| Soldiers near the Line of Control
New Delhi, Oct. 27: The army is building permanent shelters for troops in a 175-km stretch of the 740-km Line of Control north of Kashmir Valley. This follows the army commanders’ decision not to pull back troops even in peak winter from high reaches that are often snowbound and prone to be choked by avalanches.
The army chief, General .C. Vij, said here today just before flagging off a five-day annual commanders’ conference that the army will continue to man important forward posts along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir.
Army sources claimed that rear-area reserves were adequate to provide more strength for mobile patrols in “grey areas” that could be used by cross-border traffic. Three army corps are deployed in Jammu and Kashmir along the LoC and for counter-insurgency. No official figures are given out for the troop strength in the state.
The army decision to man forward-observation posts that afford a view of ridgelines and the construction of solid posts signifies a permanent militarisation of the LoC.
At the time of the Kargil war of 1999, Pakistani regulars and irregulars had occupied posts and heights that used to be vacated by the Indian Army in winter. Operational commanders had assessed that Pakistani forces had moved in to fill “voids” along the LoC in the Dras-Kargil stretch.
Experts had predicted that the Kargil war and the vulnerability of the LoC to intrusions even in harsh winters would lead to “Siachenisation” — a catchphrase to describe conditions like those in the Siachen glacier all along the frontline in Kashmir. Indian and Pakistani troops continue to remain eyeball-to-eyeball in the Siachen glacier, shooting each other at sight, for about two decades now.
However, operational commands do not draw a parallel between the militarisation now and in the Siachen. They say the building of permanent posts in the Shamsabari ranges — north of the Valley in Kupwara, Gurez and Baramulla — are intended to deter infiltration and not potential intrusions that carry with the them the threat of territory being forcibly occupied.
They say infiltration drops sharply in the winter months in the Shamsabari and Pir Panjal ranges while it increases in the lower reaches — in Poonch, Rajouri and Jammu.
Army sources claimed that the decision to keep forward posts occupied would not put pressure on manpower. “We will continue to give troops R&R (rest and recuperation) every three months. We have enough rear-area reserves,” a source said.
Since 1999, the army has never abandoned some of the observation posts in the Shamsabari ranges but left them with “surveillance” elements of up to a section (about 10 troops) each and pulled back to posts lower down.
This winter onwards, each of these posts would be manned by a platoon (average size 30-40 troops) that would carry out patrols. This was being done despite the induction of electronic surveillance equipment. Not all the electronic equipment is capable of withstanding vagaries of weather such as heavy snowfall, blizzards and avalanches.