Grim Infiltration Figures Undermine Troop-cut Calls
23 June 2007
Baramulla: If it wasn't for the brilliant smile, the face peering out from behind the prison bars would look disconcertingly like that of Osama bin-Laden. Ghulam Hassan Gujjar is in fact infamous in his own right. Operating under the improbable nom de guerre 'Santra Chacha', or Orange-Uncle, he helped thousands of terrorists from Pakistan cross the Line of Control after 1988, evading Indian ambushes and minefields. In 2003, when Pakistan slashed support for cross-border terrorism, Mr. Gujjar retired to the two homes - and two families - he had built in Muzaffarabad. But early this spring, he was called out of retirement. 'I brought twenty-six mujahideen across in just one trip,' he recalls, 'along with eighteen porters for their weapons and ammunition.' When the Expert Committee set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in response to calls for demilitarising Jammu and Kashmir visits Srinagar on June 28, Mr. Gujjar's story is likely to be the centrepiece of its briefings. Although the Committee is charged only with exploring the 'reconfiguration and redeployment of security forces,' rather than actual troop cuts, officials will argue that grim infiltration figures make even this impossible. Disturbing data Since June 2002, when Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf promised to end cross-border terrorism, infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir has been on the decline. But that trend has reversed this summer. Between January and May, official estimates show, some 160 terrorists succeeded in penetrating the LoC. Similar figures were seen during these months last year, too - a sharp increase from 2005, when just 100-odd jihadis crossed over. Some believe Gen. Musharraf's efforts to rein in infiltration are being sabotaged by hardliners in the Inter- Services Intelligence. In March, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen launching commander Imtiaz Alam was detained by the Pakistan Army's Military Intelligence Directorate after he sent a twelve-man unit to reinforce his northern division commander, Mohammad Shafi Dar. Soon, though, Alam was released on ISI orders. Others argue that Pakistan has decided not to allow the jihad to wither away until a political agreement on Jammu and Kashmir is put in place. During the spring and summer, snow-melt and rainfall makes it near-impossible to ford the Neelam river. As such, infiltrating terrorists and their supply porters must use bridges to cross the river - bridges which are guarded by the Pakistan Army, and whose use needs its institutional consent. Bad news Escalated infiltration is yet to manifest itself in increased violence. Kashmir province saw just 290 terrorism- related incidents of violence between January and May, down from 475 in the first five months of 2006. Ninety-five terrorists, 45 civilians and 39 security force personnel were killed during this period. By contrast, 124 terrorists, 98 civilians and 42 security force personnel lost their lives between January and May last year. But, experts note, that the jihadi cadre now crossing the LoC are better trained and equipped than in the past. Between January and May, 2005, security forces operating in Kashmir province killed an average of 4.4 terrorists for each fatality they suffered. In 2006, though, the kill ratio for these months fell to 2.92:1. In the first five months of this year, the figure has fallen further, to 2.4:1. A decade ago, the kill ratio often exceeded 7.0:1. Much of the new jihadi build-up is taking place in north Kashmir's high mountains. Concentrations of up to 40 terrorists have been reported from Lolab, Gurez, Rajwar and Bandipora - remote areas where the Indian Army has historically been reluctant to commit forces, fearing that it would thin out the protection available for more densely-populated towns and villages in the plains. Of the 3,37,000 Indian troops in Jammu and Kashmir, almost half are committed to counter-infiltration and defensive tasks along the State's frontiers with Pakistan and China. Another 1,00,000 are tied up on logistical and administrative duties, leaving only 80,000 troops free for counter-terrorist operations - a force roughly the same size as the Jammu and Kashmir Police. Given the potential of the demilitarisation debate to tear apart the Congress-People's Democratic Party alliance government, the Expert Committee is unlikely to make a public recommendation after its visit. Highly-placed sources said no decision would be made until September or October, when snowfall would close the mountain passes along the LoC.