JAMMU India (Reuters) - Far fewer militants are attempting to cross into Indian Kashmir this year from Pakistan, an Indian army general said, contrary to expectations that a drawdown of foreign forces in Afghanistan would result in fighters flooding there.
India has been bolstering its defenses along the de facto border with Pakistan, fearing militant groups fighting the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan will turn their energies to Kashmir where it is trying to end a 25-year insurgency.
But Lieutenant General Konsam Himalay Singh, who commands tens of thousands of troops on the Kashmir frontier, said there had been no jump in the number of Islamist fighters trying to breach the fenced barrier to breathe life into the revolt there.
“I was seriously expecting October-November to be a time for, you know, massive efforts by the militants who cross over to fight the Indian army. It has not really unfolded in that manner, “ he said in an interview at his command headquarters outside Jammu on Saturday.
The guerrillas have traditionally crossed over from Pakistan before snowfalls close the high mountain passes.
India accuses the Pakistan army of infiltrating militants into Kashmir to stir trouble there. Over the past 10 days the two armies have fired mortars and heavy machine guns in the most serious outbreak of fighting since a 2003 ceasefire.
Singh said some militants had moved from the Afghan battlefield to try and fight in Kashmir but it was nowhere near the flood that the authorities had been warned about. So far 24 fighters had been killed this year while trying to cross over. Last year security forces killed 51.
Still, Singh estimated there were about 200-250 fighters waiting to cross over from the stretch of Kashmir south of the Pir Panjal mountains that he commanded.
The army aggressively patrols some 40 identified infiltration routes and ambushes incoming militants, officials said.
The revolt in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority state, took off in 1989, the year Soviet troops ended their occupation of Afghanistan and many of the guerrillas who fought the Red Army moved to Kashmir including Afghan veterans.
Among the groups that India worries now about is a new wing of Al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, blamed for the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai.
Pakistani militant Asim Umar who the leads the South Asia branch of al Qaeda declared India to be the new battleground.
“From the land of Afghanistan, a caravan is heading toward India,” Umar, who spent at least 16 years in Afghanistan, said in a video message last June.
“Not on someone’s directive. Not on the basis of some governmental policy. But simply on the basis of abiding by God’s command.”
Busy fighting the Pakistan Taliban in the northwest Pakistan, the Pakistan military could lack resources to support militants infiltrating Kashmir, according to Singh.
“There has been a setback in that infrastructure,” he said.
Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Simon Cameron-Moore