Counter-Infiltration Part Two: Success Due To Tight Grip On The Grid And 24x7 Alertness
In 2003, under the stewardship of General Nirmal Vij, then Army Chief, the concept of counter infiltration finally changed with a landmark decision based on the experience of almost 15 years. For the first time, a clear-cut mission was given to commanders and troops in the Valley
Units and formations took ownership of their segments and focused, counter-infiltration efforts began in July 2004. Some segments became virtually “no-go” areas for infiltration. Terrorists developed techniques to defeat the fence but nothing worked.
Infiltration is usually a well-planned process but, often, terrorists continue to repeat the very same routes where their colleagues have died earlier. This is because of their perception to compulsorily reach the “reception area” at the earliest. The “reception area” is a point where a group of terrorists, who are already inside the Valley, move with logistics to receive and guide infiltrators to the nearby villages. Subsequently, they are guided to the safe houses in the urban areas. Routes which involve longer marches are generally avoided and is due to the feasibility of interception, by surveillance of different kinds.
In 2003, under the stewardship of General Nirmal Vij, then Army Chief, the concept of counter infiltration finally changed with a landmark decision based on the experience of almost 15 years. For the first time, a clear-cut mission was given to commanders and troops in the Valley.
“To reduce the strength of terrorists in the Valley and Jammu to sub-1000”; there could not have been a more accurate mission. When such tasks are given, it is usually left to the senior field commanders to evolve the concept of operations- with resources being provided to match the concept as much as is feasible. General Vij, in conjunction with his senior Commanders, conceptualised the LoC Fence as the “limit of infiltration”; demanding from field functionaries that it be continuous, overcoming terrain constraints.
The LoC fence did not become a Maginot Line, as many claim it to be. Rather, it is a system of marrying “physical obstacles, electronic surveillance devices, weapons and human resources in varying ratios”. Units and formations took ownership of their segments and focused, counter-infiltration efforts began in July 2004. The one item of equipment, which acted as a force multiplier, was the Hand Held Thermal Imager (HHTI) and its connected surveillance devices (LORROS)- procured on a fast track after Kargil 1999.
Surveillance and Sub-Surveillance Centers were set up to integrate all inputs. Improvisation also became the norm with “Gaddi dogs” (robust Gujjar-owned dogs) becoming the eyes and ears at many posts. Units took the trouble to set up training nodes for these dogs. As the LoC fence matured, the quantum of successful operations increased exponentially.
Some segments became virtually “no-go” areas for infiltration. Terrorists developed technique to defeat the fence but nothing worked. The only lacuna was that the wire obstacle would get compressed by the volumes of soft snow in winter, and the iron pickets would bend; needing high altitude segments to be reconstructed against time in April and May, each year. This took away much time and energy from general preparedness.
What has contributed to reduced infiltration? The effect of the LoC fence, the combination of enhanced and focused, counter-infiltration at the LoC fence, much-improved intelligence by all agencies, better coordination and sharing and, finally, far better dissemination. By 2007, more terrorists were being neutralised at the LoC and the hinterland by the Security Forces (SF).
In 2008, a bold decision was taken to reinforce counter-infiltration deployment by induction of troops, from the Pir Panjal South to the Valley sector. The effect was enhanced control over infiltration, with some vast contact battles in the Kupwara sector. This had a dampening effect on the situation in the hinterland, which continued to improve. However, indirect effects were street protests and small-scale acts of terror in the hinterland. The focused elimination of terrorist leaders from 2007 onwards further diluted terrorist capability.
The growing success of counter-infiltration; which has reduced the numbers of terrorists from PoK, reaching the urban and semi-urban areas in the Valley, has had the following effects. Large-scale terrorist attacks have reduced drastically while resort to gun-snatching has increased. IED incidents have reduced and, in fact, have almost entirely vanished. New militancy characterised by the presence of local, Kashmiri youth has progressively increased in South Kashmir, with the hold of Pakistani terrorist leaders having been reduced. Street protests on slightest pretext are held as a way of keeping alive the issue of separatism. New methods of mass mobilisation of street power, to unnerve the SF during encounters, have also found favour.
For the layman, it is important to understand that at no point has infiltration ever been reduced to zero. The Army always maintains that a zero figure is impossible to achieve. I can back that claim completely with my experience of handling counter-infiltration, at various levels, from the lowest to the highest. Is the surge in terrorist activity in recent weeks due to enhanced infiltration? The Army would hotly contest that. Rightly so, because there have been a good number of successful operations in the vicinity of the LoC right through 2015-2016.
The indicators appear to show that infiltration is well under control. However, leakages do continue. North Kashmir, where the presence and hold of foreign (Pakistani) terrorists is higher, is relatively free of terror acts. Sopore, Bandipora, Pattan and Baramulla are unusually quiet. There has been activity around Uri, Tangdhar and Lolab Valley- all nearer to the LoC- indicating successful and some unsuccessful counter- infiltration operations.
If terrorists successfully reach their destinations, there would be a spurt in violence just around early July- when the tourists start returning home, and the Sri Amarnath Yatra gathers more steam. The events in South Kashmir’s Anantnag do not, thus, seem related to any surge in infiltration so far. Yesteryears’ concentration of terrorists at Anantnag would also be from the Jammu division, infiltrating over the Pir Panjal. That may be possible, even currently, while the by-election process is underway until 19 June.
However, the strength in the Jammu division itself is extremely weak and does not support that analogy. The Army has to remain alert at the LoC as there are areas which have not been exploited for some years. The routes over the Shamshabari in Uri sector, Naugam, Tangdhar, Pharkian and Zamindar Gali have been frequented far too often. Usually, the terrorists using these routes end up at the forest tracts- Rafiabad, Rajwar and Hafruda- which are under security forces domination. Gurez and Gulmarg need some additional focus. Helicopter-borne response teams are necessary for these areas, along with UAV surveillance and observation.
The link with the situation of infiltration efforts into Pakistan is indirectly proportional to the internal situation in Pakistan. Now that the internal security environment is under better control and the closing months of General Raheel Sharif’s tenure are underway, perhaps a surge is what the ISI could be planning for. The Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jesh-e-Mohammad (JeM) are rabid outfits. In their strategy, major attrition of jihadis is acceptable as long as a few prominent leaders can be inducted along with some logistics, military wherewithal and lower-end cadres. For an attempt by 100 terrorists, they are willing to lose up to 60 percent if not more.
That means that the Army’s success in neutralising terrorists on the Counter- Infiltration grid may not necessarily mean reduced strength of terrorists in the hinterland, especially if the “deep state” in Pakistan decides that a surge is what it wants. The only deduction from this is that the counter-infiltration machinery has to be fully geared up and reinforced with intelligence, being generated and disseminated in near real-time. None of that “put up on file” business which some warriors, who are not used to the grid, may want to follow.
The lesson of this essay is that the focus of operations may be on “New Militancy in South Kashmir” and the mobs obstructing operations. That is all fine, operational and tactical. The real and strategic-level decision-making aims at bolstering the counter- infiltration grid so that the progress of the last 13 years will not languish. The Army is up against a reinvigorated ISI, which will look for innovative ways and areas in the attempt to execute its aim of increasing the footprint of the sponsored terrorists in the Valley.
There is no rest for the Army. Its 24x7 posture has to remain activated, everywhere. Mostly so, on the LoC and the reception areas of North Kashmir, Rafiabad, Hafruda, Rajwar, Lolab Valley and Tehgam. All of them are household names in the lexicon of the Army, which must remain free of terrorists. The flanks will also feel the pressure and focus, and attention needs to shift to the old, traditional routes. The Indian Army has to succeed and, given its professionalism, it will succeed.
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