As a massive search operation is on way in the dense forests of Poonch following a terror attack on an Army vehicle that left five soldiers dead and one critically wounded at Bhatta Durrian in Poonch on April 20, around 50 persons have been detained so far and the search has been intensified up to the Line of Control to ensure attackers don’t escape towards Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, officials say. However, no formal arrest has been made so far.
Five Army personnel were killed and another was critically wounded on Thursday after their vehicle caught fire following a terror attack at Bhatta Durrian in Poonch. The thick forest area of Bhatta Durrian having natural caves in abundance is around seven km from the Line of Control.
The army says the five army soldiers were killed after a vehicle they were travelling with caught fire following firing and grenade attacks by terrorists. The army says the vehicle was fired by unidentified terrorists as they had the advantage of heavy rains and low visibility in the area.
The latest attack in the border district came when security forces and the police are facing criticism for not tracking terrorists involved in the killing of seven minority community members, two of them minors, at village Dhangri in Rajouri district on January 1.
The region has seen a rise in militant violence since October 11, 2021, when five army soldiers including a JCO, were killed in an encounter with militants at Chamrer forests in Surankote tehsil of Poonch district.
Five days later on October 16, 2021, four soldiers including another JCO were killed in a gun battle with the same group of militants at Bhatta Durrian in Mendhar tehsil of Poonch. The Army searched militants in Pir Panjal forests for about a fortnight but they remained untraced.
In March and April 2022 around four blasts rocked the Koteranka tehsil in the Rajouri district. On August 11, 2022, five Army soldiers were killed and two terrorists were killed during an attack on an Army camp at Pargal in the Darhal area of Rajouri district.
On January 1, 2023, seven civilians of the minority community, two of them minors, were killed in firing and an IED blast triggered by terrorists at village Dhangri in Rajouri district.
In the latest incident, around 50 persons have been detained for questioning and some of them have been let off. At the same time, the army has expanded its searches to the Line of Control (LoC) with additional troops joining in to see that the militants don’t manage to escape to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The National Investigation Agency, the Army and Jammu and Kashmir Police are investigating the case.
Political parties protest
In Kashmir, the BJP lodged protests against the attack and said the attack is the handiwork of Pakistani militants. “We have finished terrorism in Kashmir. Now terrorists have changed their strategy and are adopting Naxal tactics in Jammu,” Altaf Thakur, BJP spokesman says.
BJP General Secretary in-charge Jammu and Kashmir Tarun Chugh says, "the intention of the ISI to spread unrest in Jammu-Kashmir will not be successful. Those responsible for the attack on the soldiers will not be spared",
While BJP J&K chief Ravinder Raina says that Pakistan-sponsored terrorists have done a heinous crime. “Our brave soldiers will not spare these cowards and they soon will be neutralized like other commanders of these fugitives.”
Former Minister and Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan chairman Choudhary Lal Singh, however, dismissed protests by the BJP calling it a gimmick. He says initially it was said the Army truck caught fire leading to the death of five jawans were killed. “It was not said how the truck caught fire. I was astonished at how it happened,” he says. He says later when it was revealed that it was a terrorist attack; the BJP came out to protest against Pakistan. “Whenever anything happens they lodge protests against Pakistan and burn the Pakistani flag. First, the BJP should burn its own effigy. Internal security is the responsibility of the government. They should tell how these people cross the border. They only count the dead bodies of the army jawans and protest. This will not save BJP,” Lal Singh says.
Panun Kashmir, an organisation of Kashmiri pandits, alleges for the past two years India has had no control over the jungles of Rajouri and Poonch. “For the past two years, we don’t know who is controlling these jungles. The security situation in Rajouri Poonch is dire,” the Panun Kashmir leader Ajay Chanrgoo says.
In contrast, the People’s Democratic Party sees the attack in the backdrop of geo-strategic changes happening in the region and insists that to counter China it is necessary for the country to strengthen SAARC. In the Poonch attack, Chinese steel bullets have been reportedly used. Earlier in the targeted killing in Upper Dangri village of Rajouri, it surfaced that China-made bullets were used to attack.
“A conflict-free, economically integrated South Asia would be the best counterpoise to Chinese hegemonic behaviour. SAARC, the vehicle that would deliver it bumps against the Kashmir rock. Our national leadership would be best advised to rise above internal political interests and assume the country’s natural leadership role of South Asia and activate SAARC, preferably with J&K as its pivot,” PDP leader Naeem Akhtar says.
“Forums like the G20 and SCO are of course significant for their international impact but for the billion-plus people in SA who are dependent on doles like free rations, they are mere photo ops. On the other hand, it’s the SAARC that has the potential of changing lives for the better. And as a major power India cannot escape its leadership responsibilities,” Akhtar adds.