In its continuing attempt to reverse the trend of deepening peace in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Islamabad has, since the beginning of 2013, intensified its onslaught on the border, repeatedly violating the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) signed in November 2003.
The ‘intrusion’ into Shala Bhata village along the Line of Control (LoC) in the Keran Sector of Kupwara District in September 2013, was a glaring recent example of such violations.
Reports suggest that a group of an estimated 30 to 40 infiltrators, comprising Pakistan Army’s Border Action Team (BAT) troops and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI)-backed terrorists, had ‘captured’ Shala Bhata village at some time in September 2013. The Army, however, denies such reports, asserting, “The enemy was not occupying higher ground but sitting in a nallah (rivulet)… If this was intrusion, the adversary would go and occupy dominating ground which is defensible.”
Nevertheless, the Army was forced to launch Operation Shala Bhata on September 24, 2013. According to reports, at least 19 terrorists were killed during the operation. Five troopers also sustained injuries during the operation. The operation was called off on October 8, 2013, with Army declaring, “our counter-insurgency deployment is being strengthened. We are now going to launch operations which are intelligence based, which are surveillance based, so that we can eliminate and meet the challenges.”
In the meantime, an Army soldier was killed at Kachal along the LoC in the Keran Sector as the Army foiled an infiltration bid by terrorists in the night of October 10, 2013.
The sheer duration of the Operation Shala Bhata clearly demonstrated the enormous challenge that the SFs faced during the course of 15-days over which the engagement was extended. Indeed, the last protracted counter insurgency (CI) operation, Operation Khoj, had been launched in the J&K between March 27 and April 2, 2010, following information that a large group of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorists, all equipped with maps, weapons and ammunition, had infiltrated along the Pallanwalla sector in Jammu (Jammu District) in the night of March 22, 2010. 16 LeT terrorists and six soldiers were killed, as almost 1,000 troops spread out across an area of just over 50 square kilometers.
Speaking about the scale of the Operation Khoj, then General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the CI Uniform Force, Major General M.M.S. Rai stated, "No doubt it was the biggest by the sheer size of it, and the number of people involved on ground. We wanted to quickly eliminate, search and destroy and that is why we lost our own men too."
SFs later claimed that Operation Khoj was, in fact, the second largest CI operation in the State after Operation Sarpa Vinash (Snake Destroyer) that was executed in the State in 2003 in the remote Hill Kaka region near Surankote town in Poonch District. "Operation Sarp Vinash, which was conducted in an area of approximately 150 square kilometres between April and June  after comprehensive planning, led to the elimination of 65 terrorists and smashing of 119 hideouts," an unnamed senior Army officer had then told the Media.
Meanwhile, talking about the direct role of the Pakistan Army in the latest offensive from across the Border, General Officer Commanding (GOC) Northern Army command, Lieutenant General Sanjiv Chachra asserted,
The infiltrating terrorists have always received the tacit support of the Pakistan Army establishment. We are almost on eyeball-to-eyeball and we can see each other. At such a point of time, a large group of terrorists infiltrating… you mean to say that this is happening without the complicity of Pakistan Army? This is ridiculous. 59 major weapons, including 18 AK Rifles, and war like stores were recovered. Most of the arms recovered from the scene of operation have Pakistan marking.
Earlier in the year, the Pakistan Army’s direct involvement had been established in two gruesome attacks on Indian troopers. Indeed, on January 8, 2013, Pakistani troopers and ISI-backed terrorists breached the LoC in the Mankot Sector of Mendhar Tehsil (revenue unit) in Poonch District, ambushed an Indian Army patrol, and killed and mutilated two Indian troopers, identified as Lance Naik Hem Raj and Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh.
Lance Naik Hem Raj was decapitated and his head was carried away by the attackers, while fleeing back into Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) territory. Again, in the early hours of August 6, 2013, personnel of Pakistan Army’s BAT, along with a group of 20 heavily armed terrorists, entered 450 metres deep into Indian Territory along the LoC in the Poonch sector. The intruders ambushed an Indian Army patrol consisting of six soldiers, killing five of them and injuring the sixth.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a total of 117 CFA violations have taken place in the State since January 1, 2013 (data till October 13, 2013), resulting in the death of nine Indian soldiers. In comparison, 92 CFA violations had taken place through year 2012, in which three Indian soldiers had been killed. Similarly, as against 34 attempts at infiltration through 2012, the current year has already witnessed 39 such attempts (till October 13, 2013).
Unsurprisingly, in a significant reversal of the declining trend of terrorist violence in the State since 2001, a steep hike has been recorded this year in terrorism-related fatalities. SATP has recorded at least 164 fatalities, including 91 terrorists, 54 SF personnel and 19 civilians, in 2013; as compared to 80 such fatalities, including of 58 terrorists, 11 civilians and 11 SFs in the corresponding period of the preceding year, and a total of 117 fatalities (16 civilians, 17 SF personnel and 84 terrorists) through 2012. On all other parameters, moreover, violence in the State has escalated in the current year, more so since Nawaz Sharif assumed power in Pakistan.
Significantly, the latest act of Pakistani malfeasance, the ‘intrusion’ at Shala Bhata, occurred precisely when the Prime Ministers of both countries – Manmohan Singh (India) and Nawaz Sharif (Pakistan) – were holding talks in the US at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting. This was a grim reminder of the infamous Kargil intrusion which was going on when then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was on a historic goodwill visit to Pakistan.
Fortunately, though, the Shala Bhata ‘intrusion’ failed to challenge the Indian troops the way Kargil did, though the mere intention of engineering such offensives exposes the true colour of Islamabad’s intentions. Despite this, the current regime in New Delhi appears to have completely lost the plot, and continues with its desperate efforts to ‘buy peace’.
Such evidence of policy incoherence and weakness will only encourage Pakistan even further in its continuing mischief, creating increasing volatility along the border. With the likelihood of an escalating crisis in the wake of the Afghanistan drawdown, it is high time for New Delhi to take corrective measures if it is not to allow J&K to plunge into a renewed phase of chaos reminiscent of, if not exceeding, disaster of the pre-9/11 situation in the State.
Author is Research Associate at Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi