CI Operations in Jammu & Kashmir
Between 1983 and 1987 the Pakistani Government and its intelligence arm Inter Service Intelligence watched the beginning of a turmoil caused by the inept politicians of the National Conference in the state and the Congress I in New Delhi. Buoyed by the experience of running the Afghan guerilla war the ISI and the Pakistani establishment seized the opportunity to increase the problems in the Valley from a minor disturbance caused by disenchanted populace to a major low intensity conflict involving a huge influx of arms and foreign mercenaries fired up by the concept of jihad.
The ISI started out by co-opting the JKLF and helping Amanullah Khan to win control of the JKLF. The Pakistani Government started raising money for the Azad Kashmir movement in 1985 while claiming only moral support. While initially leaving the training to Liberation Cell 202, the success of the operations led the ISI to take direct control of the operations. The fig leaf of moral support was blown away, when in 1990 the ISI discarded the JKLF to back only the pro-Pakistan groups like the Hizbul-Mujahideen and the Harkat-ul-Ansar. As per Jane's Intelligence Review, the 1990s saw the first AK-47 copies, RPG-7s and Chinese grenades enter the Valley to be followed by RPD, RPK and PK machine guns. Along with this, training was also imparted in the use of sophisticated wireless equipment with encryption and burst transmission. By this time there were up to 5 Brigadiers and 11 Colonels in charge of the ISI operations and over two dozen field operatives based out of Muzaffarabad. The aim was to gradually paralyze the Government, ethnically cleanse the state of the Pandits and render the state ineffective to be followed by massive uprising. The Pakistan Government and the ISI was waiting for the fruits of their labor to ripen and fall in their lap. The moment they had dreamed of since 1947 seemed nearer than ever.
The Initial Fights
When the trouble first began the only force in the valley was the Central Reserve Police Force. Raised in 1909 this was more of a police force than a paramilitary force the only difference being that this was a Central unit and consisted of men from all parts of the country. In 1990 – 91 this force was stretched with 103 companies deployed in the Punjab, North East, Ayodhya and Andhra Pradesh. Its men could handle the odd riot but not the stuff the Pakistanis were throwing up. The CRPF has been involved on and off in Jammu and Kashmir since 1950. Three J&K Battalions under CRPF exclusively for duties in J&K were raised in 1956 which were merged in to CRPF to be known as 4,5 and 6 CRPF Battalions. By the late 80s there were 15,000 CRPF men deployed in Kashmir initially, mostly for election duty.
The CRPF is staffed by mostly officers of the Indian Police Service (IPS) with a sprinkling of retired Army officers. They did not have the experience of carrying out long range patrols, high altitude assaults etc. However as police officers they had a good understanding of policing which is essential for countering urban insurgency. For the untrained CRPF (and later the BSF) it was learnt the hard way, in the unforgiving environments of real life. Compounding the problem was the deployment of these forces in typical orthodox police naka fashion. The pattern of deployment is routine. The basic urban area in India is a mohalla linked to other mohallas by narrow lanes that can be traversed only by foot or roads where a single vehicle, rickshaw or bicycle can barely move. Moreover it is possible for people to jump from roof to roof and disappear in the back lanes. The nakas were set up at entry and exit points as well as key crossroads and bridges. Where space permitted a naka was set up inside the mohalla.
The infamous bunker was a 10 feet by 6 feet structure surrounded by sandbags, draped in tarpaulin and covered in corrugated sheets. It was covered by camouflage netting to prevent grenades from getting into the bunker. There was no lighting, cooking facilities, no place to take a break and under cold and damp conditions became infested with vermin. The other ranks (OR) who occupied this were under constant tension and alert to sniper fire and grenade assaults. Meals and relief had to be provided from camps and this occupied half the strength of the unit.
The other method was to seek the militants out. With total lack of information as the J&K Armed Police was either completely ineffectual or untrustworthy the method employed was the infamous cordon and search operations. These operations were the opportunity the militants waited for to a launch a quick attack. It would come in the form of a hurled grenade or a burst of AK-47 fire. The offenders would then dump the rifle in an alleyway and merge with the civilians. The CRPF response was to barge in the general direction of the fire and force the people in the house to clean the graffiti or to a let few rounds in the direction. The problem with this method was that all the people were considered enemies and served to alienate the population and made it harder to generate hard intelligence. While the officers understood it the OR's did not.
At this stage comes the Indian States inability to learn lessons from similar situations in the past. This has repeatedly caused problems to fester and the cost of finally doing the right thing has been paid in blood. With the lessons of Punjab this was the time to rebuild the J&K police force. While the reliability is questionable the beginnings could have been made by first targeting non-Kashmiri Muslims, weeding out the undesirables, instituting cash awards and accepting the risks. Instead the CRPF was replaced by the BSF. The CRPF fell back to guard vital installations.
Enter the BSF
The Border Security Force was raised in 1965 after the Pakistanis overwhelmed the Chad Bet post manned by the Gujarat police. The idea was that this force would take over all posts on the International border during peacetime and would fallback to guard vital installations during wartime. The BSF too essentially followed the bunker system and made its presence felt even more in the interiors. From a border police force it had to learn to be a counter insurgency force. Luckily, it was led in Kashmir by a tough and competent Inspector General Ashok Patel.
Under IG Patel, the force learnt to carry out coordinated drills like road opening parties, lay ambushes, etc. These tactics learnt in the harsh environment extracted a heavy price from BSF personnel who died as well as incidents of PTDS. The BSF had to start from scratch in its operations. There was no file on any known militants. The JK Police was full of sympathizers who could not be relied. An example of what they were against is illustrated with the following case. In April 1990 the police/BSF carried out cordon and search operations to locate Mushir-ul-Haq and H Khera. Raiding the house of a businessman Hafizullah Bhat they trapped four men one of whom tried to escape by jumping from the window to an adjacent building. He was injured and on capture was taken to SMHS hospital. The other three turned out to be Iqbal Gandroo, Javed Ahmad Zargar and an unknown JKLF activist. What the BSF did not know was that the injured man was Yasin Malik. Both the police and doctors at SMHS kept quiet and in fact helped spirit him away claiming he was rescued by his supporters. A Kashmiri Pandit nurse who overheard a doctor helping the terrorist was raped and murdered.
So IG Patel started from scratch. The BSF's intelligence wing, the 'G' branch, would generate information based on interrogation and worked on a strategy of letting the minor figures go in order to trap the important figures. Along with it the BSF signal's intercept capability was improved. Putting the 2 together the G branch identified precise locations of militants. Special teams would then move around in jeeps without the benefit of larger units to cordon off. They would sneak in to the hostile neighborhoods, grab the suspects and dash out. This dangerous game started paying off as more and more precise info started coming in. In addition the BSF boosted its signal intercept capability. The BSF also started equipping with Carl Gustaf 84 mm RCLs and automatic grenade launchers although the numbers are still spread thin.
On 22 June 1990, the BSF came to know a top insurgent hiding in Rambagh. A BSF team led by SI K.D. Thakur surrounded the house. As they charged in they were met by a volley of fire wounding Thakar and a Head Constable. The return fire killed the militant who turned out to be Mohammed Abdullah Bangroo the former deputy chief of Hizbul Mujahideen. A similar raid led to the capture of Yasin Malik and his deputy Hamid Sheikh. As time progressed both the militants and BSF learned from their experience. However as Pakistan started pumping up the tempo of infiltration, the BSF casualties started increasing. Undaunted the BSF started plans for moving across to the towns and major localities now considered militant strongholds. It started with Srinagar with the 69th battalion moving into the Rainawari locality. The militants had driven out the Pandits and taken over their houses. They had established interrogation centers, ammo centers and firing ranges. By December 1991, the BSF moved into Sopore, Anantnag, Bijibehara, Bandipur and Baramulla. The entry and exit points to the Dal Lake were also sealed. The BSF strength had now reached 30000 and although the militancy was still alive it had achieved an important task – establishing the presence of the state. The militants could no longer boast that the Indians were out. However tenuous the hold of the state still remained. The BSF much maligned by the Human Rights group to its credit continued to perform its task. However the situation has now escalated to the point where it a full fledged low intensity conflict being waged by Pakistan. There was no other option but to call in the Indian Army.
Operation Rakshak: The Indian Army joins in
The borders of Jammu & Kashmir have been the focus of all the border wars. This has meant that the Indian Army has been heavily deployed in the state. The normal deployment consists of the 19 Division located in Baramula in charge of the Northern front, the 25 Division in charge of the Western front, the 28 Mountain Division towards Siachen and the 3 Division towards the Chinese border. These were located under 15 Corps in Srinagar and 16 Corps in Adampur under the Northern Command. The troops are deployed in very hostile conditions which necessitate a major resupply program. The Ladakh area is cut off by snow from November to May. Therefore supplies for the whole period from food, clothing to ammunition has to be stocked in the preceding months. This takes a five day journey. Trucks with unheated cabins start off from Jammu, pass through the Banihal tunnel, descend towards the Valley, skirt around Srinagar to Leh. This is a harrowing task. Needless to say there is a high proportion of logistics personnel in the army deployment. Securing this supply line has always been a concern. The Army has an exceptional task to perform in guarding the Line of Control (LOC). Its deployment here consists of battalions of 1000 men over a 15 to 30 km front. The battalion and company Headquarters are about a kilometer behind. The front consists of a series of interconnected bunkers many heated, barbed wires, minefields etc. However formidable as this seems, nature remains a step ahead. Floods and mudslides wash away barbed wire and minefields. It was a nightmare to effectively police this terrain.
The key to infiltration and exfiltration were the Gujjars the nomadic shepherds who inhabited these borders. Both Muslims and Hindus they were willing to guide the insurgents and terrorists in for a price. In summer their huts situated high in the mountains would provide temporary shelters for the infiltrators. So when the Army in 1989 was asked to help it reluctantly agreed. Under Lt. Gen. Zaki the Army first made sure that its lines of communication were secured. The withdrawal of the IPKF made additional troops available. In mid 1990 as the first snows melted marking the start of infiltration the Army stepped in. The Army installed a simple three tiered system which it uses to this day. A potential terrorist or insurgent has to cross the tough forests and terrain. He then needs a place to recover before moving on to the Valley where he could melt in. The best position to stop him was at the border itself. The first tier consisted of patrols on the border itself. Constant patrols and ambushes were mounted to gun down any insurgents trying to sneak in. The second tier consisted of establishing a 5 km belt from the border. There was night curfew in this belt with shoot to kill orders. The third tier was to cordon and search villages behind the 5 km belt. Depending on the area the size of these tiers varied. For example in the Kupwara sector the second tier could be 15 km or more.
Using this strategy the Army scored its first success in Poonch. It killed 42 infiltrators in a single operation. A subsequent engagement saw over 70 infiltrators killed for the loss of 2 personnel. Stung the Pakistanis now started shelling and provide covering fire. They even made a couple of incursions only to be driven back. With the lowlands no longer a easy route the infiltration shifted to higher reaches of the mountains. Furthermore the infiltrators were now provided with battlefield inoculation. Once across the mountains the infiltrators could use NH1 to move to the Valley. Once this route was discovered the army started sending long range patrols into the mountains. Over the next 2 years even while the Army killed upwards of 400 insurgents, large groups of militants still made it through with relative ease. The terrain also made encounters prolonged. One such encounter took place on November 93. A Gorkha scout spotted a group of militants. The Colonel of the battalion and the small detachment immediately tracked them. The trail led to a cave. As they neared it, automatic fire erupted from the cave. The militants were trapped but there were only eight Gorkhas and night was approaching. Still while reinforcements were sought the men ringed the caves. First the Gorkhas tried the direct approach but lost two men in the process. They then fired rocket launchers but to no avail. Even an AGS-17 had no effect. Finally the Gorkhas used smoke grenades and flame throwers. This worked and as the blinded militants rushed out they were wiped out. 26 militants were killed in that encounter.
By 1994 the whole operation was being run by professionals. Pakistani Army and ISI men using sophisticated communication equipment were guiding the movement of these militants. These militants were also as well trained as soldiers, had received mountain warfare and commando course and specialized equipment. Moreover there were a number of Pakistanis both serving and non serving including SSG personnel. In response the Army now headed by General B.C. Joshi started laying ambushes across the LOC. Small units of men moved a few km inside the Pakistani side where they lay in ambush for the unsuspecting militants. After their ambush they would slip back over the LOC. Many of these were laid after careful analysis of signal intelligence.
In contrast with the LOC the valley presented a different set of challenges. The Valley spanned 150 km by 80 km. It was not all flat with some raised outcrops with deep wooded gullies. These allowed the militants and terrorists suitable terrain to operate from. So while the BSF and CRPF used their police tactics to fight the terrorists in the urban centers of Sopore, Srinagar etc the Army launched operations to hunt them in the rural environment. Due to lack of intelligence the initial operations consisted of brute force cordon and search operations. Entire brigades would be utilized for this operation. Villages were cordoned, people frisked, homes checked, ponds and wells checked for weapon caches, and the surrounding marshlands were vigorously probed. The results were minimal. Although weapons were recovered most militants preferred to lie low. Another operation was the sending of ROPs or Road Opening parties. These would sanitize a road of mines and IEDs. These were extremely dangerous operations as they were set piece operations and as such an invitation to attack. Every morning truck mounted patrols would start off from both ends scanning for mines or IEDs up to 50 meters on either side of the road. They were coordinated with Quick Reaction Teams (QRT) which were vehicle mounted and ready to move at a moment's notice. Once the road was opened guards would be posted for the day before withdrawing for the night. More recently these road opening parties have been provided with Caspir mine proof vehicles. The QRTs now have better access to helicopters for quicker reaction.
By now the insurgency was a full scale low level conflict and its primary flag bearer was not the local insurgent but the battle hardened veterans of the Afghan jihad. With the winding down of the Afghan conflict a large number of Afghan mujahids were freed up. With no other occupation but the thought of jihad they now turned their attention to Kashmir. Known as the Mehmaan (Guest) militants they were eager to take on the Indian Army. Where as the Kashmiri insurgents would open up from more than 100 meters away the Afghan would come in as close as 30 meters. Along with their battle skills they brought in another legacy of the Afghan War the gruesome torture of civilian and military prisoners. A unit guarding the outskirts of an airbase was overpowered and all its members shot in cold blood. A BSF unit was likewise ambushed. Head constable Bikash Nazary was captured. He was put in chains and taken from village to village. His eyes were gauged out, skin ripped off before being executed. A Rashtriya Rifle (RR) unit was betrayed by their informer and captured. The men were castrated, skinned alive, eyes gouged out and beheaded. Many other prisoners had their throats slit especially in front of villagers. But the Afghan tough as they were soon realized that this was not Soviet conscripts but the tough and motivated men of the Indian Army. Furthermore unlike the Soviets the Indian Army was fighting on its own land. In the battles even though the Indian Army and other forces had higher losses than before the Afghans more often then not were eliminated.
The ISI now looked around to expand the operations found the Doda district ideal. Mountainous with deep gorges and nullahs the district was sparsely policed. The ISI infiltrated Lashker groups here. The aim was that a few well trained groups could tie down large number of Indian Army troops in combing operations. The Lashkers let lose a reign of terror killing Hindus and hoping to ethnically cleanse the area. Slowly but surely more forces were sucked in. A combined force was set up in Doda with an integrated command for the Rashtriya Rifles, BSF, CRPF and State Police. Despite intense bickering between the various forces a large number of mujahids were eliminated.
While the security forces were not able to prevent the hit and run tactics of the militants and their ability to cause high casualties they were able to stem the boast of "sending the Indian Government packing from the Valley". It was a reminder to the local populace that the Indian Army was still very much around and that meant the Indian State was going to be there. An important symbolic example of this was the retaking of Sopore. Sopore was initially held by the BSF. A spate of attacks by militants walking up to BSF personnel in a crowd and suddenly pulling out a AK-47 from their pherwans or cloaks and opening fire. The untrained and helpless BSF men would fire back causing civilian casualties causing riots and arson. This forced the security forces to the edge of the town. The Hizbul Mujahideen was also ambushing security force personnel on the outskirts of the town. Matters came to head when an Army column was ambushed in the crowded marketplace. Using civilians for cover the HM opened fire killing Captain Sayi and injuring four others. The Army column under orders not to fire back in the crowd retreated leaving behind a jeep and some equipment. The HM retrieved this and displayed it around the town. By now the state was governed by General K.V. Krishna Rao and he brought in as his advisor, Lt. General Zaki who was in charge of the area in 1990. The emphasis was on more precise strikes. The Army decided to use "psych ops" to flush the militants out of the town. Called Operation Sahayak its aim was to avoid a confrontation with the militants in the town. Two Army brigades supported by BMP infantry combat vehicles and Mi-25 helicopters were used in this operation. The operation started with the BSF moving in to dominate the high positions surrounding the approaches to the town. The Army then bombarded the town with loudspeaker messages warning the residents of the rapacious militants and possibility of getting AIDS from them. Then after a lull giving them the opportunity to slip out the Army turned the squeeze a bit more. In the pre-dawn darkness BMPs roared up to Iqbal Chowk the center of the town while other units moved in from the north and south. Careful cordon & search operations were conducted leading to small firefights. 11 militants were killed. Over the next 2 months similar pre-dawn moves brought the whole town under control with not a shot being fired. The Hizbul Mujahideen had vanished. The BSF took over and built up a network of bunkers and posts to dominate the town. Likewise the Hazrat Bal operations also involved the use "pysch ops" although the results were mixed. However the militants hit back by causing the destruction of the Charar-e-Sharif shrine in 1995 and once again creating the specter of the Valley in flames. Along with the blast at the Republic Day function the militancy was once again on the rise.
Until 1995, the Indian State and its security arms was essentially reacting to the ISI moves. The Army from its experiences in the North East and Sri Lanka did not want to blindly reuse the same tactics. Also the aforementioned lack of learning from its past was equally responsible. But by 1993 a doctrine was emerging . The core of this doctrine was the grid system. Used in Nagaland and Sri Lanka this involved the plotting the terrain on a grid. In Jammu and Kashmir the grid consisted of 49 sectors. Then units were placed in each grid and expected to dominate it. Each grid had a Quick Reaction Team generally consisting of a platoon which was mounted and ready to move quickly to an ambush or a large confrontation. The grid concept had some problems in the Valley where the terrain was both a urban and rural insurgency at the same time. This meant there were limitations on firepower which could be brought in.
The second part of the doctrine was the establishment of a force which would have its roots in the area and hence would be effective in a long drawn out insurgency. This led to the formation of the Rashtriya Rifles and established permanent forces in the Valley (Victor) and Doda (Delta). Further details on this force can be found in the accompanying article on the Rashtriya Rifles. The 8 Mountain Division was also moved in from Nagaland.
Lack of intelligence due to the wiping out of IB and State Police Intel network it initially had to take the sledgehammer cordon and search method to locate the militants. Then as it built up a Intel network and with the increase used of signal Intelligence it was able to use precise information to target high profile militants. By 1995 the Hizbul was reduced to using IEDs and mines. After 1995 operations moved into a higher gear. The Special Forces were now established and their skills gave the Army the tools it needed. Using specific information the Special Forces could move in and eliminate whole mujahid units. Special Forces men dressed as locals mingled in and started hitting back. They could even move in the 10000 ft passes carrying out ambushes. They also moved across the LOC much deeper then the 1- 5 km penetration by the regular Army units. Their presence had the effect of forcing the ISI and Pakistani military of moving most of the training camps towards the sanctuary of the Afghan border. These operations also extracted a price.
In September 95, intelligence had placed a team of Lashkar-e-Toiba group in a mountain cave. A team led Captain Ashok Jasrotia of 9th SF moved up the 7000 feet mountain. By dawn they had moved into position when they were spotted. Captain Jasrotia threw a grenade and charged the militant and shot him in the process taking a bullet in the shoulder. Another militant tried to bludgeon him but Captain Jasrotia managed to kill him with his commando knife. As he moved towards the cave a hidden militant shot him in the chest and stomach. The rest of the commandos finished off the group. The tough captain hung on for 10 days dying en-route to New Delhi for medical attention. He was awarded the Ashok Chakra.
In addition to the Special Forces, units from the National Security Guards and the Marine Commandos also got involved. The Marine Commandos took positions in and around the Wullar lake cutting off infiltration routes and taking away the safe havens for militants. On occasion if the situation allowed heavier firepower was used. Trapped mujahid units have been pummeled by BMP cannons and machine gun fire from Mi-25 and Lancer helicopters. Mi-17 helicopters have been used to move QRTs as well as provide suppressive fire especially in the Doda region. The army, however, has been reluctant to use this on a everyday basis in order not to hand the propaganda victory to the mujahid. The Army also turned around some militant units. While the results they definitely created confusion turmoil amongst the militants. In addition in minority villages Village Defence Committees (VDC) were raised consisting of ex servicemen and other able bodied. With primitive weapons these have occasionally managed to inflict casualties on the militants. These VDCs are being further enhanced with the supply of more SLRs and radio sets.
By 1997 the doctrine was so effective that the militants were being picked off at will. The frustration in Pakistan was obvious and it showed in the large scale artillery attacks in the Kargil area to create diversion for more militants to sneak in. This sequence of events culminated in the Kargil war of 1999. The war came at a time when the Valley was subdued and was needing only a political solution. The war effort pulled in a number of battalions from the CI operations. The Grid was severely disturbed with the replacement CRPF and BSF units not being as effective. Consequently the months after the war saw the number of terrorist attacks go up. With the troops of the crack 8 Mountain Division now assigned north of the Zoji La, it took some time for the replacement troops to build up the knowledge. But again as the grid settled in place things the tempo swung back.
In conclusion the solution to the Valley's problem will not be available till a political solution is found. Even then till Pakistan's ability to forment and stoke the flames is curtailed there will not be long term peace. For the Indian Army the CI operations, has been a double edged sword. While it has been an excellent ground for battle hardening its troops it also has taken away time and energy from training for a conventional war. However this conflict is here for the foreseeable future and the army is adjusting accordingly. The Indian Military Academy's curriculum now has expanded its courses dealing with LIC and CI operations. The other paramilitary forces have done a commendable job at great sacrifice. While it has been fashionable for the human rights people in India to malign them the fact is that these untrained and heavily stressed units have ensured that the Indian flag flies in Kashmir. Whatever the future the Indian Army and the other forces are geared for the long haul where they need to establish the presence of the state and ensure its line of communications are safe.