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Fence or no fence, terror tiptoes in

As the night engulfs the Pir Panjal range foothills, the electrified barbed wire fencing along the border with Pakistan begins to glow. Despite rigorous preventive measures, militants still cross over, reports Arun Joshi.

india Updated: Feb 23, 2008 03:06 IST
Arun Joshi

The lights come on as darkness falls. As the night engulfs the Pir Panjal range foothills, the electrified barbed wire fencing along the border with Pakistan begins to glow. Armymen activate night vision devices, switch on thermal imaging systems. Soldiers lie in ambush or start patrolling the dense forests to stop infiltrators.

Despite these rigorous preventive measures, militants still cross over. Often they are detected, arrested or killed, often they manage to slip through. Infiltration has diminished but it is not finished.

"No obstacle is impregnable. The fence is only an impediment and by itself cannot stop infiltration." Lt Col S.D. Goswami, defence spokesperson told Hindustan Times.

From the 'chicken neck' — the confluence of the river Chenab and Munnawar Tawi 1 the 744-km-long Line of Control traverses thickly overgrown hills and ravines, gorges and swamps.

It is a disputed border, there are no pillars, no Indian or Pakistani flags marking the separation between the two countries. “Where it starts and where it ends is a matter of perception,” said Mohmmad Arif of Bruti village, which lies in Daryani Gali, ahead of the fence along the LoC.

The LoC was demarcated in December 1972 in the backdrop of the Shimla Agreement after 1971 Indo-Pak war.

It replaced the ceasefire line drawn in 1949 after the first skirmish between the two countries. The line runs past the Pir Panjal range to the barren trans Himalayas of Kargil and Leh to the cold desert region of Ladakh before it touch 76 square km Siachen glacier, 18,000 feet above sea level.

Most of the LoC is fenced. The nine feet high barbed wire separation, surrounded by never ending rolls of concertina wires has gates for villagers to pass through. There are 18 villages in Poonch district alone that have the fence running right through them. " In such a situation , it is easy for the militants to cross over as their guides, who are often the local villagers, have encyclopedic knowledge of the terrain and routes," said Arif.

Fencing was mooted and finally carried out after infiltration from Pakistan reached menacing proportions.Infiltration is directly linked to the level of militant related violence in the state, which till date has left more than 40,000 people dead and at least half of whom were militants.

Villagers acknowledge that infiltration continues. " These people have a typical style of moving past our houses," said Mohammad Saif of Kanga Gali area. "They pass through without stopping, but the dogs bark and we know that at deathly odd hours only very odd people would be crossing." The sounds of patrolling soldiers at night are very different. "The soldiers move in a column and the noises of their boots are typical," Saif said. "The militants usually wear sports shoes which make hardly any noise."

When the barbed wire fence was completed in January 2005, the then army chief Gen. N.C. Vij said that "an unbreachable wall" against infiltration had been built. It has not turned out to be quite that. Still the fact that the fence exists and that the Pakistani army has stopped helping the militants crossing over by providing cover fire has helped. It stopped after the November 2003 ceasefire.