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Security forces see chance in J&K terrorist spurt

By Josy Joseph in New Delhi
September 16, 2003 18:37 IST
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The spurt in violence in Jammu and Kashmir is taking a heavy toll, but may also help the security forces as terrorists have begun to come out in the open to launch attacks, according to senior officers.

This spurt, the security forces believe, is linked to the killing of Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist Ghazi Baba in an encounter in Srinagar on August 30. A senior security forces officer chose former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's infamous comment about the massacre of Sikhs after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination -- when a big tree falls, the earth is bound to shake -- to explain the increase in violence after Ghazi Baba's killing.

The security forces are taking measures to minimise casualties in case of suicide attacks by terrorists with senior army officers -- easily among the most sought after targets in the valley -- taking extra precautions. "We are prepared for any eventuality," said Vijay Raman, Inspector General (Kashmir range) of the Border Security Force, pointing out that security forces had anticipated the spurt in violence after Ghazi Baba's killing.

His death has thrown the terrorists into disarray, Raman told adding, "They have gone berserk."

The army agrees with this assessment. "There is panic in the terrorist ranks ever since Ghazi Baba was killed," said Major General D H Summanwar of Military Intelligence. The panic has led terrorists to come out and take on the security forces, "which suits us", he said.

The claim may have some basis as more than 60 terrorists have been killed in the past fortnight.

At present, the army is engaged in several offensive operations in the Kashmir valley. It is also on high alert along the Line of Control to check an anticipated spurt in infiltration.

In recent days, it has gunned down at least two leading terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and foiled several infiltration attempts, Gen Summanwar said.

After the success in nailing Ghazi Baba, "information generation has become much more easy" because "when you succeed the public comes with you", IG Raman said.

The flow of information is leading the BSF to take on more targets, he said. On Monday evening, the BSF busted a Jaish-e-Mohammed hideout on the outskirts of Srinagar.

But there are concerns about the growing casualty figures among the security forces, which do not square up with the MI assessment. A senior army officer said the army had a casualty rate of one soldier for every eight or nine terrorists killed, which has now gone up to one soldier for every five or six terrorists.

This, he said, is because the terrorists are increasingly employing improvised explosive devices, grenades, and hit-and-run tactics while the incidence of face-to-face fighting has come down. Among those killed in recent days is a major.

Questions are also being raised about the failure of security forces to pin down the terrorists involved in the almost week-long encounter in the forests in Kathua district in Jammu region. The army blames the failure on the local police, accusing it of carrying out the operation in a haphazard manner in the initial phase.

Either way, a senior intelligence agency official indicated that the increasing violence would have an impact on peace initiatives, as there are warnings about possible attacks on 'high profile targets'.

More reports from Jammu and Kashmir

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Josy Joseph in New Delhi