Toeing the Line

Is the Keran incident “Kargil-II” or is there more to the story than what the army and media are telling us?

Toeing the Line
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Fifteen days into what was being called an India-Pakistan face off in Shala Batu village in the Keran sector of Jammu and Kashmir, Gen Bikram Singh, the Indian army chief, termed the situation as ‘as forced infiltration and not intrusion’. In army parlance ‘intrusion’ is nibbling and occupying territory while ‘infiltration’ is to sneak in and ‘forced infiltration’ is to use force to push in.  An hour later the army declared that the operation had been called off. 

But army sources from the ground told the author that there is a lot more than what is being reported.

According to Indian media reports which are entirely based on Indian army inputs, 30 -40 terrorists were holed up behind the fence trying to infiltrate into India from Pakistan. Seven of them were killed, the army claimed, and on Monday the army released pictures of three dead bodies and ‘huge cache of arms and ammunition’ apparently seized from search operations. The army specified the weapons as ‘warlike’ and claimed they foiled the infiltration bid.

Let us go back to when it started. September 26th; the same day when three terrorists in fatigues attacked a police station in Jammu’s Kathua and an army cantonment in Samba killing 12 persons in total. That afternoon 15th Corp Commander Lt Gen Gurmeet Singh appeared on television to say that 10-12 militants were killed in an infiltration bid, but the bodies could not be recovered and the army is in no hurry to recover the bodies. How did the bodies suddenly pop up 14 days after they were killed and as per the pictures released two bodies were seen lying along the fence? Has the media asked this question to the army?

If the 10-12 alleged infiltrators were killed on 26th September and bodies could not be recovered since they were on the other side of the fence where did the cache of arms come from? If they were on Indian side of the fence then who dragged the bodies away?

If this was amongst the longest operations against an alleged ‘infiltration bid’ along the Line of Control then what stopped the army from opening artillery fire? The Indian army is in possession of precision ammunition (Krasnopol) as well as bunker busting ammo of rockets and missiles. Was the instruction not to escalate the situation or were the targets not there at all?

Army officers who have served in Keran sector say that by the beginning of September the temperature starts dipping. The altitude is 11000ft to 14000 ft. This range receives snow up to 20 feet of snow during winter. If the 35-40 armed personnel were holed up waiting to infiltrate it is quite amazing that they could do so without continuous logistic supply. According to war manuals a soldier can “self-contain” only for 72 hours without this supply. Are those pictures of logistic backup not available with the Indian army? Were the mercenaries/Pakistani special forces/infiltrators staying in open air for the last two weeks? That would be rather difficult under the given circumstances.

The theory of infiltration, however, is convincing. The majority of infiltrations in J&K have taken place during the summer months but in the last few years they have been unsuccessful in finding their way in large numbers. So it is possible that the new strategy was to build up a cache and to keep the Indian army engaged at various points until the fence buries under the snow (which it does in this region) during winter thus allowing infiltrators a way in. The vegetation is of coniferous forests till 9000ft and after the tree line finishes comes a forest of rhododendrons which provide good cover. Beyond that is barren land.

Was the army under pressure to prove that 10-12 militants/terrorists/infiltrators were actually killed on 26th September? Have they provided adequate evidence of a ‘desperate infiltration bid’ and of the killings? I for one am not convinced.

This was not the first ‘Kargil-like situation’ as the media reported. On 26thJuly, 2002 in Point 3260, 1800 meters east of Loonda post, an intrusion was detected when a Sikh Light Infantry patrol was ambushed killing 3 Indian soldiers. The media called that a 2nd Kargil as well. As per some reports the intrusion was detected by an UAV. The Indian Army responded with 155 mm fire, FH-77B ‘Bofors’ howitzers and mortars on the feature from three sides. Mi-17’s flew in special forces. In the counter bombardment from Pakistani artillery 11 Indian soldiers belonging to Sikh LI and attached Ladakh Scouts troops lost their lives. On 2nd August, a multi-ship formation of Mirage-2000s from the 7th Sqn “Battleaxes” went airborne with precision guided munitions on board. Time on Target: 1315 hrs.
As many as 8 to 12 Mirage-2000s were involved in the mission, which was led by the CO 7 Squadron – WgCdr Rajesh Kumar with four arriving on the target. WgCdr Kumar dropped the first 1000 pound bomb followed by other aircraft. The air attack was defended against by SAMs. The Indian Army was able to recapture the post after the attack destroyed Pakistani positions.

But this time the Indian army could not open fire or perhaps they did not know on whom to open fire? But there is video evidence of soldiers who have been injured from enemy fire. Interestingly the ground sources suggest that the injuries could be a result of ‘blue on blue’ during the night operations undertaken to comb the area. ‘Blue on blue’ is friendly fire on own forces while attempting to attack the enemy, either misidentifying the target as hostile or through sheer inaccuracy.

There are several operations conducted by the army in various countries which remain covert or are not fully transparent. They may have their reasons but journalists have no reason to take the army’s version at face value. Questions should be raised. This reminds me of the famous Robert Fisk talk where he says ‘power and media are not just about cosy relationships between journalists and political leaders, between editors and presidents…..it is about semantics.” He went on to give specific examples of how journalists have “co-opted” words from the military like for example “peace process”, “hearts and minds”, “non-state actors” or “road map”.

While infiltration along the Line of Control is a reality, the role of the media is to inquire and get to the truth rather than ally with the language of power to which we seem to have surrendered.

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