Alarm at LoC but it's jihadis, not Taliban
8 Apr 2009, 0517 hrs IST, TNN
NEW DELHI: The Line of Control has become red-hot. There is a huge surge in infiltration attempts by well-equipped, hardcore jihadis with a new-found determination to take the fight to the security forces if they are intercepted.
While the fear, triggered by the presence of a couple of Pashto-speaking jihadis among those trying to come in, about Taliban making a foray into Kashmir was misplaced, the repeated efforts at infiltration marked the determination for a new terror offensive in J&K.
Security forces, taken aback by the sheer intensity of the attempts, say the emerging infiltration pattern this time is significantly different from earlier years on two counts.
One, the infiltration bids have begun quite early this year, much before the snow in the mountain passes has melted, with March itself recording several fierce gunbattles along the border.
For another, larger groups of 20-30 militants are trying to infiltrate together in one go, instead of earlier attempts to sneak across in much smaller batches.
That apart, the terrorists are prepared to engage the security forces at the LoC itself. "Yes, the militants are trying to infiltrate in larger numbers, armed and equipped to directly engage with security forces. Compared to March 2008, infiltration bids have trebled this March," said a source.
Scotching the speculation about Taliban trying to get in, he said, "The infiltrators are militants from Laskhar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Al-Badr, largely hailing from Pakistan's Punjab, PoK and North-West Frontier Province areas adjoining PoK. They are not the Taliban cadres."
There are, of course, well-established links between the militant outfits operating in J&K and the growing Taliban movement along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, with training facilities often being shared between them under the benign gaze of ISI.
"Laskhar, Hizb and Jaish have had links with Hezb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the former Afghan warlord who is now once again emerging in the powerplay in Afghanistan. They can be expanded, especially since jihadis want India enmeshed within the Af-Pak problem," said an official.
It will, however, be difficult to replicate in J&K the typical Taliban tactic of holding ground and then consolidating the Talibanisation process of the territory under control.
Nevertheless, the ongoing infiltration spike across the LoC is sending alarm bells clanging in the Indian security establishment because of the unusual tactics being employed by the terrorists.
The pattern of winter infiltration being witnessed this time, instead of infiltration generally seen towards late-April and early-May, is being compared to similar attempts made in Macchal, Gurez and the snow-capped Shamsabari range during 1996-1998.
"The tactic of infiltration by using nullahs even when there is 8 to 12-feet of snow is being replicated this time," said an officer.
A large group of 25 or so heavily-armed militants, with GPS devices, satellite phones, high-quality winter gear and ice-axes, for instance, was intercepted in the Kupwara sector on March 20. Eighteen terrorists and eight soldiers, including an officer, were killed in the fierce five-day gunbattle which ensued.
The security forces, however, could not successfully ambush another large group of around 35 militants in the Gurez sector on March 25-26. Radio intercepts of these militants have pointed towards the existence of Taliban elements among them.
"One reason could be that the accent or diction of some militants from the NWFP areas adjoining PoK is quite similar to the Pushtu-speaking Taliban," said another officer.
The Army, on its part, has strengthened its multi-tiered counter-infiltration grid along the LoC, with intelligence reports holding that "400 to 500" militants were waiting to sneak into J&K. "There are around 800-900 militants already present in J&K, with almost 50% of them being of foreign origin," said the officer.