The attack took place in the same week of Burhan Wani’s death anniversary in Kashmir, where the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) made all out efforts to attack the Indian forces and the Amarnath yatris.
The killing of around 30 top militants in Kashmir by the security forces in the last two months has jolted both HM’s Syed Salahuddin and Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States, his meeting with President Donald Trump and the US declaring Salahuddin as an international terrorist have made Salahuddin restless. He made it clear that he would sharpen his attacks on Indian security forces, and reorganised his Hizbul Muzahideen Indian group, empowered by the LeT.
Another cause was the heavy retaliation by the Indian Army to the firing by the militants and the Pakistan army from across the border. Many Pakistan army personnel were killed in the retaliatory fire and some of their bunkers were destroyed as well. Pakistan army chief, General Qamar Bajwa’s visit to Muzaffarabad, Skardu and other border areas in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir in the last fortnight and his address to the troops to remain in readiness for any eventuality against India’s surgical strikes, were clearly the precursors to a few attacks on Indian military installations and on “soft targets”.
Burhan Wani’s first death anniversary was more or less peaceful in Kashmir, because of the heavy deployment of forces in advance and because some All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leaders were kept in custody. This infuriated both the HM and LeT, many of whose leaders were killed by the Indian Army and the J&K Police.
Pakistan army and ISI planned an attack on Amarnath pilgrims through both underground and over-ground leaders of the LeT and HM. The task was entrusted to Mohammad Ismail, the Pakistan LeT leader operating in south Kashmir, i.e, in the Anantnag area. Ismail, a dreaded LeT terrorist, was camping in the area much before Amaranath Yatra started. He was just looking for an opportunity to strike.
The attack that took place on 10 July was not caused by any intelligence failure, but by lapses on the part of the field security commanders in protecting the vehicular columns and the pilgrims. The bus carrying the pilgrims from Gujarat and Maharashtra was registered when it came from Jammu. On their return journey from Amarnath, these people routed the bus to Srinagar from Anantnag, and were returning from Srinagar after making a two-day halt there. While returning, the bus was not registered and was not a part of the convoy. However, after crossing Anantnag, the vehicle developed a defect and was left behind for the purpose of repair and thus remained alone.
The over-ground workers of the LeT happened to be present there. They were keeping an eye on the movement of the convoys and were passing the information to Ismail. The bus’ presence provided, on a platter, an impromptu target to the militants to strike, which they tactically did in the form of an ambush. They were successful in their intelligence, planning and in deceiving the Indian security forces, who did not have any information that one of their vehicles had fallen back and was being ambushed.
Deploying an ROP (road opening party) only during the movement of a convoy, or from dawn to dusk, will not dominate the road. What is required is clearing at least 3 km on each side of a road, round the clock, particularly at night. The enemy will put improvised explosive devices with charges on the road only at night to take on their targets, as thus they will not be exposed to any counter-attacks. So, as a safety measure, the road is required to be dominated at night, which we failed to do.
We have received a number of satellites and drones from both the United States and Israel, but failed to use them and make them available to the field troops deployed for providing security to the Amarnath pilgrims. After we have lost seven of our pilgrims, these drones have come into use.
Ismail will not be sitting at the same site to take on more targets. He will shift to other places to attack the Army and Paramilitary convoys. We are never perfect in our field supervision and always react after a situation precipitates.
Meetings and planning cannot take place only after the terrorists succeed in their attempts. It is better for us to introspect and plan in advance to secure our areas, taking into consideration the use of technical gadgets such as satellites, drones and weapons befitting the terrain, apart from night operating helicopters with properly tested communication networks and trained heli-bound troops.
We should know our terrain better than the enemy does. We should not be beaten on our own ground by the proxy war being carried out by Pakistan through the ISI. We should take Pakistan army chief Bajwa’s border visits seriously and crush the combined effort of the HM, LeT and APHC, among others to destabilise and radicalise Kashmir.
Pravash Kumar Mishra is Additional Director General (Retired) of the Border Security Force and Senior Fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation.