Infiltrators From Pakistan Are Deadlier Than Ever Before

The barbed wires of the fence on the Line of Control are India's first line of defence against infiltrators

New Delhi:

Less than 50 metres to the left of a section of jawans of the Kumaon regiment, right at the bottom of a precipice, is the Line of Control.

This is the Uri sector of Jammu and Kashmir, an area where Pakistani posts dominate Indian positions. As I join soldiers of the Kumaon regiment on an ambush patrol, I try to see if I can spot the fence that protects India from infiltrators from Pakistan. It's there all right, but I can't see it and leaning over the abyss any further to try and spot it would be a death wish.

The barbed wires of the fence on the Line of Control are India's first line of defence against infiltrators who have just one goal - to cut through the fence, attack the Army and other high value targets at any cost. These terrorists know all too well that they have arrived with a one-way ticket.  

It is all part of a cat and mouse game.  Who will make the first mistake? India's defenders, who may falter by letting down their guard for a moment, or the infiltrators if their movements are detected by the Indian Army?

Very soon, twilight turns to nightfall but the soldiers keep going, each jawan alert to the faintest sound that may indicate movement of the enemy.

These men know this track like the back of their hand - each turn, each obstacle, even in pitch darkness.

I am shown an Israeli-built thermal imager a huge force multiplier at night, a device that provides clear, magnified views of Pakistani positions - otherwise clearly visible during the day.

A DEADLY NEW REALITY

But the process of observation is two-way over here.  The Pakistani Army's posts lie less than a kilometre from our patrol track and we know we are being watched. Every step.  Every moment.  And, if all hell were to break loose, we could be hopelessly exposed to a hail of Pak Army gunfire from their fortified positions on higher ground. But that is a risk that goes with the territory of patrolling in the higher reaches of Uri.  It is a job soldiers of the Army do every day and every night.

For years, there used to be a saying - "once the passes are snowed under in winter, the inflow of terrorists will stop." That may have been a reality once. It is history today.  

What we learn on this visit is that the terrorists coming across the Line of Control are better equipped, better motivated and far more militarily competent than they have ever been. These are no longer small groups of AK-47 wielding terrorists with a handful of grenades and ammunition. The terrorists coming across now are often as capable as regular infantry soldiers.

This is a reality that the Army is quickly coming to grips with.    

In December last year, at an altitude of 14,000 feet in the Nawgam sector of Baramulla, there was a clear indicator of what was to come. Six Pakistani terrorists fought a pitched battle against the Indian Army for 36 hours. These were no suicide bombers. They were skilled fighters who were capable of engaging the Indian Army.

BETTER TECHNOLOGY, MORE WEAPONS

They came equipped with Swiss-made snow clothing and boots, digital navigation consoles, satellite phones, high-energy food and more weaponry and ammunition than any terrorist group infiltrating India has brought in.  

A few days later, on December 9, terrorists managed to cut through the Uri sector to eventually kill eight jawans and three policemen in the Mohra camp.  These soldiers were also skilled, displaying military craft in their operations.  

According to Lt General Subrata Saha, the Army's 15 Corps Commander, "There is some kind of infusion of better technology, for instance, for navigation.  They are using good quality GPS compared to when I was a Brigade Commander on the LoC almost a decade back. Earlier, they would come in with sports GPS equipment. Now they are coming with absolutely high technology GPS systems. Their reliance on radio sets is a bare minimal and its only for the terminal stages of communication (when they have engaged the Indian Army).  A lot of the communication is happening on Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), over Skype and so on."

Terrorists who manage to cross the Line of Control also carry a variety of weaponry, not just the standard AK-47 rifle which used to be the norm in the past.  

"Last year, we had a lot which had come with two shot guns, barrels cut. Obviously the intention was to cause a large number of injuries rather than death possibly.  So you look at it from every dimension whether it is in terms of surveillance, communication, their ways of gathering intelligence, navigation, you do see a technological upgrade in that sense," said Gen Saha.

A CONSTANT VIGIL

For young commanders out on the LoC, the new threats and new capabilities mean they have to be more alert than ever before.  On January 8, 2013, members of the Pakistani Army's Border Action Teams, comprising Special Forces soldiers and terrorists, crossed 600 metres into Indian territory in the Mankote area of Krishna Ghati.

Clad in black, they took advantage of foliage and a dense fog and opened fire on an area-domination unit of the 13 Rajputana Rifles. The skirmish lasted for 30 minutes at the end of which two Indian soldiers, Lance Naik Hemraj and Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh were killed, their bodies mutilated, with one decapitated.

The Indian Army is clear that it is time to up their game. Though a host of motion sensors which detect enemy movement supplement the fence on the LoC, there is an urgent need to upgrade the entire system.

General Saha said, "We have much better quality of surveillance equipment today. Even as we speak, we are carrying out the trials for the new anti-infiltration system this winter, which would be a definite upgrade over what we have now. The existing one is of 2003/4/5 vintage. So it has grown old and since we are seeing the other side has (improved), we are going in for very good quality upgrade. It's going to be a nice package, it is not going to be the obstacle of the wire by itself, its going to be with surveillance equipment."

In the final analysis though, there is no substitute to boots on the ground and eyes on the enemy. And so, the patrols continue. Day in and day out. In the heat of summer and in snow-bound winter conditions.