NEW DELHI: Security agencies suspect that the four Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militants used a trans-border tunnel in J&K’s Samba district to infiltrate into India. The armed forces have launched a massive operation near the international border to identify the underground route. While the text messages exchanged between the Pakistani handlers of the JeM terrorists clearly point to the direct involvement of Islamabad in the Nagrota incident, top sources claim that the whole episode could be a joint Pakistan-China effort.

Both China and Pakistan have strongly criticised India’s move to abrogate J&K’s special status and divide the erstwhile state into two Union Territories — J&K and Ladakh. Pakistan’s Army and its intelligence unit ISI were planning “something big” since August 5, a year after India’s move on J&K. Chinese attempts to join hands with Pakistan could be based on the calculation that a terrorist attack would put greater pressure on India to accept Beijing’s terms of disengagement in eastern Ladakh, sources said.

“Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have been making desperate attempts to target local political leaders and Indian security forces to deflect the attention of the opposition parties in Pakistan and to bring the J&K issue into sharp focus of other nations, including the Islamic world,” former deputy NSA SD Pradhan told ET. “The announcement of DDC elections appears to have unnerved them. They may have also calculated that with Biden and Harris in the US, raising the level of terrorism in J&K could significantly pressurise India on the issue of violation of human rights. To woo the US and also to meet the requirements of FATF, some cosmetic steps have been taken against Hafiz Saeed and his associates. The irrefutable evidence of the Pak complicity in this incident could pose a serious problem for Pakistan in the next FATF meet,” Pradhan said.

The J&K issue was discussed when the Chinese delegation led by CMC’s Vice Chairman Xu Qiliang visited Pakistan in August-end. Both sides had agreed to closely coordinate for strategic balance in the region. The Pak-China axis may perceive that this was an opportune time to raise the level of terrorism and put greater pressure on India, sources said. Elections in Gilgit and Baltistan and opposition parties’ pressure on Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan could also be one of the factors. Escalation of terrorism at this time could help divert attention, experts told ET. US election results may also have encouraged Islamabad. This can help Pakistan deflect any pressure on Gilgit-Baltistan.

On Thursday, four JeM terrorists hiding in a rice truck were killed after a three-hour encounter on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway in Nagrota. Two policemen were injured during the gunfight but the driver managed to escape. Home ministry officials said security agencies had received inputs about the movement of terrorists from the Samba sector towards the Nagrota toll plaza. A large number of weapons, including 11 AK-47 rifles, three pistols, 29 grenades, 6 UBGLs, and mobile phones were seized after the encounter.