‘Infiltration and gunfights’: Rising militancy in border districts of Jammu

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The Rajouri district of Jammu division has seen an unusual spurt of gunfights as the district has witnessed four severe gunfights since 8 July this year, in which six militants and four government forces personnel including two Junior Commissioned Officers (JCO) were killed.

On 8 July this year, the army claimed to have foiled a major infiltration bid along the LoC as they killed two “Pakistani militants”. The Army lost two soldiers, including a Junior Commissioned Officer, in the fierce gun battle in Dadal forest area of Sundarban sector in Rajouri. The gunfight was the first of its kind in the area in recent times.

The spurt of infiltration and gunfights in Rajouri that lies on the Line of Control (LoC) – the line that divides Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan, the two nuclear forces in South Asia – are seen as the revival of the militancy in the border district.

Former military commanders in India had feared that Pakistan would try to push militants into Kashmir – after the relation soured since abrogation of limited-autonomy in August 2019. At the same time, Taliban has taken over Afghanistan after a two decade long war with the United States. 

Ata Hasnain, a former General Officer Commanding (GoC) 15 Corps based in Srinagar, corps of Indian Army responsible for military operations in the Kashmir Valley, had said that Taliban take over of Afghanistan will have a spillover effect on Jammu and Kashmir. 

Last month in an interview with The Kashmir Walla, Hasnain said that India has adopted a “wait and watch” policy and concerning possible threat from Taliban he said: “security forces are ready to deal with any emerging situation”.

Two of the four attacks carried out in the Rajouri district were claimed by a militant outfit, People’s Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF) – believed by the police to be a Lashkar-e-Taiba offshoot.

Lashkar-e-Taiba is a militant outfit based out of Pakistan that was seen last month holding rallies in support of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in videos, viral on social media.

Lieutenant General Deependra Singh Hooda, the former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian army’s Northern Command in an interview with a newspaper had said, “There will be attempts. Lashkar and Jaish will certainly try and make attempts in [J-K].” 

However, he does not see the situation going out of hand owing to the forces deployment in Kashmir.

In the past two months, two of the six militants killed have been identified as local Kashmiris by the outfit. However, police sources only confirmed one militant’s identity; the second one was being ascertained.

The attempts of infiltration on LoC and incidents of ceasefire violations had shown a sharp decline this year till June as the two countries reinforced a ceasefire pact last February. The ceasefire pact was originally signed in 2003 but it was not broken multiple times in the coming years. Until June only six incidents of ceasefire violations had been reported ever since the ceasefire pact. 

As per official data, last year too, there was a marked decrease in infiltration attempts, with 99 such incidents being recorded in 2020 as compared to 216 in 2019. 

But in Rajouri the situation looks different. Nearly a month after government forces claimed to have foiled an infiltration bid in Sunderbani sector of Rajouri, on 6 August, another gunfight broke out in Thanamandi area of Rajouri nearly 90 kilometres away from Sunderbani along LoC. 

Thirteen days after, on 19 August, another gunfight broke out in the Thanamandi area leaving two government force personnels including a JCO and a militant dead. The gunfight was claimed as an ambush by PAFF. 

The militant killed on September 12 in the Manjakote area of Rajouri district, was identified by the PAFF as Shakeel Ahmed Bhat from district Shopian. 

In early September this year government forces claimed to have busted a “terror module” and claimed to have recovered arms and ammunition from the three “operatives” of J&K Ghaznavi Force, in Poonch, the neighbouring district of Rajouri.

In another incident, the Army recovered “huge cache of arms ammunition and explosives with Pakistani currency amounting to Rs 13,370” from a gunfight site in Poonch in which two militants were gunned down by the government forces.  

On a spike in the militancy related incidents in the region for the past two months the Inspector General of Police (Jammu), Mukesh Singh told The Kashmir Walla: “I cannot say [militancy in the region] has increased immensely but two three groups [of militants were found], who were encountered.”

There are speculations that the spree of attacks and gunfights in the district were carried out by the group of militants that infiltrated in the area in July. However, the IGP said, “it cannot be said whether these are from that group or not.” He added that it was being examined.

The top officer further said that “two to three militants were active in the region and were analysing [where from they have come]”.

For the past some months the twin districts of Rajouri and Poonch witnessed increased militant activities as many as nine militants were killed while three “operatives” were arrested. The increased activities of militants in the two border districts of Jammu and Kashmir coincide with apprehensions of growing militancy in Kashmir valley. 

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