KUPWARA (North Kashmir): The recent long encounters between foreign militants and security forces in Jammu and Kashmir's border district of Kupwara, inflicting heavy losses on the latter are a red signal for the troubled State. Authoritative sources confirmed to The Hindu, that recently several groups of militants had sneaked into the Valley carrying huge quantities of sophisticated arms and ammunition. Most of them are foreigners and directly sponsored by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), the sources said. Comprising 15 to 20 militants each, the groups sneak in through Machil, Keran, Manigah, Nowgam and Satkogi in Bangus and the Budnambal Valley which are densely wooded.
Through Nowgam, the militants reach Handwara and then descend to Baramulla. After crossing over, the militants do not immediately come down. "First, they remain in the alpine forests in the Shamshabari range. Later, they slowly come down to the plains to make their base strong in populated areas," a senior Army officer said. The foreigners, armed with Pika guns and AK-76s, outnumbered the local militants. While unofficial estimates put the number of foreign militants operating in Kupwara district alone at around 500 to 800, Army authorities are more cautious in their estimates. "The number must be around 200 but it is a fact that 75 per cent of them are foreigners," says Major General V. G. Patankar, general officer commanding (GOC), 28 Infantry Division. About the organizations operating in the area, Maj. Gen. Patankar described the pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen as the "mother of all outfits" adding that the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Harkat-ul-Ansar did not have much presence. The Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen and Al Barq are the other outfits operating in the district. Besides a few battalions of the Rashtriya Rifles, the Border Security Force and the State Police are also actively engaged in fighting insurgency. Notwithstanding the efforts of security forces to bring the Kupwara region, once called the "gateway of militancy" back to normal, the influx of foreign militants seems to be sending the signal that "bad days" could be back. The areas was one of the worst-affected in the State by the militancy, but following tough counter operations and the surrender of several top militants, the situation had looked to be heading towards normality. In recent months, the encounters between militants and security forces have witnessed a qualitative change. "The encounters are of long duration and there is loss, some way or the other to security forces," said a top official.
"They (foreign militants) are ready to sacrifice their lives unlike the locals who give up easily." Another major cause of worry for the authorities is the reported attempt to bring into the State, the Taliban militia. Highly placed official sources said that some militants who were recently captured by security forces had disclosed that the next step from across the border to "sustain militancy in Kashmir" would be to push the Taliban in. "They (the Taliban) are ready to get in as they believe in fighting a `holy war' anywhere in the world," the detained militants reportedly told their interrogators. It is to be seen how effective the much publicized pro- active policy of the Union Home Minister, Mr. L. K. Advani, against militancy would be.
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