After lying low for about a fortnight, our trigger-happy neighbour, Pakistan, seems to be back in business with its nefarious activities. However, this time it is not the violation of LoC mandates by taking potshots at the leading Indian positions, but a systematic effort of infiltration of heavily armed terrorists across the Indian border.
Incidents at the Keran sector
The incidents that took place in the Keran sector are still not transparent. The Shalabatu village of the Keran sector, located partly in Jammu & Kashmir and partly in the Pak-occupied Kashmir, has three outposts, namely Khokri, Kulari and Mangerta, manned by the Indian Army together with the BSF. Shalabatu village was a favorite incursion spot of the Pak-funded infiltrators during the early 90s. While the army refuses to budge from its statement that it has shot down eight heavily armed infiltrators, allegedly terrorists, the FIRs lodged with the local authorities and the Keran Police Station paint a different picture. According to the said FIRS, the victims were identified to be from far-off places and nowhere near the Shalabatu village. The third FIR lodged by the Army with the Keran Police Station on October 4, 2013, reports the shooting of two alleged terrorists in the Gujjar Dor area (27 km west of the Shalabatu village). While the Army could recover one dead body, the other fell right across the LoC, and recovering it without evoking retaliation from the Pak side was impossible.
In the ensuing enquiry, the statement given on behalf of the Army was as follows, “It is a misconception that the terrorists have come 20-30 km deep. Terrorists initially made a desperate infiltration bid in the Shalabatu area, which was foiled by own troops. The survivors attempted to infiltrate from multiple points in adjacent areas in the same sector, like Gujjar Dor and Fatehgali, where they were engaged and eliminated”. Meanwhile, some Pak media accused the Indian Army of abducting three civilians from the Neelum Valley in the vicinity of the Keran sector. The two allegedly-kidnapped individuals were killed, while the third managed to escape. The fourth FIR lodged by the Army on October 5 at the Keran Police Station reported killing of four terrorists in Fatehgali. As per the inventory inferred from the FIRS, the Army, so far, has been capable of recovering seven bodies and a huge arsenal consisting of AK-47s, rocket launchers, hand grenades, automatic pistols and grenade launchers along with considerable amounts of ammunition pertaining to the recovered weapons. However, the weapons cache was not confiscated anywhere near the Shalabatu village. The Army emphasized upon the fact that for all the 59 weapons and night-vision glasses confiscated, inclusive of 18 AK-47s, due FIRs had been lodged.
The problems lie elsewhere. The body count as furnished by the Army, as a result of encounters in LoC does not match the number of bodies handed in by the Army, which seems to be a direct violation of the LoC mandates. All this when the Army operations in the Keran sector were supposed to be halted by October 8, 2013. While the infiltrators were supposedly Pakistani Special Forces, the Army operations continued for another five days in spite of the standing order. The operations ceased only after a joint contingent of BSF and the Indian Army took over the three disputed outposts in the Keran sector.
Illegal cache recovered from the Keran sector
The General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command, confirmed the large number of weapons confiscated from the Keran sector. He also reaffirmed the obvious fact that the illegal incursions across the LoC needed active support from the Pakistani Army in order to sustain. He also added that the Army operations to stop incursions are temporarily in cessation but troops are being disposed to maintain strict vigilance. Regarding the recovery of the illegal cache, he remarked, “This came a day after the Army on Monday displayed large amount of weapons recovered from the slain infiltrators. The cache includes AK rifles, pistols, night vision binoculars, bulletproof jackets and currency notes.”
Reaction of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh regarding the Keran sector incident
The reaction of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was one of concern and demurral. The PM expressed his doubts about the way the infiltration situations are being coped with in Jammu & Kashmir. The major reason for the PM’s concern was the amplified claims of engagements of the Army, which was in stark contradiction to the number of bodies actually discovered. He further expressed his intentions of handing over the entire issue to the Defense Ministry, who incidentally held a prolonged discussion with the Army Headquarters regarding the minutes of the operation in the Keran sector. The PM was updated about the incidents in the Keran sector by the National Security Advisor, Shivshankar Menon.
Reaction of the Army after the Keran Incident
The Army continues its affirmation that 35 to 40 guerillas, armed to the teeth, attempted multiple incursions on the nights of September 23 and September 24, 2013. As per the statement given by Lieutenant General Gurmit Singh, Commander in Chief of Srinagar-based 15th Corps, “Although it is too early to prove the direct involvement of the Pakistani Army, the Border Action Team (BAT), was involved in helping the terrorist infiltration.” Ensuing press statements of the army confirmed the fact that 15 such guerillas had been engaged and terminated. However, the bodies of the eliminated guerillas had not been recovered since the priority of the mission was to countermand the infiltration threats. The said guerillas were cordoned off in the Keran sector on the Indian side of the LoC. Parallel to this, the Army claims that it had thwarted ‘two more infiltration bids’ in two isolated incidents at Fatehgali and Gujjar Dor in the vicinity of the Shalabatu village, killing seven militants in the process. As of now, the coordinated search operations for surviving guerillas in the sealed-off area of the Kemar sector by the two army brigades (approximately 6,000-men-strong), has been officially called off by the head of the Army’s Northern Command, Lieutenant General Sanjiv Chachra. The final report of the Army confirms no existence of armed guerillas in the 3.5 square kilometres of the sealed-off area in the Keran sector.
The inconsistencies in the statement given by the Army regarding countering the recent infiltration attempts in the Keran sector are apparent. Firstly, the hyped-up claims of the engagements mentioned in the Army reports failed to match the number of bodies actually recovered. Secondly, the Army claimed that apprehension and subsequent elimination of militants in Fatehgali and Gujjar Dor occurred ‘while foiling two other infiltration bids’. Now a question arises: if the infiltrators killed in Fatehgali and Gujjar Dor belonged to the guerilla team already sealed off in the Kemar sector, how come these two engagements are designated as ‘two other infiltration bids’? Thirdly, the bodies of the fifteen guerilla infiltrators killed in the cordoned-off area still remain unaccounted for. And lastly, if a group of 35 to 40 guerillas attempted incursions and if fifteen of them were killed, where did the rest go? Disappeared? Escaped to the Pakistani side of the LoC? If so, how come they escape from a sealed off area, evaded a manhunt led by 6,000 soldiers, and safely reached the Pakistani side of the LoC? Or is it that they never existed in the first place? A serious lack of transparency regarding the infiltration bids exists in the Army reports. The Defense Ministry should be more particular in recovering the details of the LoC incidents as there is no secondary entity existing in the said areas that can possibly monitor the ongoing activities along the Line of Control.
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