The Pir Panjal Dilemma

(MENAFN- Kashmir Observer)
PTI photo

By Dr. Rahul Bharatbhushan Kamble

A camouflaged bullet-ridden olive green Tata truck stands on a deserted road in Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir having just witnessed a cowardly ambush by terrorists that claimed the lives of 5 soldiers in it. This comes a day after six terrorists were killed, and two army soldiers lost their lives during an encounter in Kulgam district, south Kashmir, on Saturday afternoon. The attack on the convoy in Kathua, located close to the Punjab border, and also the preceding timeline of terror attacks, has sent alarm bells ringing across the top brass.


Once written off from terrorism, the general area South of Pir Panjal seems to have turned the wheel a full circle.

The Pir Panjal range, a cluster of lower mountains in the Western Himalayas, extends from the Neelum River in western Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, through southwestern J&K, to the Upper Beas River in northwestern Himachal Pradesh. In Jammu, it stretches from Poonch in the west to Doda in the East. It creates a natural boundary that separates the Kashmir Valley from the plains of Jammu. Historically, this range has served as a natural defense and a cultural divider between different ethnic groups and communities inhabiting the region. For several reasons, areas west of Pir Panjal have mostly remained peaceful. The nomadic tribes there are ethnically distinct from Kashmiris and have seldom displayed disaffection with the policies of the Indian government. Indeed, they vote with their feet, turning out in large numbers in every election. The remaining populace of the belt, too, has seldom exhibited the sparks of rebellion
that are
characteristic of some of the areas of Kashmir valley.

During the partition of India in 1947, the Pir Panjal range also became a critical factor in the political and security landscape of the region. It influenced migration patterns, and
communal tensions, and eventually became a route for infiltration and terrorist activities in the decades that followed.

Read Also Kathua Ambush: 24 Detained As Search Operation Continues For Third Day Kathua Ambush: Families Mourn Their Dead

Historically, the Rajouri-Poonch part of J&K was treated as a transit point as the proximity of the LoC made the intrusions into the Rajouri-Poonch area relatively easier vis a vis the Valley. After infiltrating through the LoC, terrorists could rest for a few days before completing the foray into the Valley by crossing the Pir Panjal range. The far-flung habitations, as much of the rural population lives in
rather than villages, and the availability of dense forests have made Pir Panjal a
route for militants.

Compared to the mountains of Kupwara, the Line of Control (LoC) in this area, though porous, runs for 200-odd kilometers through a cluster of lower mountains with fewer dense forests to offer a natural haven for infiltrating militants. The demography, too, is less favourable for those seeking refuge.

The combination of these factors appeared to result in lower incidence of Pakistan-sponsored violence than on the other side of the Pir Panjal, e.g. in the contiguous districts of Anantnag, Kulgam, Kupwara, Pulwama, Shopian, and Baramulla. The only major operation in the early 2000s, Operation Sarp Vinash, launched on the reports that the Hill Kaka area near Rajouri had become a bastion of militants, did not result in significant results.

In the first few decades of militancy, the turbulence was mainly in the Valley, areas that lie to the North and West of Pir Panjal, with a smattering of incidents across it in the Rajauri-Poonch belt. Over the past two years, the script has changed. While Kashmir began to reap the benefits of a decline in terrorist incidents, the Rajauri-Poonch-Surankote area witnessed an uptick.

The contrast of fatalities suffered by security forces in the past few years tells us a story: between October 2021 and April 2023, some army personnel lost their lives in Kashmir, while the figures for the same period in the Poonch Rajouri were also high. The unfortunate sequence continued with several high-profile violent incidents. In April 2023, five soldiers lost their lives when their convoy was
in an ambush, a rare phenomenon. In August, three soldiers of the Rashtriya Rifles
in an anti-terrorist operation in the forests of Halan. In September, two army officers (including a Commanding officer, Col Manpreet Singh) and DSP Humayun Muzzamil Bhatt were
in the Garol forest in Kokernag. This was followed by a long-drawn cordon and search operation ending in the third week of the same month. In November, two army Captains and two soldiers were killed during an operation in the Gulabgarh area near Kalakote; the terrorists were hiding in the grazier's huts.

In 2024, a terrorist attack on a bus carrying pilgrims in Reasi, on the day PM Modi and his council of ministers were being sworn in in Delhi, claimed nine lives. In June, three terrorists were neutralized in Bhaderwah sector of district Doda in Jammu.

One can also point to another moot point – the redeployment of some formations to Eastern Ladakh in 2020 following the outbreak of skirmishes with China. Removing these troops possibly opened up voids, making militant strikes somewhat easier. It is important to note that this region was quieter when the decision was made to move formations, including a Rashtriya rifles unit(an anti-terrorist force) to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. It is fair to conclude that the Supremos of the militants would have decided to up the ante when the newly opened-up spaces became visible. An evil hand-in-glove intent can also not be ruled out with the
up in Beijing trying to flare things south.

Also, there looms a pertinent pattern to be noted. The outfits are deliberately keeping the casualty count below the threshold to avoid a 2016 Uri-type cross-border response or another Balakot. They seem to have a preconceived notion that only a significant casualty count could trigger
an incisive

With terrorists finding it extremely difficult to carry out major strikes in Kashmir Valley due to the alertness of security forces, Islamabad appears to be in the process of shifting the pivot of its sponsored terrorist activities to less guarded areas. First it was the Rajouri-Poonch area, and now it's come down to the Jammu region.

So, the message is loud and clear- come what may, the Pakistan army will not stop its ongoing proxy war and will move heaven and earth to keep the pot boiling. Hence there's a crying need to accept this reality and not only brace up
to boldly face this
but also actively explore the institution of dissuasive measures
as well as
effective forms of retribution including those in the grey zone domain.

Views expressed in the article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of

  • The author is a freelance writer from Mumbai


Kashmir Observer

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