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The new terror threat

The new terror threat

Author: Bhavna Vij-Aurora
Publication: India Today
Date: April 27, 2009
URL: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=37193&sectionid=40&Itemid=1&issueid=18960

Introduction: Sophisticated equipment and weapons, increasingly fierce encounters and the coming together of terror groups show the change in the ISI's Kashmir strategy.

There's a new phrase being used by the security forces guarding the LoC to describe infiltration attempts from across the border. It's now called "armed intrusion". That's because of the new infiltration strategy that has rung alarm bells from South Block to Srinagar where security forces are stunned by the advanced levels of training, equipment and the sheer numbers that are attempting to infiltrate into India.

So daring and well-planned is the strategy that while reviewing the security situation in Kashmir during inter-ministerial meetings, comparisons were being made with Kargil 1999. One outcome is that the army and other security forces are contemplating holding on to their positions in the upper reaches of Kashmir instead of vacating them till the snow begins to melt. This is a direct result of events of the last three weeks where areas along the LoC witnessed eight fierce encounters.

The army suffered one of its worst reverses while fighting infiltrators in the Hafruda forests of Kupwara in an encounter that lasted almost a week, starting March 20. While 17 Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) men were killed, the army lost eight of its paracommandos, including a major. "We had intelligence and were ready to stop them but the ferocity of their defiance and the willingness to engage so readily took us by surprise,'' says an intelligence official.

Even the number of infiltrators who managed to breach the LoC was unexpected. Till last year, infiltrators used to enter in small groups of four and five to avoid detection. But now they are pushing into India in groups of 25 to 30. It is almost like platoonlevel intrusions, according to sources. This time the infiltrators came in armed with high quality winter gear, including ice-axes, snow boots, multilayered clothing and parkas.

The terrorists intercepted at Kupwara also had GPS devices, detailed maps of the jungles in the higher reaches and satellite phones. "It's a big risk that the terrorists are taking since the visibility in the snow is extremely good. So there are high chances of them being detected. They have been using patches of bad weather to make their move. That's not an easy task. So their motivational levels are high,'' says one security official.

The motivation is also connected to the timing. Home Ministry officials say that they were prepared for increased activity on the LoC considering the declared intention of Pakistan-based terror outfits to disrupt the polls. "Huge voter turnout during the J&K Assembly polls was a big setback for them. Now their complete focus is disruption of the Lok Sabha polls," explains a senior official looking after internal security.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P. Chidambaram confirmed that the threat level due to infiltrations is high. Chidambaram said that four Pakistan-based terror outfits were "working in consort". The LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen and the Hizbul-Mujahideen were earlier operating separately but have come together now, as revealed by intelligence intercepts. Chidambaram also confirmed that there have been several references to Taliban presence in parts of northern Kashmir, including Kupwara and Gurez, but maintained that it is too early to be sure.

Though one teenaged terrorist, Zamir, was captured alive in the Kupwara encounter and he was from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), sources in the intelligence agencies said that he did not belong to the Taliban.

They said that it appears that terrorists are being hired from the NWFP and Balochistan. Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor, however, denied the presence of Taliban, though he did raise the issue of women fighters being infiltrated.

The Taliban scare could also be for misleading security forces, say intelligence sources. They admit, however, that the new groups of intruders are qualitatively different from earlier ones. There are also indications that they are not from the traditional militant bases like Punjab and Pakistanoccupied Kashmir.

The army has already moved up almost 800 Rashtriya Rifles men to deal with the onslaught. According to an Intelligence Bureau report, between 400 and 500 militants are still waiting to sneak across the LoC apart from the 800-900 militants already present in J&K. That's a daunting prospect considering that a number of paramilitary personnel have been moved to election-related security duties elsewhere in the country. Election-2009 is already turning out to be the most volatile in recent years. Now, the jihadi factor has added another twist to the tale.

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