The Indian security forces have launched a massive operation to unearth 'sleeper cells' that were activated in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the wake of India’s surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LoC) on 29 September.
A 'fidayeen' (suicide) attack carried out by terrorists on a BSF and adjoining army camps in the Baramulla district of the Kashmir valley on Sunday night is seen as yet another attempt by Pakistan to provoke India through highly-trained and motivated soldiers in the garb of terrorists.
The manner in which the terrorists, after their attack was foiled by the Indian forces, spirited away in the dense forests and tough terrain near the Indo-Pak border is not reflective of a casual incursion by jihadis. The terrorists appeared to be highly trained in Guerrilla warfare, quite similar to the special forces.
It will be instructive to understand the tactics that the terrorists employed and the target they chose. Their target, apparently, was the army brigade headquarter that was located quite a distance away from the Indo-Pak border and was adequately protected by pickets of the border security force (BSF).
Top sources within the BSF say that alert BSF personnel challenged the terrorists at first glance and engaged them in a battle which in turn pre-empted and prevented a repeat of an Uri like attack.
The swift and fierce retaliation by the BSF jawans, combined with the quick reaction of the army forced the terrorists to take to their heels. Sources say that two terrorists were neutralised, through their bodies are yet to be recovered. “We are looking for them in the terrain which is not easy to access,” an official said.
Though the successful face-off with trained and motivated terrorists – that averted a repetition of an attack like Uri or Pathankot – may be a matter of relief, the Baramulla incident has confirmed India’s worst prognosis about Pakistan - that the country is not going to give up terrorism as an instrument of its state policy.
In such a context, Pakistan’s plea of its inability to check and control “non-state actors” is nothing more than a tactical tool. This is the precise reason that the Indian government seems determined to raise the threshold level of Pakistan and make it directly accountable to bear the cost of terrorism.
Following the Baramulla attack, in a meeting comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and the chiefs of defence forces and central police organisation, there seemed to be a unanimity that it would be puerile to call Pakistan’s direct war as proxy-war.
Sunday's attack on the Baramulla camp is clearly seen as an act of war which must not go unchallenged. And the government is in mood to rest on the laurels of its 'surgical operation' or the BSF’s valiant fight in repelling the attack on Baramulla.
But India’s military strategy would be just a beginning of an end. Sources in the home ministry say that it needs to be followed up by a massive operation to unearth the various sleeper cells scattered across Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.
For instance, there is enough evidence to suggest that most of these highly trained terrorists are provided with arms, ammunition and logistical support by these 'sleeper cells', which get activated by the ISI.
A highly placed BSF official admits that it would be naïve to assume that these highly trained terrorists were pushed across the border without local support. “We are still not sure about the routes taken by the terrorists in the Pathankot attack,” he said.
Since the Pathankot attack, the BSF officials are closely working with intelligence agencies focussing on specific inputs about the probability of terrorists sneaking into India on valid passports and melting away in certain pockets of the country.
“We feel that there is a strong possibility that these terrorists are getting acquainted with the topography during their stay and that they are armed adequately by sleepers cells. Hence, they would choose their targets carefully,” pointed out a former BSF chief. “The probability of the existence of such sleeper cells in the border areas of Punjab is very high,” he pointed out.
In such a setting, the government is grappling with two critical tasks at hand. First, the attacks on Indian security establishments is seen by India as an act of war directly waged by Pakistan’s deep state (Army). And that within the Indian establishment, there is a total rejection of Pakistan’s plea of “non-state actors”.
Second, the government has directed the internal security apparatus to launch a massive operation to weed out 'sleeper cells' across the country to take this battle against terrorism towards a logical end.
Few would know that Baramulla was the turning point in the history of Jammu and Kashmir in the post-partition phase. On 25 October 1947, this district was invaded by Pakistani soldiers in the garb of Kabalis and indulged in mass killings, looting and rapes.
One of the best missionary education institutions in the Kashmir valley, St Joseph's Convent, suffered the worst kind of savagery at the hands of Pakistani soldiers, as the convent nuns were killed and raped and the church was destroyed.
That proved to be the turning point for India, in not only reclaiming Baramulla from the marauders but also turning the world’s opinion against Pakistan.
Though the situation and context in Baramulla may be different this time around, yet, the attack on the defence establishment is sure to firm up India’s resolve to fight this battle more decisively than ever before.