As parleys between prime ministers Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif took place in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, there was another unabashed intrusion by Pakistan-aided militants on the Line of Control (LoC). For a fortnight the Pakistan-backed incursion in the Keran sector of Jammu and Kashmir (J-K) went full throttle between the Indian armed forces and militants.
Analysts may differ on whether this intrusion was the largest by Pakistan-aided guerrillas since Kargil in 1999 but that doesn’t undermine the strategic gravity of the infiltration.
The Shala Bhata incursion may be intended to signal that the Pakistan army is willing to up the ante and test how far the Indian security establishment is willing to go to assert its dominance on the LoC. The Indian Army has in recent times displayed offensive action and rendered posts across the border inoperational by retaliatory fire.
Analysts say these militants have been able to hold out for so long because they had entrenched themselves in dugouts and trenches and could not have done this without demining the area first. The fact that Indian troops were being heavily engaged by continuous firing from across the border shows the presence, albeit camouflaged, of members of Pakistan’s Special Services Group.
Was the attempt to infiltrate strategically well-timed as some commentators are saying? What adds credence is that the Pakistani side may have had an eye on recent troop movements in the area when the 20 Kumaon regiment had handed over charge to the 3/3 Gorkha Rifles.
Is the Keran sector gunfight a larger version of the kind of infiltration which takes place all the time along the LoC? If infiltration into J&K was the only objective as usual before the onset of every winter, the intruders should have pulled back at a point.
The fact that logistically the militants were holding on means their supply lines were being replenished and this could be an intrusion signalling a change in wherewithal.
If the action was meant to unnerve the Indian Army and demonstrate the growing capability of the Pakistan-backed militants, the strategy has backfired. The incursion in the Keran sector resembles the one in 1989 when Pakistan seized control of the Dalunang heights in Kargil’s Kaksar sector which was eventually retaken by India.
Pakistan may well be gearing up to gradually intensify its anti-Indian activities in the summer of 2014 in J&K. Analysts feel that after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan may have a surfeit of mujahideen on its home turf and adjoining terrain. Thus the Pakistan army and militants appear to be dumping weapons in secret hideouts in the higher reaches of the mountain ranges along the LoC to be retrieved later.
And the gameplan has been revealed by the Indian Army which has recovered digging equipment from a number of hideouts of terrorists. The recovery of digging equipment and intercepts indicate that Pakistan-backed terrorists are trying to use subterranean channels to overcome the anti-infiltration obstacles the army has so diligently put in place.
Chiranjib Haldar is a commentator on South Asian affairs
The views expressed by the author are personal