Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management
In its continuing attempt to reverse the trend of deepening peace in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Islamabad has, since the beginning of 2013, intensified its onslaught on the border, repeatedly violating the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) signed in November 2003. The ‘intrusion’ into Shala Bhata village along the Line of Control (LoC) in the Keran Sector of Kupwara District in September 2013, was a glaring recent example of such violations.
Reports suggest that a group of an estimated 30 to 40 infiltrators, comprising Pakistan Army’s Border Action Team (BAT) troops and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI)-backed terrorists, had ‘captured’ Shala Bhata village at some time in September 2013. The Army, however, denies such reports, asserting, “The enemy was not occupying higher ground but sitting in a nallah (rivulet)… If this was intrusion, the adversary would go and occupy dominating ground which is defensible.” Nevertheless, the Army was forced to launch Operation Shala Bhata on September 24, 2013. According to reports, at least 19 terrorists were killed during the operation. Five troopers also sustained injuries during the operation. The operation was called off on October 8, 2013, with Army declaring, “our counter-insurgency deployment is being strengthened. We are now going to launch operations which are intelligence based, which are surveillance based, so that we can eliminate and meet the challenges.”
In the meantime, an Army soldier was killed at Kachal along the LoC in the Keran Sector as the Army foiled an infiltration bid by terrorists in the night of October 10, 2013.
The sheer duration of the Operation Shala Bhata clearly demonstrated the enormous challenge that the SFs faced during the course of 15-days over which the engagement was extended. Indeed, the last protracted counter insurgency (CI) operation, Operation Khoj, had been launched in the J&K between March 27 and April 2, 2010, following information that a large group of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorists, all equipped with maps, weapons and ammunition, had infiltrated along the Pallanwalla sector in Jammu (Jammu District) in the night of March 22, 2010. 16 LeT terrorists and six soldiers were killed, as almost 1,000 troops spread out across an area of just over 50 square kilometers. Speaking about the scale of the Operation Khoj, then General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the CI Uniform Force, Major General M.M.S. Rai stated, "No doubt it was the biggest by the sheer size of it, and the number of people involved on ground. We wanted to quickly eliminate, search and destroy and that is why we lost our own men too." SFs later claimed that Operation Khoj was, in fact, the second largest CI operation in the State after Operation Sarpa Vinash (Snake Destroyer) that was executed in the State in 2003 in the remote Hill Kaka region near Surankote town in Poonch District. "Operation Sarp Vinash, which was conducted in an area of approximately 150 square kilometres between April and June  after comprehensive planning, led to the elimination of 65 terrorists and smashing of 119 hideouts," an unnamed senior Army officer had then told the Media.
Meanwhile, talking about the direct role of the Pakistan Army in the latest offensive from across the Border, General Officer Commanding (GOC) Northern Army command, Lieutenant General Sanjiv Chachra asserted,
The infiltrating terrorists have always received the tacit support of the Pakistan Army establishment. We are almost on eyeball-to-eyeball and we can see each other. At such a point of time, a large group of terrorists infiltrating… you mean to say that this is happening without the complicity of Pakistan Army? This is ridiculous. 59 major weapons, including 18 AK Rifles, and war like stores were recovered. Most of the arms recovered from the scene of operation have Pakistan marking.