The Ins and Outs Of Infiltration: The Real Problem In Jammu and Kashmir – Part One

The Ins and Outs Of Infiltration: The Real Problem In Jammu and Kashmir – Part One

by Syed Ata Hasnain - Tuesday, June 14, 2016 05:52 PM IST
The Ins and
Outs Of Infiltration: The Real Problem In Jammu and Kashmir – Part One

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    • Many people feel that the Indian Army has failed in its job because we do not seem to be able to stop Pakistan sponsored terrorists, infiltrating J&K
    • It needs a detailed commentary to allow the right perception to sink in
    • The concept from the Pakistani side was to employ trained local Kashmiri youth to foist a supposed, home-grown militancy

I find that people who meet me socially, often get into discussions on Jammu & Kashmir. I find most of them have visited the state as tourists and have a considerable interest in the security situation. Besides never being able to perceive as to why there is such a large presence of the uniform all over the Valley; especially in the tourist spots, the airport or even in the Boulevard, the other most common question is something which is astounding to me.

They invariably feel that the Indian Army has failed in its job because we do not seem to be able to stop Pakistan sponsored terrorists, infiltrating J&K. This is a valid point, which the Army’s PR machinery has never been able to explain with any degree of credibility. It needs a detailed commentary to allow the right perception to sink in. For that, we need to go back to 1988-89 and progressively see how the J&K theatre’s threats panned out, with focus on the role of infiltration.

The Situation : 1987-89

It is not necessary to describe the triggers which set the Valley aflame. The apparent strategy Pakistan followed was to seize the moment when all parameters of India’s security were almost rock bottom.

In 1988-89, four of our frontline army formations (about 20,000 men each) were deployed in Sri Lanka. Punjab had an ongoing major internal security problem and Operation Blue Star had made management of the situation even more tentative.

The Bofors case stole attention from what was building up in Kashmir and the political front was in turmoil after Rajiv Gandhi’s exit. All that Pakistan needed was the induction of enough young Kashmiris, trained in guerrilla warfare, led by a few foreign terrorists and SSG men from their own army. The diabolic “Zia Plan”, conceived in 1977, would then be underway in execution.

The Indian Army’s Line of Control (LoC) posture had a “conventional military deployment”, just barely sufficient to ensure the “sanctity” of the LoC. These terms require a brief explanation. The Army’s role and task was to prevent any encroachment on the LoC. It did that then and does that even today, by holding static picquets and posts- the gaps between them are patrolled regularly. This ensures the “sanctity” of the LoC.

Surveillance existed for conventional war, where the adversary could make attempts to infiltrate large columns to attack from the rear. In conventional operations, the adversary can, at the most, attempt one or two such operations all along the LoC- if it has to be successful at all. Small scale infiltration (strength of six to eight) could hardly be catered for.

The Commencement of Infiltration

What the Army’s conventional posture on the LoC came up against in 1988-90, and thereafter, was first the infiltration of some Pakistani servicemen in small numbers. They made use of multiple routes, much as they did in Operation Gibraltar in 1965. These formed the core teams for recruitment; who motivated and selected the volunteer youth for jihad and sent them across the LoC by exfiltration, along different routes, into PoK. The ease of infiltration and exfiltration of cadres and recruits was, thus, established.

In fact, these were commonly referred to as “highways”- denoting the relative absence of the Army’s capability to stop this movement. The Pakistani sponsors used the services of guides from the LoC belt who knew the terrain blindfolded, having spent all their lives there. They could always outwit our troops, who usually spent two year tenures in their areas of deployment. The ground knowledge of the troops could never compare with the knowledge of the local guides.

To many, this may sound extremely critical of the Indian Army. It actually isn’t when you realize that an army is not trained, equipped or psychologically conditioned to prevent irregular movement across a linear alignment, on a 24x7 basis. That it has mastered it, since then, is a measure of its extreme flexibility.

Perceptions among our countrymen and, specifically, among the media have been largely based upon visits to the traditional tourist spots and the Valley floor of Kashmir. They have never been enabled a perception of the difficulties of the actual terrain, where the LoC exists.

Most media persons get a faraway glimpse of Uri’s popular Kaman Aman Setu, while driving along the “media route” or the famous Shararat post in Tangdhar, when they are taken on a structured tour by helicopter. None ever visit the famous landmarks along the Northern Gullies or Pir Panjal because they don’t know enough about them. They can go only where the Army wishes to take them.

Getting back to the progressive increase of infiltration and its reduction in subsequent years; it is important to know that, in 1989, a single formation (division) of the Army had the responsibility of the LoC in the Valley sector.

There were insufficient troops to increase the density of deployment on the LoC, to cater against small scale infiltration. During 1988-91, the trend of exfiltration of recruits and infiltration of trained cadres, leadership and military wherewithal continued. Switching from “sanctity of LoC” to effective “counter infiltration” was a near impossible military task.

In 1991, it may be recalled by some, how an Indian Army post was attacked by Pakistani regulars in the Keran sector. That commenced a series of such threats, forcing the Army to take measures to strengthen the defensive posture which opened gaps for infiltration, even as it retaliated in kind. After the arrival of the first Rashtriya Rifles (RR) units, did some semblance of balance start returning. Redeployment from Ladakh reinforced the LoC to a great strength and the reserve units could then start deployment in the second-tier.

Through the 90s and even afterwards, it is important to remember that the Valley had infiltration from every direction- even over the Pir Panjal. Since the training camps (ultimately, 42 of them) were spread all over PoK; even well south of the Pir Panjal in the Kotli, Nikial and Mangla areas on the PoK side, infiltration took place in the Jammu division too. Here, staging areas and bases were established.

Once inducted there, terrorists could infiltrate further over the Pir Panjal into the Valley. They made use of its high passes, where there was almost no Army or Police deployment. The arrival of the RR units made a major difference as it deployed into South Kashmir and took charge of the Pir Panjal. For many years, the terrorist-firm base for infiltration into the Valley, employing the Pir Panjal routes, was at Hil kaka- destroyed subsequently only in 2002.

Infiltration : The Concept Adopted by Pakistan

Principally, the concept from the Pakistani side was to employ trained local Kashmiri youth to foist a supposed, home-grown militancy. They were first recruited, then exfiltrated, trained and then infiltrated back across the LoC.

This proved counterproductive as the chances of being interdicted, during the two moves over the LoC, started increasing. As the energy levels among local militants started to wane; more foreign terrorists were inducted for fixed tenures with handsome remuneration on return or guaranteed funds to their survivors, if killed.

The idea was that a certain threshold strength of terrorists would be built inside the Valley. They would undertake hit-and-run operations against the Security Forces (SF), keep the flag of resistance flying all over the Valley and intimidate the fence-sitters.

As much as the Army would achieve in terms of operations in the hinterland at the end of each year, the sum total was always against it. That is because even if an average of 1,100-1,200 terrorists were neutralized in a single year, Pakistan could quite successfully induct 1,500 or more through infiltration.

The lofty, jagged peaks rising to 14,000 feet, broken ground and jungle, which abounds the terrain along the LoC, was dominated by the Army night and day. Still, small numbers (six to eight) could slip past silently, even at 10-15 feet distance from ambushes as there was a limited number of night vision devices. The nooks and crannies in this terrain always work for the infiltrator. In the cusp between winter and summer, terrorists undertook the risk of infiltration when snow levels were still high.

Yes, in theory, any infiltration can be stopped a hundred per cent but in theory only. That is, by having one Indian Army soldier at every one meter along the 750 km LoC- something which can remain only in the figment of one’s imagination.

The task remained split between the protection of posts and picquets, sanctity of the LoC (no encroachments or intrusions) and counter-infiltration. The three-way tasking has always created a dilemma, which was further accentuated by exchanges of artillery fire. Terrorist attrition was reasonably high but for every terrorist killed on or near the LoC, it was estimated that at least three got through.

In spite of the successes that the Army has achieved- the counter-infiltration grid, till as late as 2000-2001 (post Kargil) - could not be optimised. Ambushes were randomly deployed, based on appreciation of ground and previous knowledge but there existed no uniformity of pattern or concept to defeat infiltration.

The writer is a former GOC of India’s Srinagar based 15 Corps, now associated with Vivekanand International Foundation and the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.

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