Exclusive: As PM talked peace, Pak grabbed ghost village on LoC

Even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in New York, Indian troops were engaged in a murderous fight to clear Pakistani troops who have occupied a ghost village alone the Line of Control, highly placed military sources have told Firstpost. This is the first time since the 2001-02 near-war that Pakistani troops have held territory across the Line of Control, and comes as a ceasefire declared after that conflict unravels.

Fighting, the sources said, is still taking place in the village of Shala Bhata, where Pakistani irregulars and special forces personnel are using abandoned homes to fire on troops attempting to clear the area.

Lieutenant-General Gurmeet Singh, commander of the Srinagar-based XV corps, said earlier this week 12 terrorists had been killed in the fighting — a statement that was misreported and referred to a separate fidayeen strike on police and military installations in Samba. A spokesperson at army headquarters in New Delhi said he had no confirmation yet on Indian casualties.

 Exclusive: As PM talked peace, Pak grabbed ghost village on LoC

Map showing the village.

“There’s no confirmation yet about who the infiltrators are”, the Delhi-based military spokesperson said, "but some of the bodies we’ve recovered are wearing uniforms, which is suggestive. More important, the tactics and disciplined use of firepower by the infiltrators show they are likely special forces personnel, not just infiltrators."

The intrusion, sources have said, took place on the night of 23 September, taking advantage of gaps in patrolling which took place when troops of the 20 Kumaon regiment were handing over charge to the 3-3 Gurkha, during a routine rotation of troops. The intruders took cover in unoccupied observation posts overlooking a nullah, or village stream, as well as abandoned homes.

In latest updates, IBN7′s Khalid Husain has reported that Army sources said there is face to face firing going on as after the infiltration into Indian posts which were unmonitored for week. In addition, IBN7 is reporting that heavy machine gun fire has broken out in the area. The posts were allegedly captured by men wearing Pakistan army uniform. XV corps commander Lieutenant-General Gurmeet Singh has said no village had been captured, but conceded some terrorists might be hiding out in it. He also said that an infiltration attempt had been repulsed, but went on to state a large area on the Indian side of the Line of Control was cordoned off, and fighting was underway.

Earlier this year, five Indian soldiers were executed in an ambush near Chakan-da-Bagh in Poonch, when the 21 Bihar were handing over charge of a stretch of the Sarla battalion area to the 14 Maratha Light Infantry. “This suggests the Pakistani army is carefully monitoring the Line of Control”, an intelligence official told Firstpost, “identifying weaknesses to stage strikes of opportunity”.

Shala Bhata, some 20 kilometres as the crow flies from the district headquarters at Keran, looks over the Kishanganga river, and is perched on a strategically-vital arc that overlooks Pakistan’s main line of communication to the northern stretches of the Line of Control.

In 1990, many inhabitants of the village’s 21-odd families left for Pakistan, fearing imminent fighting. They continue to live just across the Line of Control, in a hamlet also called Shala Bhata. Pakistani troops have a small encampment just across the Line of Control. The remainder of the village’s inhabitants were evacuated from the area in 1999-1999, amidst intense Pakistani fire directed at adjoining Indian military positions.

The occupation of the ghost village of Shala Bhata began less than a week before Prime Minister Singh held talks with Prime Minister Sharif in New York. Their discussions centred around measures to deescalate tensions on the line of control. The two Prime Ministers ordered their Directors-General of Military Operations to hold talks to defuse growing tensions.

Pakistani troops last occupied positions on the Indian side of the Line of Control in July, 2002, taking Loonda Post— part of the same sector where fighting is now underway. India responded, on that occasion, by using eight Mirage 2000 aircraft to drop precision-guided bombs on to the four occupied bunkers. Following the air strike, troops supported by 155-millimetre howitzers retook the positions.

The daylight air assault, government sources told Firstpost, had been authorised at the highest political leavel, and were intended to demonstrate that India would not hesitate to escalate the conflict if provoked.

In earlier years, though, both armies frequently occupied posts vacated by their adversaries along the Line of Control, jockeying for tactical positional superiority. This would often lead to skirmishes and artillery exchanges.

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Updated Date: Oct 03, 2013 08:11:06 IST