The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Operation SarpVinash has indisputably been the most high-profile counter-insurgency operation being conducted at the level of Jammu Corps. According to army sources, it has also been one of the most successful. The operation, of building a road to Hill Kaka near Surankote spread along the Pir Panjal ranges that divide Jammu from Kashmir, involves about 10,000 soldiers, including special forces. It is estimated that there are more than 300 terrorists from across the line of control in the region. Over 60 terrorists have already been killed in the operation.

According to sources, Major General Hardev Lidder has been asked not to comment on the operation, since that would create wrong impressions in the media. Lidder was pulled up after he was quoted in the media as saying that terrorists have been freely operating in the Surankote area for almost four years.

About 12,000 troops of the Indian army, with the aid of the air force’s unmanned aerial vehicles and helicopters, were used to mount Operation Sarp Vinash. The preparations took over four months and involved the building of three helipads and airlifting of hundreds of tonnes of logistic equipment. It was during this exercise that about 62 terrorists were killed while another 200 to 300 escaped into the thick jungles and ravines of the area.

Price of laxity

The success of killing 62 terrorists and busting a huge terror enclave in a remote ridge at least 10 kilometres away from the closest road head, has now raised questions about the army’s failure in checking terrorists from setting up base there. There are even speculations about another Kargil situation being created, based on the fact that about 7,000 kilogrammes of ration in the terror enclave. This points towards long-term plans of the terrorists.

It is a matter of shame that the army was ignorant of the situation for so long. If the reports are true, there is a need to haul up the army commanders, corps commanders, divisional commanders and the brigade commanders operating in these areas and demand an explanation and if necessary, take disciplinary action. The intelligence agencies in charge of information on these areas should also not be spared for the laxity.

Pervez Musharraf’s strategy of creating another Kargil could well have been on the verge of being fulfilled. He also seems to have kept his promise to the American deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, of clearing Pakistan-occupied Kashmir of terrorists — by sending them over to India. Encouraged by reports in the Indian media, the Hizbul leader, Syed Salahuddin, also declared that training camps for the “freedom fighters” were stationed in Indian soil.

Key areas

Even as India prepares for a conciliatory approach towards Pakistan, there is a need for a two-pronged strategy — intensifying the counter-insurgency drive and, being ready to face Pakistan in a war. On assuming the command of the army, General Nirmal Vij too proposed the same strategy. He listed four key areas: to maintain a high level of operational preparedness, to support the state government by undertaking counter-insurgency and anti-terrorist operations, to continue with the army’s modernization drive, and to provide better health facilities to ex-servicemen. Operation Sarp Vinash is the result of this. The army has its own difficulties in undertaking this operation. A shortage of young officers, for instance. This needs immediate attention.

By over-emphasizing its achievements and future plans, the army may just be working against itself. But through high-level briefings, the army has disclosed that a few more of such operations are on the anvil. An additional 10,000 troops have been moved into the Poonch sector. This would alert the terrorists and their mentors in Pakistan. The government must seriously consider the conditions of the army and help it succeed. The army needs time to go back to the barracks to rejuvenate itself for future combats.

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