Coinciding with the September 25-28, 2012 India-US dialogue on in Washington DC and sinisterly timed with PM Manmohan Singh’s “on the sidelines” meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, came yet another multitarget attack by highly trained Pakistani terrorists launched in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). US President Barack Obama’s statement during the dialogue that there is a worldwide terror threat from Pakistan-based groups also turned out to be ominous because this time, after long after a long gap since 2002, Pakistani terrorists came across the International Boundary ( IB) in the plains stretches of South J&K, striking at Hiranagar and Samba. Their aim was of not merely repeating 15 May 2002 attack at Indian Army’s family quarters complex at Kalu Chak, but surpassing it by attacking the Army School at Samba, after attacking 16th Cavalry.
The timing of this attack-like the one in Kalu Chak -was in the morning when personnel have returned from first parade for breakfast and change uniform for second parade. In the Kalu Chak attack a total of 31 people were killed, including three Army personnel, 18 Army family members and 10 civilians. 47 were wounded including 12 Army personnel, 20 Army family members and 15 civilians. The dead included ten children. In this attack, four personnel were killed as all ranks of 16th Cavalry-Commanding Officer (CO) downwards swung into action and finally killed the three terrorists, who would have escaped and launched more surprise attacks.
The Patahankot-Jammu national highway (NH 1A), the 22 kms stretch between Kathua, Hiranagar and Samba, is more or less parallel to the IB between India and Pakistan and about 15 kms away from it. The army units of Samba are strewn on both sides of the highway. On 26 September 2013, the three terrorists dressed in Indian Army battle fatigues, reportedly first charged into the Hiranagar police station at about 6.45 am and lobbing a grenade, indiscriminately fired from their AK 47s, killing an Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI), three constables and a civilian and injuring another ASI. The terrorists thereafter hijacked a tempo truck on the highway, boarded it and forced its driver to move towards Jammu. Approaching Samba, they stopped the truck, walked up to the entrance gate of 16th Cavalry (the very first unit on the right side of the road), immediately fired on the sentry and rushed inside the premises.
Some flashbacks: On that day in 16th Cavalry, as the tank guns needed to be ready for ‘after fire inspection, following the morning PT (physical training), all tank squadron personnel moved to the garages for gun cleaning. The CO and 2 I/C went home for breakfast and change of uniform. The first complex after the gate is the regiment’s officers’ mess building, married and single officers’ quarters. Having shot the sentry at the gate, the terrorists entered the officers’ mess from the rear. Seeing the door of one of the mess staff quarters was open, they shot the mess house keeper inside and threw a grenade inside for a good measure. They then ran into the officers’ mess and doing proper room clearing drill of throwing grenades in the dining hall and lounge, sprayed both with bursts of automatic fire. They found no one as all single officers residing in the officers’ mess were at the garages for gun cleaning. The 2IC Lt Col Bikramjit Singh and another soldier running towards the guardroom at the gate to pick up some weapons were hit by the terrorists. Bikramjit was killed with two bursts. In one of the first floor houses, Capt Mukul’s wife (most recently married) was alone and the terrorists did not know that. She armed herself with a kitchen knife and waited till one of the officers, Maj Balwan, who had also rushed there, asked her to push past the desert-cooler and jump down. This gutsy lady did just that and was fortunately rescued.
The CO, Col Avin Uthaiya and the quick reaction team had surrounded two terrorists and started engaging them. Two terrorists who ran towards the guard room block, spraying bullets over their shoulders hit the CO on his left elbow, shattering it. Meanwhile the unit had put a tight outer cordon around the unit perimeter, and moved five tanks. Unmindful of injury the CO got into the first tank and tried to run down one militant who had come out. He dodged back into the building, and his comrade shot at the CO who was then hit on the chest. By then, as he had lost a lot of blood, he was evacuated in the tank itself. In one of the tanks, Capt Arpan Bose was fuming with anger at the terrorists and seeing Mrs Mukul was safe, shot off two heavy explosive rounds into the building, where one motorcycle parked next to the staircase caught fire. That frightened the two terrorists who were hiding there and they managed to rush and hide behind the water tanks on the roof accessible from the first floor.
Eventually, all three terrorists were killed, while 16th Cavalry lost Lt Col Bikramjit Singh, Dafadar Inder Singh of the mess staff, and Sowars Kiran Kumar, and MS Rao. At Hiranagar the final death count was eight.
These two attacks form part of a definitive pattern emerging from the beginning of 2013, i.e. intrusion and beheading, intrusion and killing five Indian soldiers, four of them from 24 Bihar and intrusion of a large body of Pak army troops with terrorists in Keran sector. Then there have been Pak terrorist attacks in J&K, including in Srinagar. There were some indicators of such ratcheting-up in 2012 itself. The intrusions vis a vis firing across the Line of Control and IB in J&K and that too by ‘battle action teams’- a combo of special Pak army troops and terrorists, are not mere “skirmishes”, as reportedly referred to by both External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and J&K CM Omar Abdullah. They are acts of war, like the 26/11 attack in Mumbai was. What is most disturbing are the reactions from India’s top political leaders.
Mr. Khurshid said in New York that the twin terror attacks in J&K will not derail talks between India and Pakistan. “There is no alternative. There are forces that do not want the India- Pakistan situation to be normalised. If we succumb (to these forces) we are playing into Satan’s hands. The roots of the event will have to be addressed, and that will need some kind of engagement with our neighbour,” Mr Khurshid is reported to have stated on the sidelines of a UN meeting. India is evaluating the evidence that the three terrorists who carried out the attacks in J&K were from Pakistan, Mr Khurshid said, “Once our side is clear about what happened, we will speak to our Pakistani counterparts… we know that there is infrastructure that encourages, supports and organizes such attacks. But countries talk via established governments. And especially since Mr Sharif was democratically elected by the Pakistani people who also want him to serve that mandate,” he said.
What does Mr. Khurshid have to say about the perpetrators of terror like Hafiz Saeed and some thousands of terrorists motivated by him and his ilk, walking free in Pakistan, waiting to hit India? And for whom is the Indian government trying to earn brownie points?