Security officials report a shift in tactics by militants in the Pir Panjal valley, located in the twin districts of Rajouri and Poonch. With a treacherous topography akin to Afghanistan’s mountains, militants are adjusting their methods to outsmart security agencies and establish a longer-lasting presence in the region.
Increase in Casualties Indicates Changing Focus
The number of casualties in the Poonch-Rajouri sector has risen significantly this year, surpassing those in the militancy-infested Kashmir valley. This suggests that militants have redirected their attention to this region, previously considered a zero-military zone with minimal militant activities from 2007 to 2019.
New Modus Operandi Revealed
Following an attack on April 20 that claimed the lives of five soldiers, the interrogation of over 225 residents in Batta Durian shed light on the militants’ new modus operandi. Security officials disclosed that infiltrators either seek refuge with known sympathizers or forcibly occupy houses in higher ridges. Local resident Nisar Ahmad, along with three relatives, was arrested for his alleged involvement and provided valuable information on the militants’ operations.
Tactics of Threatening Villagers
Reports indicate that militants have resorted to lining up family members of villagers and using their smartphones to download communication applications for cross-border contact. These photos are often sent to their handlers across the Line of Control (LoC) as a means of intimidation. To maintain secrecy, the militants avoid revisiting the same house, as trust is scarce.
Evolving Strategies and Technological Advancements
The concern among security agencies extends beyond the surge in militant activities in Rajouri-Poonch to include the changing strategies employed, the utilization of sleeper cells, impenetrable communication methods, technological advancements, and enhanced training. Militants are employing YSMS technology, leaving no digital footprint and making their communication nearly untraceable. Furthermore, offline SIM-less phone activation, utilizing Bluetooth for communication, and following pre-fed routes on offline applications are increasingly common.
Challenging Terrain and Divided Families
The Pir Panjal valley’s challenging topography, with its numerous ridges and dense jungles, provides an advantage for militants. Unlike Kashmir, the mountains in this region experience rapid snowmelt. Additionally, the presence of hundreds of divided families with relatives across the LoC and an increasing number of locals migrating to Gulf countries create a triangular means of communication, which raises concerns for security agencies.
Inadequate Troop Presence and Manipulation
The thinning out of troops in the region, with only 3,000 policemen to cover the entire Rajouri-Poonch sector, allows militants greater freedom of movement compared to the past. Reductions in troop numbers began after the ceasefire agreement with Pakistan in 2002 and continued with troop relocations following the China-India border clashes in 2020. To address this, additional Army presence is deemed necessary by local residents and officials.
Statement from Militant Outfit and Security Measures
A purported online statement from the People’s Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF), claiming responsibility for recent attacks in the Pir Panjal valley, suggests their actions aim to redirect resources from Ladakh back to the Poonch-Rajouri sector. The PAFF’s statement also mentions the self-fulfilling prophecy of India’s two-front theory. Security agencies have yet to verify the authenticity of the statement. In response, authorities have deployed additional CRPF companies to the region, with more reinforcements on the way.