The Machil sector, considered as one of the shortest, safest and easiest access route for the infiltrators leading to Kupwara district from across the LoC, is once again under the spotlight after the killing of three Indian soldiers on Tuesday. The Machil sector is situated at an altitude of more than 6,500 feet and is filled with dense forest, inhospitable weather and terrain. Both Indian and Pakistani bunkers are located at a close distance from here, as the Line of Control is merely 50-80 km from Kupwara town.
As per the official sources, various infiltration tracks have been used by the militants in this area to reach Kupwara and Lolab Valley. After the Indian Army conducted surgical strikes in September, many incidents of ceasefire violations have occurred, including on October 29, when a soldier was killed after his patrol was attacked. The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NCTA) has so far confirmed more than four infiltration attempts in this area past few months.
In July, days before protests broke out in the Kashmir Valley over the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani, the J&K government agencies had identified two new infiltration routes leading to Handwara and categorised Kaobal Gali, Sardari, Sonar, Kel, Ratta Pani, Shardi, Tejian, Dudhinial, Athmuqam, Katwara, Jura and Lipa valley as the most active routes going to Kupwara, Bandipore and Baramulla districts. Several agencies had reported that militants from Shardi, Ratta Pani, Kel, Tejian and Dudhnial cross the Line of Control (LoC) through the vastly inaccessible terrain in Machil sector.
Last December, the Indian Army conducted one of its biggest search operations in this area from Manigah to Machil after militants killed Santosh Mahadik, Commanding Officer of 41 Rashtriya Rifles. The search was carried after getting information that the militants were hiding in the dense forests of Haihama and Kalaroos. It ended in vain despite more than 700 soldiers’ involvement and special forces paratroopers.
In August, three personnel of BSF were killed in an attack in this area. The BSF forms the second line of defence in Machil sector. The Line of Control is barely 6 km from the last inhabited villages. On the other side of it lies Kail, which the officials allege, is a major launchpad for militants.
According to Jammu & Kashmir agency officials, there were at least 179 active militants, both foreign and local, in the state before Burhan Wani got killed in July. Once the administration’s focus shifted from anti-militancy operations towards the massive public outrage, the infiltration of newly trained militants from across the LoC started increasing. By mid-August, more than 100 new militants had infiltrated into the Kashmir Valley, with most of them sneaking through various tracks in Kupwara district, said sources. The continuous disturbances at the Line of Control (LoC) has given a fresh thrust to infiltration because cross-border LoC firings has made life very difficult at the regular patrols and other check posts.
In the rural areas of J&K, fresh recruitment of local boys has risen sharply after Burhan Wani’s execution and the subsequent protests that followed. It is quite clear that the focus of the Pakistani militants is the Line of Control (LoC), especially in Kupwara district. Most of the Pakistani militants are also based in Kupwara district.
Back in 2010, Machil was in headlines for the killing of three villagers in an encounter that triggered widespread protests in Kashmir. An Army probe later on proved that the encounter was fake and six of its personnel were awarded life terms, including one former commanding officer.