Army increases troops at LoC to fend off infiltration

The Indian Army has deployed more troops along the Line of Control (LoC) over the past two months to deal with an unusual spike in infiltration by Pakistan-backed terrorists looking to stir trouble in Jammu and Kashmir since the Centre’s move revoking the special status of the state on August 5, one of the army’s top-most commanders said on Sunday.

Northern Army commander Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh said anger over the government’s move to effectively scrap Article 370 of the Constitution and J&K’s bifurcation into two Union Territories was subsiding in the Kashmir valley but Pakistan was trying its best to reinvigorate the terror machinery in order to destabilise the border region.

Infiltration attempts, accompanied by ceasefire violations by the Pakistan Army, are occurring almost every day since the decisions on J&K were announced on August 5, he said.

“We have brought in additional soldiers from outside Northern Command to strengthen our counter-infiltration posture along the LoC. Troops have also been pulled out of pockets where terror has been dormant and sent to forward locations. No patch of the border is unguarded and we have repelled the majority of infiltration attempts,” General Singh told Hindustan Times.

While the Northern Army commander did not reveal details of the redeployment citing operational reasons, two officers familiar with the development said troop numbers along the LoC were up by a few thousand. General Singh is in Delhi to attend a biannual meeting of the army’s top commanders who will discuss a raft of important issues including the one on Kashmir over the next five days.

The army’s Udhampur-based Northern command is the nerve-centre for counter-insurgency operations in J&K and is also responsible for guarding the LoC.

The number of border violations by Pakistan has risen dramatically this year. According to official data, there have been 2,317 violations as on October 10 this year, compared to 1,629 last year and 860 in 2017. The neighbouring army was initiating ceasefire violations along the LoC to help infiltrators sneak into J&K and carry out terror attacks, Singh said. Such infiltrators have carried out a string of suicide attacks recently including the ones in Uri, Pathankot and Nagrota.

Intelligence reports have warned against the presence of more than 500 terrorists at launch pads and terror camps across the LoC, facing Kupwara, Baramulla, Poonch and Rajouri sectors. In addition, the number of terrorists in Kashmir stands between 250 and 300.

“Even one terror strike backed by Pakistan could ratchet up bilateral tensions. There’s no doubt we are going to act on it. Pakistan is frustrated as it is unable to push infiltrators across the LoC. It is now looking at using border routes in Punjab, Gujarat and Nepal,” said General Singh. He was heading the army’s military operations directorate in 2016 when India launched multiple surgical strikes against terror pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) in response to the Uri suicide attack that left 19 Indian soldiers dead.

With post-paid mobile phone services set to be restored across J&K from Monday, General Singh said restrictions imposed after the August 5 announcement were being lifted in a gradual way after a detailed risk assessment.

“The communications blackout was eased when landlines became functional. People can use their cell phones now. Restoration of Internet services will take some time. While control measures can’t be there forever, we have to deny Pakistani elements the chance to whip up tensions in Kashmir,” he said.

He said the security forces could face a fresh set of challenges in the coming weeks due to a series of important events such as the move of the seat of governance from Srinagar to Jammu on October 26 (the J&K government functions six months each from Jammu and Srinagar), Diwali the following day and J&K and Ladakh coming into existence as Union Territories on October 31. J&K’s winter capital Jammu will become functional from November 5.

“The aim of the Pakistani machinery will be to create trouble around this crucial time. We are at our highest alert levels,” he said.

General Singh said Pakistan had fully activated the terror infrastructure on its soil and attempts to push in infiltrators were likely to spill over into the winter months.

Experts said that the security forces were in control of the situation in J&K but they highlighted the threat from Pakistan-sponsored terror.

“It is positive that there has been very little violence in the Valley post August 5. Now that restrictions are being eased, the big challenge for the government will be to win the confidence of the people. This is not going to be an easy task but it is absolutely essential,” said former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd), who oversaw the September 2016 surgical strikes in PoK.

“As far as Pakistan is concerned, we are seeing no change in its behaviour in supporting terrorist activities in J&K. This could have serious implications if there is a major terror strike that India will be forced to respond to,” General Hooda added.

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