INSIDE STORY: The recent attack by Pakistani extremists in Keran is a lesson in 'know thy neighbour'
The Line of Control has always been a volatile stretch, but never before in the last decade, ever since the guns went silent after the cease-fire in 2003, has gunfire ripped the border the way it has this year.
The security establishment in Delhi finds a definite pattern behind the series of border incidents - the assessment is that a number of factors are troubling the Pakistan army which has an interest in keeping the LoC fire alive.
Sources said that the most obvious reason for increasing violence is the effect of pull out of US forces from Afghanistan.
Skirmish: A soldier taking position during an encounter with militants in Keran sector of J&K;
The Pakistan army wants to divert attention back to the eastern border to foment trouble and keep New Delhi engaged away from the Kabul front.
The second reason is a desperate attempt to perk up militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. This is evident from the infiltration attempts being backed by Pakistan army regulars.
The Pakistan army's intent was clear after the new dispensation under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took over and made peace overtures.
Thereafter it took little time for the Pakistan army to begin attempts to scuttle these efforts.
Says Lt.-General (retd.) Shankar Prasad: "There is a pattern behind the incidents on the LoC. One purpose is to infiltrate while the other aspect is that in the light of the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, they are fuelling trouble in Jammu and Kashmir.
"Intelligence agencies have reported the presence of 40 training camps in Pakistan."
He says Sharif cannot be trusted as Kargil took place during his tenure and he comes from Punjab in Pakistan which is a hotbed of terrorism.
The recent cycle of border violence started with the audacious raid by Pakistan army regulars in January, who walked across the LoC in Mendhar sector to attack an Indian patrol.
They took the head of an Indian jawan as trophy and mutilated the body of another in an act aimed at provoking the Indian army and the government.
The Indian army responded by keeping tempers under check but promised a response at the time and place of its choosing.
Territory: Police and Army operatives launched a massive search operation in Jammu and Kashmir after villagers claim they sighted terrorists in the area, two days after militants attacked a police station in Kathua and an Army Camp in Samba
Then came another attack in August when the border action team (BAT) of the Pakistan army killed five Indian soldiers in the Poonch sector, not very far from Mendhar.
Even as these two incidents bared the intentions of the Pakistan army they also exposed the fact that the Indian army had dropped its guard - especially the August incident when the Indian troops proved to be sitting ducks and fell to the raiders without offering resistance.
The attack on an Army unit in Samba by terrorists in September and the large-scale infiltration in the Keran sector later that month have cast a shadow on Indo-Pakistan peace efforts.
But more importantly, it has hit the image of the Indian army - in the Keran encounter for example, its claim of successfully foiling an infiltration attempt has been taken with a pinch of salt.
Consider this. The infiltration of around 30-40 militants, an unusually high number, in Keran was detected on September 23 but the encounter was suddenly called off by the Indians a fortnight later.
What actually happened during the fortnight long operation in the dense jungles surrounding the Shalbhot area remains a mystery.
The army denied that the militants had occupied an abandoned post that was described as a ghost village.
The army claimed that it had cordoned off a small stretch of land between the fence (which is located some hundred metres behind the LoC) and the LoC to prevent the terrorists from crossing over into Jammu and Kashmir.
But then the operation finished just in the manner it had started, cloaked in mystery. Few answers came on how the infiltrators crossed over, which area they occupied, and how the operation ended "successfully".
Major General (Retd.) Sheru Thapliyal said: "The Indian army has not come out too well in dealing with recent events on the Line of Control. I think we have gone into a defensive mindset. So who is stopping us from taking offensive action inside our own territory?
"There has been a definite pattern in the incidents on the LoC this year. The Pakistan army has clearly given a stern message to the civilian authority that when it comes to Kashmir they will call the shots."
Voices within the government added to the confusion as Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde said the lapses on the LoC would be probed, accepting that the guard was down.
Intelligence inputs on September 19, based on phone intercepts, had pointed to militant build-up across the border.
The input was shared by all the agencies including the army. It had clearly mentioned that Pakistan army regulars would be part of the push before winter set in.
It also mentioned the movement of a large number of militants in the Neelam Valley adjoining the Dhundial post of the Pakistan army, located opposite Shalbhot where the infiltration was spotted.
In the first interaction with the media during the operation, general officer commanding Srinagar- based 15 corps Lt.-General Gurmit Singh claimed that on the basis of electronic inputs, around 10-12 infiltrators were estimated to be killed in the encounter.
It was an unusually high number of kills in one operation even by the standards of Jammu and Kashmir.
The numbers involved in the encounter, from both sides, led to speculation if this was a Kargil re-run. Army chief General Bikram Singh moved in to dismiss the analogy with Kargil.
He claimed it was nothing more than an infiltration attempt which is common at this time of year as militants want to infiltrate before the onset of winter when the infiltration routes will be blocked in the snow clad Shamshabari ridge.
Security: Police take position behind a vehicle during an attack by militants on an army camp at Mesar in Samba District, some 20kms south-east of Jammu in September
Meanwhile, the picture now emerging is that the infiltration might have been detected in the last week of September in subsector Keran which is part of the 268 brigade, also known as Phadkian brigade.
The Shalbhot post lies on the boundary of the area under the brigade. The boundary is shared with 68 brigade.
It was also the time when a new battalion had just taken over from 20 Kumaon. The fact that no bodies were recovered and the arms and ammunition that were found only in the adjoining areas of Gujjartur and not the place of encounter sowed the seeds of suspicion.
Explaining the difficulties in operating in the area, army officials said the area had dense jungle. The terrorists were holed up in the drain and it was possible for them to withdraw.
According to intelligence inputs, the incidents on the LoC are interlinked and deliberate attempt to keep the army engaged on the entire stretch starting from north of Pir Panjal down to the Jammu region. Bharat Verma, security expert, said: "With the withdrawal of forces in Afghanistan, the jehad factory is unemployed.
"It will either implode in Pakistan or be re-directed towards Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan is trying to create an atmosphere where it wants to carry out ethnic cleansing in the Jammu region. It wants to turn Jammu and Kashmir into another Pakistan."
Pakistani Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani described the accusations as 'unfortunate'
Of high ranking dissension
Criticising the Indian military leadership, Pakistani Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani spoke of how remarks about the Pakistani military and ISI's support to terrorism were "unfortunate, unfounded and provocative".
Kayani, in a statement issued by the Pakistani military, spoke of how Pakistan was concerned about continued violations of the Line of Control (LoC).
Top Indian generals, including army chief Gen Bikram Singh, have accused the Pakistan Army of backing militants.
"I am clear that no terror activity can take place along the LoC without Pakistan Army support," he said. Kayani, reacting to these allegations, said that incidents on the LoC should be investigated by the UN.
The Pakistan Army, he said, was "exercising restraint but this should in no way be used as a pretext for levelling such baseless allegations that vitiate prospects of regional peace."
He made the remarks while talking to a group of officers at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.
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