New ''toy'' for mercenaries in J&K?
5 November 2000
NEW DELHI: The Pakistan army may have passed on the deadly Estrela surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) to mercenary groups in Jammu and Kashmir adding a dangerous dimension to the ongoing militancy there. Estrela, a SAM-7 variant is a 1970 vintage tube- launched passive missile with a source seeking lock-on system, highly-placed defence sources said. It, however, lacks the state- of-the-art features of the American Stinger, which the Pakistan Army usurped from supplies meant for the Afghan Mujahideen. The sources were commenting on recent claims of a top mercenary Shaikh Jamil-ur-Rehman that militants had acquired shoulder-fired SAMs and planned to induct them into J&K soon. ''We have designed and produced an indigenous anti- aircraft missile to counter the Indian Air Force,'' Rehman, who is also Amir of the Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen, was quoted by the Pakistani media as saying. Defence officials scoffed at the claim saying it could be a signal that the Pakistan Army might have passed on the missiles to the militants. According to defence sources, the Estrela is essentially an infantry missile with a vertical range of 50 metres to 2.5 km. An Army regiment engaged in counter-insurgency operations captured an Estrela missile with its tube-launcher in the Poonch- Rajouri sector last year after a fierce encounter with a combined group of Lashkar and Tehreek Mujahideen militants. This was the second capture of a SAM in the State. In 1997 an Estrela tube-launcher was seized in Kupwara district, leading the then Prime Minister, Mr. I. K. Gujral, to warn his Pakistani counterpart, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, that any attempt by militants to down an Indian aircraft could add a dangerous dimension to the conflict. Pakistani experts say militants had planned to target Indian helicopters with surface-to-air missiles, but were warned that this could be a major escalation, which could incur western wrath. Pakistani mercenary groups, which now constitute almost 85 per cent of militants in J&K, recently received big setbacks after IAF helicopters were used to dislodge them from the heights in Doda district. After the seizure, the Estrela missile had been examined closely by experts who felt it would be of little effect against state-of-the-art fighters but could pose a danger to helicopters and civil aircraft. The Army is planning to use helicopters against big bands of mercenaries trapped in the heights around Gandoh in Doda district. According to radio intercepts by the Army, about 600 to 700 militants holed up in the area are running out of food and medicines and have no alternative but to stage a breakout. - PTI