By K.N. Pandita
Fidayeen attack on 166 Artillery Unit of the Army stationed just three kilometers from the Headquarter of 16 Corps, resulting in the martyrdom of seven army personnel including two officers, raises many disturbing questions which the army top brass and the Defence Minister will have to answer. This is notwithstanding the great sacrifices our valiant soldiers are making while fighting Pakistani fidayeen. Defence Ministry will come out with its version of the story of this daring attack but anybody with serious interest in the security of the nation will do his exercise of dispassionately analyzing the entire event of much consequence.
Geographically, Nagrota is not close to the border with Pakistan. There is not even a distant link between Pakistani border and Nagrota town. There is no motor-able road, no snow clad mountains, no dense forests and no dense border habitation in between. Yet the fidayeen have been able to reach the place of their choosing. Obviously, they have come from the valley or from Doda range where the terrorists have operational base. Common sense is that they have sneaked into our part of Kashmir at some vulnerable point, moved unnoticed in the valley for some time, established contacts with people in Jammu range and obtained logistical information from them. There appears a huge network of Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri sympathizers of fidayeen in Kashmir, along the Pir Panchal range. That is why while in the course of their movement from Kashmir to the scene of operation in Nagrota, they were neither detected nor detained by the police. Should we suspect the hand of J&K Police and Traffic Police in this conspiracy? Knowing what unparalleled sacrifices our police and Para Military forces have rendered in protecting the people of the entire state, we cannot buy the sordid story.
A close look at the strategy and movement of the fidayeen right from the first short they fired on the sentry of the Artillery Unit to the last one they fired and fell to the bullets of the troops, shows that they had made very careful and intensive survey of the entire campus and had zeroed in on the family quarters of the soldiers, the most vulnerable target. Their plan was to take the women and children hostage and then make a bargain. Thanks to the wit and courage of two women inmates who stonewalled their breaking into the quarters.
It is clear that fidayeen and their handlers have established a network in the valley and the entire Pir Panchal range where they have sympathizers, guides, luggage carriers and those who can render assistance in logistics of an attack. There is no check and scrutiny of passenger busses and hired and private vehicles which have to passé through or by the camps of various army installations in Nagrota. The fidayeen have been provided hiding place, services of guides, transport, food and police uniform. All this shows how widespread the network of jihadis is in the entire area. It is regrettable that the three or four or five fidayeen carrying ass-load of arms, ammunition, explosives, under barrel grenade launchers and so many sophisticated automatic weaponry, were nt detected and detained during their long move. How this huge cache of arms could be carried all the way from Kupwara to Nagrota without getting detected during transshipment over hundreds of kilometers of road journey. On the one hand we have such a large posse of security personnel deployed over the entire Pir Panchal range and on the other hand we have allowed free and unchecked movement of armed jihadis in this region. It speaks volumes of involvement of many local traitors in the conspiracy. How many among them will be on the pay roll of ISI. Let us accept that this is a clear security lapse that has cost us the precious lives of our soldiers including two officers at a young age. At the same time, we have to raise the finger of accusation towards the State government also. Scrutiny of passengers travelling along the country’s most strategic Highways has to be foolproof and faultless.
We cannot accept the theory that a new Army Chief was taking over in Pakistan and that he wanted the Indians to know from day one that Pakistan army envisages not an iota of change in its policy of exporting jihad to Kashmir. The fact is export of jihad into Kashmir is the patent policy of Pakistan army and change of guard does not mean change of policy. Moreover, Nagrota attack has taken good deal of time to reach the culmination point. This type of fidayeen attack takes many days and weeks of preparation. That the fidayeen attack took place on the day when new army chief as taking the baton in Pakistan is sheer coincidence and need not be linked to that event.
It is now Pakistan’s established policy to intensify proxy war in Kashmir. Even Kashmir chapters of LeT, HuM and JeM seem to have reinforced their ranks and calibrated attacks on army and BSF camps. Naturally, we also need to calibrate our response. It has to be a multi-dimensional response meaning the frontline running through defence forces and the second line has to be backed up by civilian administration and civil society. The duty of Deputy Commissioners and SSPs in vulnerable districts shall have to beef up local intelligence. They will have to build body of informers, observers and messengers and monitor their performance in dogging the inimical elements. Detention of suspected elements should immediately lead to their prosecution under law and a word should go round that the government means business.
Our border have become porous, may be for two reasons. One is that the infiltrators have found new routes and entry points and the second reason is that more local people living across the border are committed to render support and guidance to the jihadis intending to sneak in. It is time that the Defence Ministry should consider revisiting its LoC and IB policy. Major infiltration takes place either across the Pir Panchal or the Shamsbari Mountains. The heights, gorges, slopes, meadows and passes of these ranges are exclusively inhabited by the community of Gujjars and Bakarwals. According to a very prominent Muslim Gujjar leader, writer and intellectual Shamsher Hakla Poonch, writing in the Indian Defence Review of 24 July 2016, the population of Gujjars and Bakarwals in J&K is around 34 lakhs spread over 20 of the 22 districts of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. These Gujjars have proved their patriotic sentiment more than not. There is no need to recount their sacrifices made during three wars with Pakistan. This well-known Gujjar leader believes that if a regiment of their community is raised in the Indian army and deployed along with other forces all along the border with PoK, they would prove an asset in thwarting enemy’s bid to sneak into our side because they being the men of the mountains know the passes, gorges, pastures, jungles and footpaths of these mountains. The government should not underestimate the contribution which these loyalists can make to the security of the border line. It has to be remembered that nationalist elements in the State have to be strengthened and activated among other preparations. The need of the hour is to meet the threat posed by misguided segment of Kashmir society.
Recognizing the supreme sacrifice made by our soldiers martyred in Nagrota attack, we bow our heads while remembering them and send condolence to their bereaved families. This nation will remember them and their sacrifices for all times to come.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).