BY AHMED ALI FAYYAZ
New Delhi, Nov 23 (IANS) The killing of four heavily-armed terrorists of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) –Masood Azhar’s jihadist outfit — in an encounter by the Jammu and Kashmir Police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on November 19, at the Ban Toll Plaza near Nagrota has exposed Pakistan’s fresh offensive to sabotage the valley’s first major democratic exercise.
The incident has taken place just a few days ahead of the eight-phased elections for all the 20 District Development Councils (DDCs) in Jammu and Kashmir, slated between November 28 and December 22 alongside the elections to fill up some vacancies in the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) and 13,000 vacancies of the peoples’ representatives in the Panchayati Raj Institutions.
More than six million eligible voters have the right to vote in these elections — the first in the valley after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A and conversion of the state into the two union territories — Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh in August 2019.
Director General of the J&K Police Dilbag Singh has observed that the group of the JeM terrorists, wiped out on the Jammu-Srinagar highway on Thursday, had been given the task of disrupting the DDC elections.
According to Singh, as also some other officers, the indications of a high voter turnout were “unnerving” for Pakistan as the same had the potential to dismantle the secessionist narratives sustained in the foreign press over the last 16 months. “Since August last year, they have been telling and selling blatant lies to the whole world. They have been claiming that the Indian actions, particularly the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act of August 2019, were unacceptable to the Kashmiris and nobody would contest the elections, let alone the voter turnout. You see scores of the candidates are coming forward in every constituency,” said a top-ranking bureaucrat. “All the mainstream politicians, who had been detained last year, have been released and they are now contesting the UT’s first universal franchise in the valley. There are prospects of one of the highest voter turnout elections. This is tantamount to accepting the August 2019 interventions as fait accompli. They can go to any extent to sabotage this democratic exercise but we are prepared to deal with every attempt of disruption.”
DGP Singh told India Narrative that the four terrorists had sneaked into Jammu through the International Border (IB), most likely from a Pakistani Rangers post in Shakargarh, and boarded a waiting truck between Samba and Gagwal during the night intervening November 18 and 19. According to him, Arnia and Samba sectors in Jammu had been lately activated by the terror operatives to smuggle in arms and ammunition, drugs and the suicide bombers.
While a Pakistani drone had dropped one AK-47 rifle and two pistols, close to the IB in Arnia sector on November 17, two more Pakistani drones had been spotted and fired upon by the Border Security Force (BSF) in the Samba sector on November 20.
“Security forces are confident that infiltration through the fenced IB is impossible. But sometimes the terrorists infiltrate through rivers flowing into Pakistan. Besides, in the last several months, we have detected three short diameter tunnels which are believed to have been used for some infiltration and smuggling. Earlier this year, we detected smuggling of arms, ammunition and cash through drones in Pathankot, Kathua and Samba sectors. A couple of attempts were detected in Poonch-Rajouri. We are looking for the three weapons dropped by a Pakistani drone on Tuesday”, the J&K DGP said.
Officials associated with the investigation revealed that the truck with the fake registration number of JK001AL-1055, ferrying the terrorists from Jammu to Srinagar, belonged to a south Kashmir resident.
The driver is said to have escaped during the encounter but reportedly was traced and contacted by the police. Records scanned at four toll plazas between Pathankot and Nashri indicate that in recent times this truck had crossed into Pathankot (Punjab) from Lakhanpur (J&K) at 8.31 a.m. on November 1 and returned with a load of goods to valley via Lakhanpur at 10.39 p.m. on November 9.
On November 19, the same truck crossed Sarore toll plaza near Vijaypur, Jammu, at 3.43 am and moved towards the Jammu city. It crossed Bajalta Chowk at Sidhra at 4.26 a.m. and moved towards the Ban toll plaza on the Jammu-Srinagar highway. It was intercepted at 4.45 a.m. at the police check post, 100 metres short of the Ban toll plaza.
As the terrorists on board found themselves under cordon, they opened fire. It led to a two-hour-long gun-battle in which all the four terrorists were neutralised but two personnel of the Special Operations Group (SOG) of the J&K Police too sustained injuries.
Preliminary investigations held separately by the J&K Police and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) have revealed that the JeM module had been launched by Masood Azhar’s brother, Rauf Asgar, from the same rangers post and the route in Shakargarh which had been used for infiltration of the terrorists who subsequently planned and executed the suicide attack in which 40 CRPF personnel got killed near Awantipora on February 14, 2019.
A few investigators believe that the group had planned to carry out a major fidayeen attack in Kashmir to commemorate the Mumbai terror attack of November 26, 2008.
It is for the first time in the last several years that a huge quantity of arms and ammunition has been recovered from a group of terrorists killed in an encounter. The recovery of 11 AK rifles, one under-barrel grenade launcher and three pistols, besides 35 grenades, makes clear that the organisation is now suffering shortage of arms and ammunition for a slew of reasons.
Around 200 militants have been killed in different encounters with the security forces in the last 11 months. Recruitment of fresh cadres has remarkably reduced as about a dozen terrorists have laid down arms during encounters and they are being rehabilitated.
The DGP as well as senior Army officials insist that not more than 40 terrorists have succeeded to infiltrate. Most of the attempts to snatch away weapons from the police and security forces personnel have failed this year.
The highway from Gurdaspur in Punjab to Srinagar in J&K has been the target of scores of encounter and suicide attacks, even as the local terror networks have been decisively emaciated. Three JeM terrorists were killed in an encounter at Dina Nagar, Gurdaspur, on July 27, 2015. At least five JeM terrorists, seven security forces personnel and a civilian died in a suicide attack on an Indian Air Force base at Pathankote on January 2-5, 2016.
In Jammu, major attacks by JeM occurred on the Army camps at Nagrota on November 29, 2016, and at Sunjwan on February 10, 2018. A truck carrying three JeM terrorists was intercepted by security forces near Jhajjar Kotli on the Jammu-Srinagar highway on September 12, 2018. Three terrorists were killed in the encounter.
Another truck carrying three JeM terrorists was intercepted at Ban Toll Plaza on January 31, 2020. All the three terrorists were killed in the encounter. Yet another truck carrying an arms consignment was intercepted and seized at Jawahar Tunnel on September 12, 2020. JeM’s biggest terror strike took place at Lethapora, Awantipora, on the same highway when 40 CRPF personnel were killed on February 14, 2019.
(This content is being carried under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)