Since June 9, Jammu and Kashmir witnessed four terrorist attacks, including the targeting of a bus carrying pilgrims in Reasi. All these attacks have happened in Jammu, which highlights the shift in focus of terrorists from Kashmir.

All these attacks have happened in Jammu, which highlights the shift in focus of terrorists from Kashmir.

Since June 9, the day the new government at the Centre took oath, Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed four terrorist attacks, including the targeting of a bus carrying pilgrims in Reasi. All these attacks have happened in Jammu, which highlights the shift in focus of terrorists from Kashmir.

The increasing concern is that Pakistan-based terrorists are now targeting both security forces and innocent civilians. On June 9, a Lashkar-E-Taiba module carried out a terror attack on a civilian bus, resulting in nine deaths and 41 injuries.

The bus, carrying Hindu pilgrims from the Shiv Khori temple to the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Katra, veered into a deep gorge in Reasi district under indiscriminate fire.

Officials believe that further escalation is imminent in both Jammu and Kashmir.

According to RR Swain, the Director General of Police (DGP) of Jammu and Kashmir, around 60 to 70 terrorists are active on launch pads across the Line of Control (LoC).

Why Jammu?

After the abrogation of Article 370, the strategy of terror groups based in Pakistan shifted focus from the Kashmir Valley, where security forces maintain a firm grip. For the past 2–3 years, terrorists have intermittently struck in Jammu, which has seen a surge in violence, particularly in 2023 with 43 terror attacks and 20 so far in 2024.

The terror attacks are also being seen as a move to deter holding assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, which would be the first after Article 370 was struck down on August 5, 2019.

The Jammu region's vast and complex terrain has been exploited by Pakistan-based terror organisations to send armed terrorists across the International Border (IB) and LoC, occasionally using tunnels. Drones have further complicated the situation, enabling terrorists to enter as civilians and collect weapons from hideouts with assistance from local guides.

Despite significant successes by the Jammu and Kashmir Police and security forces, the Jammu sector remains a challenging region. Lashkar and Jaish modules have been difficult to track due to their avoidance of mobile phones and reliance on self-sufficiency with minimal local support. This has prompted security forces to revise their Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).

The police in Rajouri Poonch have established checkpoints and deployed personnel, even in jungles where no one ventures. A top officer, speaking anonymously, recounted a recent encounter where a small police team in civilian clothes stumbled upon a terror module in the forested area of Poonch-Rajouri. A brief exchange of fire ensued, but the terrorists fled.

A top source in the border region told India Today TV that heavy infiltration has begun ahead of the monsoon season. Typically, terrorists wait for monsoon flooding to disrupt border monitoring systems like concertina wire and infrared lights. Sometimes, animals like Nilgai are used as red herrings.

Sources note that identifying terrorists initially is challenging because, unlike civilians, police have accountability. However, the message to terrorists is clear: they can expect sudden encounters even in previously off-limits forested areas. Nakas are now being set up in various zones, and security forces are considering camps deep inside jungles.

Efforts to strengthen local defences include establishing a physical network of sources in each village and reviving the Village Defence Committee. In a recent incident in Kathua, a Special Police Officer (SPO) reportedly helped neutralise a terrorist. However, not all efforts have been successful. Jahangir Saroori, a 59-year-old “A++” category terrorist commander of Hizbul Mujahideen operating in the Kishtwar region, remains at large. Officials believe he is behind the revival of terrorism in the region.

Saroori, active since 1992, has evaded capture despite a significant cash reward for information leading to his arrest. Known for his deceptive tactics, such as wearing shoes backwards to mislead trackers, he has successfully avoided capture by hiding in Hindu minority houses during manhunts. However, security forces believe that while Saroori remains at large, the threat from hardened Pakistani terrorists is more pressing.

The local population's support has been crucial in counter-terror efforts. In 2018, 50 villagers from Salani near Poonch joined forces with security personnel to avenge the killing of their friend by terrorists. In another instance, a civilian whose brother was killed by terrorists in 2003 joined security forces in an operation to retrieve the body of the slain terrorist.

What Experts Say

Lt Gen KJS Dhillon (Retd) emphasised the importance of synergy between security forces to counter these threats.

"Pakistan is not able to do much in Kashmir, so terrorists are crossing the border and LoC. The same level of intelligence (both tech and humanity) does not exist in the Jammu region. The terrorists will go for softer targets where there is minimum investment (effort) and maximum output. It means they are hitting temporary outposts and vehicle outposts and even civilians," he said.

Former DGP Jammu and Kashmir Police, Dilbagh Singh, said, "Pakistan has crossed the red line of infiltration. These are not home-grown operatives, so these men have come with deliberate knowledge of the Pak army. From the pattern, it seems newer infiltration has taken place from Samba-Heeranagar and Rajouri-Poonch, and it does seem the tunnels are active and the terrorists infiltrating seem to be split into smaller groups. I worry they will not stop here. The targets are getting bigger. They have been involved in Jammu in a big way. But the security grid will have a response on this."

Former Home Secretary GK Pillai said, "I won't say the redline has not been crossed, but the message from Pakistan is that 'don't ignore us'. One must also remember the assembly elections are around."

The situation remains tense, and security forces are on high alert, with support from the local population aiding in the efforts to combat terrorism in the region.

(With Agency Inputs)