Praveen Swami

BSF to file official protest against Pakistan

  • Attempt made to cut fencing ahead of Matkula outpost
  • Pakistan Rangers' hand suspected

    NEW DELHI: Concern is mounting on the future of the India-Pakistan ceasefire agreement of 2003, after a large-scale clash between the Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers along the international border in the Jammu frontier.

    BSF officials say the Pakistan Rangers opened fire in support of a terrorist infiltration bid near Akhnoor at 2-50 a.m. on Wednesday, provoking the first full-scale exchange of fire ever since the coming-into-force of the 2003 ceasefire agreement, a keystone of the ongoing India-Pakistan peace process.

    Two BSF personnel, sub-inspector Avinash Chand Chaturvedi and Constable Naresh Pandey, were injured in the fighting, during which members of an Indian border patrol were pinned down by machine-gun fire for over half an hour. Pakistani casualties are unknown, but BSF personnel claim to have clearly seen the terrorists retreating into a Rangers bunker after illuminating flares were fired shortly after 3:00 a.m.

    Rising tensions

    Tensions had been rising in the Akhnoor sector since January 16, when the BSF found signs that an attempt had been made to cut the fencing ahead of the Matkula outpost. Since the Pakistani position that faces Matkula, Jang post, is less than 500 metres from the international border, the BSF believed that the fence-cutting attempt could not have taken place without the connivance of the Rangers.

    On the morning of January 17, a top BSF official told The Hindu, the border police organisation's intelligence wing reported that a fresh infiltration attempt would take place that night. Several patrols were despatched to set up ambushes along the border fencing. When one of these patrols detected the infiltration attempt and opened fire on the terrorists, the Pakistan Rangers used machine guns to secure their retreat.

    BSF officials say they were unable to immediately reinforce the patrol because of a bund that separates Matkula post from the border fencing. The earth-and-stone wall was built in 2002 to protect public works department staff engaged in building the border fence from fire directed at them from Jang post. However, it now obstructs Matkula post's view of the fence and Jang post, and is likely to be demolished in coming weeks.

    Infiltration concerns

    Although infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir has declined sharply in recent years, efforts to push terrorists and war material using non-conventional routes have been increasingly evident from early this winter. On September 24, for example, BSF guards shot dead three Pakistani terrorists in the Anoopgarh sector of Sri Ganganagar in Rajasthan. Weapons intended for a four-member suicide squad were seized near Amritsar the same month.

    Wednesday's infiltration attempt in Akhnoor took place in an area often used to push through terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir in the winter before the border fencing was built. As the high mountain passes, normally used by terrorist groups to cross the Line of Control, are closed by snow during the winter, infiltrators used to use the Jammu border and then wait to cross the Pir Panjal in the lower reaches of Doda, Rajouri and Poonch.

    Despite the ongoing India-Pakistan détente, New Delhi has repeatedly expressed concern over continued cross-border terrorism. Last month, Defence Minister A.K. Antony told journalists in Bangalore that if Pakistan sincere about improving bilateral ties, it would have to stop encouraging cross-border infiltration. "The infiltrators are coming from Pakistan because they are getting encouragement and support from them," he said.

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