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Idler al Qaida and fewer bullets

Leh, Aug. 25 (Reuters): Fire is being exchanged daily on the Line of Control, but fighting has gone down dramatically since June, the Indian Army commander for the region said.

Lieutenant-General Rajinder Singh said in an interview that Islamic militants from Afghanistan had been brought into forward positions on the Pakistani side of the line during May and June, but had since been pulled back.

Singh, head of the 14th Corps, said 200 to 300 rounds of artillery were being exchanged daily in the area under his command, covering the LoC.

But this was down from 5,000 a day in May and June — when the neighbours came to the brink of war over Kashmir.

Singh said Indian intercepts of communications from the Pakistani side of the LoC had shown the presence of militants, including those from the Afghanistan-based al Qaida.

“We had intercepts that he (Pakistan) had concentrated some al Qaida members, some militants along some of these posts in the forward locations,” he said.

But unable to get through Indian defences, “as per our information, these people have been pulled back to depth areas”.

The government has frequently said militants from al Qaida and Afghanistan’s former Taliban rulers had fled to Pakistani Kashmir after escaping from the US-led campaign in Afghanistan. Pakistan denies the charge.

Asked how the Indian Army knew where the militants were from, Singh said the intercepts mentioned al Qaida.

In one intercept, he said, one militant complained that “this kind of shelling, we have not seen even in Afghanistan”.

In another, from the Pakistani army, “they said that these people, our guests who are here with us, they are only eating rations, not doing any work. They are suffering from some disease and we want these people to be moved out.”

The 14th Corps covers some of the most sensitive parts of the LoC, including Kargil and the Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battlefield.

“As far as the situation on the LoC is concerned, I’d put it that it is as normal as it can be,” Singh said.

He was speaking on Friday, just before Pakistan accused India of launching an air-and-ground assault on a military post near Kargil the day before. India denied the charge.

Singh said the heaviest fighting during May and June had been in Dras, near Kargil, where Pakistani troops occasionally target the road linking Kashmir with Ladakh. “During May, June it had intensified. Now it has come down to normal,” he said.

He denied reports that the two armies, facing each other from mountain posts, had tried to take new ground recently.

“There has been no change in the status quo of the LoC in my area. It remains as it was,” he said, adding that there had been “no visible attempts” to change positions since 1999.

“You see if they see any movement, or they perceive perhaps any threat from anywhere, they resort to firing. As far as we are concerned, we do the same.” Singh said that there were regular exchanges of fire on the Siachen Glacier — which runs up towards the border with China.

“The guns have never been quiet in this area although the intensity has not been so much,” he said. “The exchange of fire that we are having in Siachen has been almost constant.”

Lashkar blamed

Militants of the Lashkar-e-Toiba carried out the August 6 attack on Amarnath pilgrims near Pahalgam, killing nine persons and injuring 27, PTI quoted a defence spokesman in Jammu today.

Radio intercepts of LeT militants in the Valley with those in the Pakistan occupied Kashmir reveal that the outfit was involved in the attack on the pilgrims at Nunwan and the ultra who got killed in the operation was Nazar Mol Kasim alias Abu Abdullah, a resident of Chakwal in Pakistan, he said.

Revealing the intercept, the spokesman of the Northern Command said LeT militants in the Valley asked those in PoK “khaber suni hai ki nahi (have you heard the news or not)”. The reply was “na, na (no, no)” from LeT of PoK.

It further said “koi ilaka parta hai Pahalgam tehsil mein, yatra pe attack hua aur 9 mare hain aur 27 zakhmi (some area which falls under Pahalgam where the yatra has been attacked in which nine have been killed and 27 injured)”, the militants of Jammu and Kashmir said.

Koi saathi ko nuksan to nahi hua (Has there been any loss to any colleague)'” asked the PoK militant and the reply was: “Haan, ek sathi hua hai (Yes, one colleague).”

The intercept also revealed the identity of the militant killed in retaliatory firing by securitymen after the attack, the spokesman said.

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