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Kashmir behind fence, on time

New Delhi, July 2: A fence runs through Kashmir. The army has completed a fence along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. It practically seals off more than two-thirds of the LoC and can radically alter the military situation in the state.

The deadline to fence 580 km of the 740-odd km LoC was June 30. The army and the Border Security Force have completed the job.

“Our job was to complete 300 km of fencing north of the Pir Panjal and 280 km south of the range and the deadline was June 30. We have met the deadline,” an army source told The Telegraph.

The fence along the LoC was seen as an operational requirement. Work on it began simultaneously with the launch of an anti-insurgency drive called “Operation Sarp Vinash” in April-May last year. Since the guns on the LoC fell silent after the Id ceasefire in November, the work gathered pace and a bulk of it was completed since then.

The army has an estimated 11 infantry battalions ranged along the LoC. Together with an electrified fence and such modern equipment as hand-held thermal imagers and long observation ranging systems that lights up animate objects at night and can track them through 10 km of mountainous terrain, the militarisation of the LoC is undergoing a qualitative change.

An additional phase II of fencing that will buttress and supplement the fence is expected to be completed by September 30. It involves less than 100 km and may not necessarily stretch the fence but reinforce it. Its nature is “tactical” in army parlance and, therefore, confidential.

Army engineers, pioneer companies — army units of technical personnel who are also a combat force — porter companies and the BSF pitched in to complete the job. No civilian contractor was appointed.

The 580 km of fence is not entirely contiguous. There are gaps left for movement of army patrols and there have been attempts to breach the fence by militants in the Gurez sector.

The fence is electrified and at several points night-vision devices have been mounted on it. The fence is inside Indian territory and not precisely on the LoC. This has left out scores of villages in what is practically a no-man’s land.

The LoC in Jammu and Kashmir — internationally referred to as a Ceasefire Line — took its present shape after the 1972 Shimla Accord. Pakistan has repeatedly objected to the building of the fence but defence minister Pranab Mukherjee said earlier this week that it has Islamabad’s tacit approval.

US state department spokesman Richard Boucher said last year that the LoC fence was not a bad idea and refused to draw a parallel with the wall put up by the Israelis on the West Bank.

The army projected the fence as an operational requirement to deter infiltration and exfiltration of militants.

It set out by identifying the most vulnerable stretches and has ended up fencing some 78 per cent of the LoC, mostly in the areas under its 16 Corps in Jammu and the Valley-based 15 Corps. The rest of the LoC runs mostly through the heights of Kargil and Ladakh before it telescopes in the Actual Ground Position Line in the Siachen Glacier.

The BSF was tasked mainly with the fencing along the stretch of the boundary in Jammu that Pakistan disputes and calls a working boundary but India calls an international boundary. The southernmost tip of the fence is roughly 40 km north of Jammu. Till the ceasefire, intermittent shelling across the LoC delayed work on the fence.

India has also erected fences along the international boundary in the west with Pakistan and is in the process of completing the fence in the east along the border with Bangladesh.

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