During Operation Sarpvinash, several terror bases containing large food storage, communications devices, arms, ammunition, and even medicines were destroyed. With the kind of supplies and the discovery of a large number of bunkers during Operation Sarpvinash, there was some comparison to the infiltrations India saw during the Kargil War.
The Indian Army has launched Operation Sarvashakti in Jammu & Kashmir, a targeted counter-militancy operation on both sides of the Pir Panjal range that will include the concurrent operations conducted by the Srinagar-based Chinar Corps and the Nagrota-headquartered White Knight Corps.
The main objective is to eliminate the terror threats in Kashmir, especially in the Rajouri-Poonch area, which have been rekindled recently by Pakistani proxy terror groups. Several modules of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed have been caught in Kashmir along with ISI-driven ground workers. With the threat of a revival of militancy in Kashmir Valley, the Indian government has decided to flush out and eliminate the terror networks militarily in a decisive manner.
After a security meeting between Home Minister Amit Shah, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, the Army, intelligence agencies, and police officials from state and central agencies, the plan to initiate Operation Sarvashakti was formulated. The security review was held after the attack on army vehicles in Dera ki Gali (DKG) area in Rajouri.
Sarvashakti will be concerted as a collaborative operation combining the Jammu and Kashmir Police, Central Reserve Police Force, Special Operations Group, and intelligence agencies. The Indian Army has initiated the process of inducting and deploying more troops to the Rajouri-Poonch sector to fill in any form of porosity in the security measures.
Growing terror threats
Indian Army chief, General Manoj Pande, and the Northern Command are reported to have comprehensively assessed the growing terror threats in the J & K area before the launch of these operations. .
Operation Sarvashakti is expected to follow similar steps as the previously launched Operation Sarpvinash (destruction of serpents) in 2003 which targeted the same locations to neutralize terrorists. Several parallels are being drawn from Operation Sarpvinash, as it is expected the new operation will also exploit its success and efforts will be made to bolster the counter-terrorism measures for the upcoming operation.
Operation Sarpvinash was carried out predominantly by the Counter Insurgency Force, also known as the Romeo Force. It was a four-phase operation. In the first phase ( November 2002 to January 2003), the necessary infrastructures such as helipads, mule tracks, etc were built to facilitate the efficiency in carrying out the operation. In the second phase, the nomadic herders were re-settled away from the targeted location and bases were built surrounding the area of the target.
21 April 2003, saw the fruition of phase three where the region was cordoned off and sealed from external entry or exit from the Hilkaka area. Lastly, on 3 May 2003, the fourth phase commenced with the extermination of 65 terrorists.
The 9th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment (Special Forces) played an important role in heading the attacks on terrorist bases in the area and was backed by six other units of 163 Infantry Brigade (Thana Mandi Brigade) and 12 Sector Rashtriya Rifles: 2/4 Gorkha Rifles, 15 Garhwal Rifles, 4 Garhwal Rifles, 16 and 20 Rashtriya Rifles.
Challenging topography of Pir Panjal
Geographically, the districts of Poonch and Rajauri remain isolated due to dense forests and the steep topography of the Pir Panjal range. However, the lower elevation of the Pir Panjal is in Pakistan-Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK). This kind of terrain and topography has proved to be easily accessible by terrorists and has been heavily utilized as havens for shelter. This proves advantageous for infiltrating terrorists into India.
Indian security forces have been successful in containing terrorism in these designated areas by propping up dominance patrols through periodic operations for neutralizing terror threats in the lowlands or areas around the region.
Another challenge besides manpower and the terrain stems from the prolonged winter months and virtual isolation of the area. In the past, reports of migratory Bakarwal and Gujjar herders being exploited, bribed or coerced into becoming snitches for the Pakistanis and terrorists had become known. Due to this, counter-terrorism Intel carried out by Indian agencies was compromised. Therefore, evacuation and resettlement of the civilians in the targeted area for Operation Sarvashakti was deemed crucial to the success of the operation.
During Operation Sarpvinash, several terror bases containing large food storage, communications devices, arms, ammunition, and even medicines were destroyed. With the kind of supplies and the discovery of a large number of bunkers during Operation Sarpvinash, there was some comparison to the infiltrations India saw during the Kargil War. However, this holds less logic as terrorists, unlike the military, do not sustain or hold areas of operations nor do they require any form of logistical bases, given their effectiveness is derived from them being elusive and deceptive.
proved successful in regards to containing the terror activity. The success rate of Operation Sarpvinash was high, as it relied heavily on Intel gathering technical equipment such as UAVs and reduced the massive reliance on human intelligence (HUMINT). However, in the case of Operation Sarvashakti, the operation will employ both HUMINT and cutting-edge technology to detect and eliminate any threat necessary.
During the operations, several projects and infrastructures were proposed and built, notably the Rohtang Tunnel project and the railway line between Udhampur Cantonment and Baramulla. This proved to be helpful in terms of accessibility to areas that remained difficult to reach. Under Operation Sarpvinash, the region not only experienced immense development but also connected a remote and inaccessible part of Kashmir to India.
With the parallels drawn to the success of Operation Sarpvinash, it is expected that Operation Sarvashakti will produce greater success from the lessons learned from the previous counter-terror operation.
(The writer is an Indian research analyst specializing in AF/Pak region and counter-terrorism. Views are personal. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)