Poonch attack Time to send a formal message to Rawalpindi that enough is enough First Post 25 Apr 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar



Poonch attack: Time to send a formal message to Rawalpindi that enough is enough First Post 25 Apr 2023

          The terrorist attack on an army vehicle in Poonch resulting in the loss of lives of five soldiers with injuries to one, is a stark reminder that militancy may be down, but not out in J and K, as long as our neighbour possesses nefarious designs. The vehicle was carrying fruits and other items for an iftar gathering in a local village. The village, as a mark of respect, cancelled their Eid celebrations this year. Terrorists had set up an ambush and opened fire at the vehicle from multiple directions. They also took away the weapons of the deceased soldiers.

The ambush spot is 7 Kms from the LOC in a thickly Bhata Dhurian forested area which possesses natural caves which could have been hideouts for the terrorists. An incident resulting in such high casualties to security forces has occurred after a prolonged duration.   

Though details continue to trickle in from ongoing investigations, it does appear that the group involved in the attack was a mix of infiltrated and local terrorists, led by a seasoned handler. There had been intelligence reports of suspected terrorist strikes, but these were general in nature. There have also been no inputs of recent infiltrations implying those involved had been in the region for some time. The terrorists fired Chinese manufactured armoured piercing bullets, which indicates a possible China-Pak nexus.

PAFF (People’s Anti-Fascist Front), a JeM proxy has claimed responsibility, however, intelligence sources claim it could be a joint JeM and LeT operation. It has also been reported that the ISI has directed its terrorist groups to target security forces convoys, camps, government establishments and tourists with an intention of enhancing army visibility, especially as Srinagar gears up for the G 20 tourism meet, displaying that the region remains unstable and is at the core of Indo-Pak dispute.  

The Rajouri-Poonch sector has witnessed 13 terrorist incidents in the past year and a half, none of which have been solved. In Jan this year, terrorists had attacked Dangri village in Rajouri district resulting in the loss of seven civilian lives. Despite an intensive search operation, the perpetrators were not located. Whether it was the same group is presently unknown.

Even in the current case, security agencies have launched operations intending to locate and eliminate those responsible. While it may not be linked but the attack came a day after Pakistan announced that Bilawal Bhutto would attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) External Affairs Ministers meet in Goa in early May. The incident does cast a shadow on the visit. Historically, whenever India and Pakistan have displayed a thaw in relations, there has been a terrorist incident.

For Pakistan, a peaceful J and K is anathema. It has to keep the region on the boil to project its disputed status. While an elaborate anti-terrorism grid in Kashmir has restricted space available for terrorists, they have begun expanding their footprints South of the Pir Panjal. Dense jungles provide natural cover and hideouts for terrorists. The terrain also enables terrorists to cross the Pir Panjal, whenever pressure mounts on either side. Despite the ceasefire continuing to hold, infiltration attempts have witnessed an increase in the Poonch-Rajouri sector. Since the region does not possess a strong pro-Pak lobby, local support remains restricted resulting in sporadic incidents.

The attack and the movement of terrorists into the forests also highlights active support from overground workers. The ambush site could have been under observation of terrorist sympathizers who would have guided the terrorists from their hideout to the location and then back, prior to the search operation having commenced. The terrorists would stay hidden for some time, waiting for the search to conclude before planning their next strike.         

Pakistan is also aware that India will not take the battle across to Pak, especially as it prepares to host major events in the coming months, considering it is currently the president of two global multilateral organizations, SCO and the G 20. For India the G 20 tourism meet scheduled in Srinagar next month is of importance as it would, apart from cementing India’s claim, set at rest the aspect of the region being disturbed, while displaying economic and developmental progress. India is conducting the event despite objections from Pakistan and China.

Pak will also ensure that no attack crosses Indian threshold of tolerance as it is deeply engrossed in its own internal political and economic quagmire. One of the reasons given by the Pak ministry of defence to its supreme court to justify delay of Punjab assembly elections has been the possibility of an all-out war against India. The report falsely claimed that India regularly violates the ceasefire. By continuing to needle India by terrorist strikes, the Pak army, desperate to keep Imran Khan out of the picture, would continue claiming a tense border scenario with India.  

Lapses, if any, on the part of security forces will be known after an in-depth inquiry into the incident. The fact that there was no road opening party deployed and the vehicle was moving single does display laxity. In all probability it was an opportunity which was presented and grabbed by the terrorists. With limited axis, destination of vehicles moving on the road is well known. Operating procedures will be amended and strictly implemented for the future.

What remains a matter of concern is the utilization of Chinese ammunition by terrorists. Is it accidental or by design is a question mark. With India shifting focus from the IB and LOC with Pak to the LAC with China, increased terrorist activity in J and K could act as a stall and hence this could be a message.     

The incident also sets at rest the Indian government plan to de-induct army from counterinsurgency operations, replacing them with Central Armed Police Forces and the J and K police. The belief that militancy is on its last legs in the Union Territory has also been proved wrong. This terrorist group, active South of the Pir Panjal will strike again. When remains the question. Monitoring the region and maintaining high troop presence is the only solution.

As the G20 meeting in Srinagar draws close, terrorist incidents may witness a spurt. It is time to send a formal message to Rawalpindi that enough is enough.