending highly-trained and motivated fidayeen to specifically target the Indian Army and other security forces.

The first instance took place three days before Narendra Modi was to be sworn in as prime minister on May 26. The target was India's consulate in Afghanistan's Herat.

A Lashkar-e-Tayiba hit squad was assigned to take hostages and lay siege at the Indian consulate. The LeT hit-squad, highly trained, heavily armed and intensely motivated, seemed to have come prepared for a long haul. Security sources said each of the four attackers carried AK-47 rifles and six magazines each.

Two of them also carried under barrel grenade launchers or UGBLs and rocket propelled grenades or RPGs. Each also carried fruits, nearly half a kg of dry fruits and water bottles.

The Herat attack and the last two attempts to push in terrorists into the Kashmir valley have uncanny similarities. In both the attacks last week, terrorists had come equipped for a prolonged fight and were eventually prepared to die.

This is a new breed of fidayeen Pakistan has invested in.

On the night of December 1, half a dozen terrorists tried to infiltrate the Tootmari gali in the Naugam sector at an altitude of 14,000 feet. The army killed all six and recovered huge 'war-like' stores right on the Shamshabari range.

All six terrorists fought for 12 hours and were equipped with high-end gadgets and sophisticated equipment including military grade snow suits and boots. Their communication equipment too was state-of the art.

The dramatic attack on the Uri military camp on Friday, December 5, was more audacious and planned to inflict maximum damage to security forces. Again, the group was heavily armed (each man was carrying 10 magazines of AK-47) and were ready to die.

That all six 'bent-on-suicide' terrorists were eliminated with six hours is testimony to the Indian Army's preparedness although it did suffer initial reverses.

Since November, a subtle shift in the tactics has been noticed by security managers. Initially, there were three attempts to plant massive Improvised Explosive Devices to target army patrols along the Line of Control in the Tangdhar sector of the Kashmir valley.

All were fortunately thwarted by a combined effort of intelligence and security agencies. Similarly, the recovery of a huge cache of 18 brand new AK-47 rifles and half a dozen pistols in the third week of November indicated a concerted attempt to arm those terrorists already inside J&K.

What has prompted this change in tactic on Pakistan's part?

Pakistan has clearly realised that the well-knit security grid in the J&K hinterland did not allow any space for terrorists to target the civilian population.

As violence levels fell dramatically between 2011 and 2013 (less than 40 civilians were killed in those years as against about 100 killings on an average in the previous three years) and the security forces gained an upper hand, the effectiveness of Pakistan's 20-year old tactic of pushing in terrorists to disrupt peace in Jammu & Kashmir was giving diminishing returns.

Many of these terrorists were being intercepted and eliminated on the LoC itself. The multi-layered security grid refined over the years and involving the army, the Central Reserve Police Force and the J&K police, killed around 80 terrorists every year since 2011. More than 90 terrorists have been neutralised till November this year.

The high turnout of voters in the first two phases of the J&K assembly election was perhaps the signal for those in charge of Kashmir policy in the Pakistan army to shift gears. They could not let Kashmir fall off the map. Something dramatic needed to be triggered to once again bring Kashmir back into focus.

Last weekend's attacks launched almost simultaneously was in keeping with this shift. That all three attacks (Uri, Srinagar and Tral) were nipped in the bud is a tribute to the Indian Army's commitment to keep Kashmir peaceful even if it means paying a very heavy cost to itself.

Nitin A Gokhale is a well-known defence & security analyst.

Image: Indian soldiers search for the terrorists in the Uri sector on Friday, December 5, 2014.

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