September 1998 News

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Pakistan Focussing on Communal Divide in Kashmir

2nd September 1998

KUPWARA: Buoyed by its recent successes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the hub of cross-border Islamic insurgence in Central and South Asia, has intensified its support to militancy in Kashmir. Senior Army officers here point out that Islamabad in 1998 has sought to force the pace of insurgency in Kashmir. But it has faced effective resistance from the military and sections of the political elite who have managed to penetrate influential segments among the Kashmiri civilians. The Army is also fine-tuning its tactics to diminish the advantages which cross-border insurgents obtain on account of Jammu and Kashmir's rough terrain. Pakistan, in the last few months has unremittingly hammered at Kashmir's ethnic fault lines. Its attempt to deepen the communal divide is visible. Hindu families outside the valley have become the prime targets of this assault. Foreign militants belonging to the most conservative Sunni schools of Islamic thought are being used to carry out selective killings in new insurgent battle zones. "The idea is to trigger migrations premised on communal hatred and terror. But the real attack is political and is meant to unravel India's secular ethos", an officer said.

Not surprisingly, the Lashkar-e-Toiba with its headquarters in Muridke near Lahore and the Harkat-Ul-Ansar, recently renamed as Harkat- Jehad-e-Islami are the key groups which have heightened their militant profile south of the Pir Panjal ranges recently. The east-west axis of the Pir Panjal separates the prized Kashmir valley from the rest of the border State in the South. The troubled Doda district, south of the river Chenab, falls in this zone. Pakistan, in the last few months has reemphasized internationalization of Kashmir with fresh vigour. Firing along the unsettled Indo-Pak. boundary has been stepped up to keep Kashmir in the international limelight. The artillery duels have prominently attracted world attention because of the nuclear dimension which the Indo-Pak. security equation has acquired. These exchanges are seen by many global players as precursors to a nuclear conflict in the subcontinent. Pakistan has gone all-out to draw propaganda mileage out of the new situation. Intensified firing has also been used to step up infiltration. "The idea is to pin us down to bunkers, restrict patrolling and use the situation to push in militants", says Lt. General Krishan Pal, Commander of 15 Corps, looking after the entire stretch of the undulating Line of Control(LoC) from Siachen down to Uri in North-West kashmir. In some areas, firing serves a different purpose. Artillery shells target strategic roads to impair logistical lines. The artillery barrage on Kargil and the Balbir posts in northwest Kashmir late last month are prime examples of this effort. Firing in Kargil also targets the National Highway 1A which links it to the hinterland. The road from Kargil passes through Zojila pass - the gateway to the Valley before reaching Srinagar and beyond.

In India's case, the Balbir post, not far from Kupwara in Northwest Kashmir is of prime strategic importance. Perched at a height of over 9,000 feet, it overlooks the Kishanganga valley and the town of Chak at a distance of around five kms. in Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir (PoK). From here, artillery shells can land at the Neelam Valley road - Pakistan's logistical artillery which enters the Skardu-Gilgit zone on the periphery of Tajikistan in Central Asia. Not surprisingly, Pakistan pounded the Balbir post between July 27 and August 5. Jammu and Kashmir's rugged terrain cuts both ways along the Indo- Pak. political divide. The mountains in the LoC zone discourage Pakistan to undertake a conventional assault. An adverse military balance only reinforces restraint. Pakistan's recourse to covert intrusions-a pattern mastered since its assaults in 1947 - is therefore, natural. But conversely, high mountains prevent India from "sealing" the border. As a result, New Delhi has to live with clandestine intrusions across a difficult border zone. The positioning of the Balbir post yet again illustrates the limitations which geography imposes on combat.

The Chak area is known to churn out a large number of militants, an officer here said. By night, many of them cross the Kishanganga and melt into the thick undergrowth of the steep slopes of the Shamshawari range traversing this area. The Shamshawari range, thick with Deodar trees in this belt, cuts an east-west arc separating the Valley from the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and the Northern Areas. "Many of the militants move along the rivulets and nullahs which provide ingresses into the valley", an officer said. Widely dispersed huts, which dot the slopes at regular intervals, offer shelter before the flat lands of the valley are reached. Many militants, however, are subsequently killed in encounters in areas such as Bandipur soon after they enter the northern fringes of the Valley.

With surveillance on such a vast area difficult, the Army has avoided linear deployments. Instead, forces are positioned along successive geographical layers as part of an integrated counterinsurgency grid. In view of these constraints, the Army's counterinsurgency strategy revolves around a single basic principle. Insurgents have to be separated from population zones. Isolation of militants of also provides the Army vital space to deepen its influence among the civilians. For instance, the marginalisation of militant's profile can help consolidate the intelligence network - an aspect increasingly emphasized in military circles in Kashmir. "We are not interested in jungle-bashing. Obtaining precise information about the whereabouts of militants has acquired pre- eminence in our anti-militancy drive", a senior officer said. With the counterinsurgency operations acquiring greater sophistication, the chances are that the military will continue its incremental consolidation in Kashmir. But unlike the Valley, greater effort is still required to wrest the initiative along access routes to the troubled Doda-Kishtwar area from the Jammu region.


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