New Delhi: A day after defence minister Arun Jaitley urged Indians citizens to keep faith in the capabilities of the country’s armed forces, security forces launched a massive combing operation in south Kashmir’s Shopian district to flush out terrorists who had allegedly crossed over from Pakistan.
The minister was responding to a question seeking India’s response to the killing and beheading of two Indian security personnel in Kashmir by Pakistan
Around 5,000 personnel from the Indian Army, the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force and the Jammu and Kashmir Police launched the cordon and search operation in Shopian district—one of the biggest in recent times.
Experts say that India is signalling a change in tactic on how it deals with the cross-border terror threat emanating from Pakistan.
Security personnel closed in on the approximately two dozen villages in the area and began a meticulous combing operation after clearing all civilian residents, a senior security officer familiar with the development close to site of the operation said.
“To make sure that no innocent civilians are hurt, we ensured that everyone leaves their homes. A thorough combing operation was conducted in the area because we had intelligence that militants from the Hizbul (Mujahideen) were present in large numbers in the area. A cordon was first formed so as to avoid any incidents of stone-pelting," said the senior security officer cited above.
According to defence experts, such crackdowns were likely to become the norm in the future. “This is a shift from rhetoric to action-taking. And it won’t stop now. This will not be like a surgical strike, it will be a sustained effort by the security forces for a long time to come," said defence expert Major Gaurav Arya.
Government officials in New Delhi said the crackdown was aimed at flushing out Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Umair Majeed, who had risen up the ranks after Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter in July 2016.
Late Thursday evening, the Shopian combing operation was concluded. But no sooner had the operations halted, a group of terrorists ambushed the Indian Army’s convoy in Shopian, injuring a few soldiers and leading to a heavy exchange of gunfire between the forces and the militants, an Indian army official said.
The Shopian operation comes as tensions between India and Pakistan have spiked after a Border Action Team comprising Pakistani military personnel and terrorists crossed the de facto Line of Control (LoC) border and killed an Indian army soldier and a Border Security Guard personnel on 1 May.
Pakistan has denied the charge with its defence minister Khwaja Mohammed Asif and high commissioner to India Abdul Basit rejecting India’s accusations.
India accuses Pakistan of pushing in terrorists through the LoC to foment terrorism in Indian administered Kashmir—something Pakistan denies. New Delhi also says that Pakistan has been violating a 2003 ceasefire along their common borders to push in terrorists under covering fire.
In New Delhi on Thursday, Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat told reporters that the combing operations were part of a reinforced counter insurgency strategy. “It (the operation) is nothing new. It is being carried out to bring the situation under control," Rawat said. He added there had been an increase in terrorist activities in south Kashmir with incidents of policemen being killed and banks being robbed by suspected terrorists.
On possible retaliation for the mutilation of Indian personnel, Rawat said: “We do not talk about future plans beforehand. We share details after execution of the plan. When this kind of action takes place, we also carry out retaliatory action."
With the snow in the upper reaches of the Himalaya mountains melting, Pakistan was trying to send in more terrorists into Kashmir, Rawat said. “Terrorists are trying to infiltrate. Snows are melting, summer months have started. Like each year, infiltration will commence. We are taking measures. We have beefed up our counter-infiltration postures," Rawat said.