Will Qamar Bajwa’s extension escalate action on Line Of Control

Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa got a three-year extension beyond November. Though the order carried signature of Prime Minister Imran Khan, anyone who understands the affairs of Pakistan knows how much say a Prime Minister has in that country to decide on matters related to the all-powerful Army chief.

Bajwa, who was appointed as the Chief of Army Staff in November 2016, was to retire three months from now but his extension was, significantly, announced at a time when Pakistan is reeling under the shock of India”s decision to end special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

In the context of Pakistan, it is widely believed that an Army Chief himself decides on whether he should get an extension or should retire on completion of his term. In the case of Bajwa, this fact is more pronounced, since Khan is seen as someone who was “selected” as the Prime Minister by the army.

The order, by which the extension of the 58-year-old officer was announced, said the decision “has been taken in view of regional security environment”. It did not elaborate but the reference was obviously to the tensions being escalated by Pakistan with India after the special status of J&K under Article 370 was abolished on August 7.

Ever since the Modi government took the swift decision, the stunned Imran Khan regime and Pakistani military have been struggling to deal with the situation, amidst questions being raised within that country as to why they could not anticipate the move.

Facing a credibility crisis, Bajwa last week said the Pakistan army “shall go to any extent to fulfill our obligations” with regard to Kashmir.

As Army Chief, Bajwa had succeeded General Raheel Sharif who did not opt for extension unlike his predecessor General Parvez Kayani.

Interestingly, Bajwa”s appointment as COAS in 2016, when Nawaz Sharif was the Prime Minister, had come just two months after India carried out a surgical strike across the Line of Control (LOC) in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in retaliation to terror attack on army camp in Uri in Kashmir.

While the surgical strike took place during the tenure of General Raheel Sharif as COAS, Bajwa”s tenure saw India carrying out a more audacious attack in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan, with IAF fighter jets bombing a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terror camp on February 26 in retaliation to the terror attack in Pulwama in Kashmir 12 days earlier.

In the initial part of its tenure, Bajwa spoke about peace with India, but there has been anything but tranquility on the Line of Control (LoC), which continues to be volatile because of the repeated ceasefire violations by the Pakistan army.

There has also been no let up in Pakistan army”s attempts to push terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir to create havoc. Efforts by Pakistan”s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to fuel unrest in Kashmir valley also continue.

One big terror strike plotted under Bajwa”s watch was the suicide attack carried out on a CRPF convoy on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway in Pulwama district of Kashmir on February 14. The bomber rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into the convoy, killing 40 personnel of CRPF. Pakistan-based JeM owned the attack, escalating tensions between India and Pakistan.

Perhaps, Bajwa and his country did not expect but India hit back just 12 days later, sending fighter jets deep inside Pakistan to bomb a major JeM training camp in Balakot area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Although there have been disputed versions about casualties at Balakot, the fact that Indian fighter planes crossed the border and carried out bombings inside Pakistan was the first such development since the 1971 war. The Indian attack was a huge loss of face for the Pakistani military, particularly since all the fighter planes returned home without any damage.

Although the next day, Pakistan sent its fighter planes to bomb India in retaliation, they were really unable to penetrate much beyond the Line of Control (LoC) as the Indian Air Force jets scrambled and chased them away.

In the process, however, the IAF lost one MiG fighter and its pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan was captured by the Pakistani forces. However, as India activated its international connections, Pakistan was forced to release Abhinandan in two days.

Now, with the Modi government ending special status of Jammu and Kashmir, the Pakistani political leadership and military has been rabble rousing, mainly to cater to the domestic audience and to scare the world community in an effort to bring the issue into an international arena.

Against this backdrop, Bajwa is likely to raise temperature at the LoC and create a pretext for some countries, particularly the US, to intervene and push India to have talks with Pakistan. India has refused to have dialogue with Pakistan till it ends cross-border terrorism.

Significantly, Pakistan has not found any significant support from the world community even as it created hue and cry over Article 370. Except for its “all-weather friend” China, which got the matter discussed informally at the UN Security Council, no major country, including the Gulf nations, have supported Pakistan”s viewpoint and have held that the decision of the Modi government was an internal matter of India.

Now, one has to see what Bajwa does to save the face of the Pakistan army. How much can he escalate the military tensions, particularly when Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has made it clear that maintaining New Delhi”s ”no first use” on nuclear weapons would depend on the future circumstances?



Kite threads delay Delhi Metro service on Blue line

New Delhi, Aug 15 After excessive kite threads led to the tripping of overhead electrification, Delhi Metro service on Blue line was delayed on Thursday between Subhash Nagar and Rajouri Garden stations.

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) in its statement said the service was affected from Subhash Nagar to Rajouri Garden stations between 2 p.m. and 3.15 p.m.

“The cause of overhead electrification (OHE) tripping was due to excessive kite threads getting entangled at multiple locations in this section, that had to be physically removed by maintenance team by patrolling the affected section,” it said.

“We appeal to the general public not to fly kites near OHE lines of Delhi Metro as it may endanger their own safety besides disrupting Metro services,” a Metro official said.



Kashmir Valley calm so far, gun duel on Line of Control

There are no reports of violence in the Valley ever since the withdrawal of special status to Jammu and Kashmir and its bifurcation but the ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC) since the decision, according to a security assessment.

Late on Wednesday evening, Pakistan violated the ceasefire, firing small arms and mortar shells from across the LoC in Sunderbani sector in Rajouri district. The firing began around 10.15 p.m., following which the Indian Army retaliated.

Prior to this, a cease-fire violation was reported on the night of August 5 from the Machil sector of J&K’s Kupwara district when an infiltration bid by five to six armed militants was foiled and a soldier was also injured. On the other hand, the number of cease-fire violations at the LoC had peaked in the month of July.

The spurt in firing in July coincided with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s meeting with US President Donald Trump in Washington. The month saw 272 ceasefire violations, the highest in 2019.

According to defence officials, the hinterland of J&K has witnessed no major incident of violence over the past three days while the LoC too has remained mostly calm, apart from these two incidents.

“There are no directions as of now for deployment of additional forces in the Valley. Situation across the Valley has been peaceful over the past three days with no violence reported from the hinterland or cease-fire violations at the border,” a senior army official said.

On the intervening night of July 31 and August 1, at least five to seven special services personnel of Pakistan’s Border Action Team (BAT) were gunned down by alert troops in the Keran sector of Kupwara during an infiltration bid.

“Four bodies were sighted on the Indian side of the border. Pakistan was informed about it. However, they are yet to claim the dead bodies which are still lying near a forward post of the sector,” added the official.

The Indian armed forces suffered six casualties during cease-fire violations by Pakistan between January and August 7. The second highest number of cease-fire violations in the year was recorded in March when both countries were in a conflict over the Pulawama incident and the subsequent air strikes carried out by the IAF in Balakot.

There were 267 cease-fire violations in March while the two preceding months of the year had recorded 203 and 215 incidents, respectively. The corresponding figures for the months of April, May and June, respectively, stand at 234, 221 and 181.



100-year-old rail line in Sri Lanka being upgraded with Indian assistance

India’s IRCON International Limited and the Sri Lankan government have inked a $91.26 million agreement for upgrading the around 130 km-long Maho-Omanthai rail line which is over 100 years old.

Once the upgradation is completed, Jaffna bound trains will be able to travel at 120 kmph, providing safe, efficient and comfortable transportation for the passengers in the Northern Province.

The railway line is being upgraded under Indian concessional financing. This is the first time the track is being upgraded in 100 years.

The contract agreement was signed between IRCON International Limited and the Government of Sri Lanka in Colombo on Thursday.

IRCON Chairman Sunil Kumar Choudhury and L.P. Jayampathy, Secretary, Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation of Sri Lanka, signed the agreement in the presence of Arjuna Ranatunga, Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation of Sri Lanka.

The upgradation will include modification of 12 crossing stations, seven halt stations and 78 level crossings.

Ranatunga, addressing the gathering in Colombo, said that at present, trains are running with speed restrictions of 40 kmph on this section. The travel time too between Maho and Omanthai is about three hours with a maximum sanctioned speed of 60 kmph.

He said a new crossing station will be constructed between Medawachchiya to Vavuniya, and 218 culverts and 90 bridges will be repaired or reconstructed as required. “This will help to make the journey more comfortable, convenient and shorter the travel time,” he said, adding that the project is expected to be completed by 36 months, according to Daily News.

The upgradation would help double the speed potential of the railway track from the current 60 km to 120 km per hour, as well as reduce the maintenance costs.

It will also improve the travel comfort of passengers, and further contribute to the modernization Sri Lanka Railways, an official statement from the Indian High Commission in Colombo said.

India has so far committed Lines of Credit worth around $1.3 billion for development of the railway sector in Sri Lanka.

The restoration of arterial railway lines, connecting the North and the South after decades of conflict, was undertaken under Indian concessional financing.

The tsunami-affected Southern Railway line was also upgraded under Indian Line of Credit. India has so far upgraded around 300 km of railway track and provided modern signalling and telecommunication system for around 330 km in Sri Lanka.

In June 2017, India signed a fresh Line of Credit Agreement for $318 million for the development of the railway sector in Sri Lanka. Under this Line of Credit, other projects that are underway include procurement of 160 passenger coaches; upgradation of signal and telecommunication system from Maho to Anuradhapura; and setting up of a Railway Workshop in Rathmalana.

Procurements of rolling stock from India are also underway, including six Diesel Multiple Units, 10 locomotives, 20 container carrier wagons, 30 fuel tank wagons, 160 passenger coaches, and 500 buses.

India has also contributed substantially to capacity building of Sri Lankan railway personnel.

The Maho-Omanthai project is in continuation of India’s efforts to partner with Colombo in people-oriented connectivity projects in Sri Lanka.

IRCON has previously completed the upgradation of the 114-km Colombo-Matara coastal railway line under Indian line of credit, reconstruction of the Medawachchiya to Madhu Road Railway Line in Northern Province and restoration of Northern Railway line from Omanthai to Jaffna.



Heavy firing on Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir

Heavy firing exchanges took place between Indian and Pakistani troopers on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir, a defence official said on Tuesday.

“The Pakistani troops resorted to unprovoked ceasefire violation in Rajouri’s Sunderbani sector and Jammu’s Akhnoor sector on Monday night,” Defence Ministry spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Devender Anand told the media.

Firing exchanges in the Sunderbani sector started at 10.45 p.m., but stopped soon, Anand said.

“In Akhnoor, the Pakistan Army resorted to mortar shelling and firing of small arms which continued till Tuesday morning. Our troops retaliated effectively,” the spokesman added.

There were no immediate reports of any casualties.



Army porter injured on Line of Control (LoC) in Pakistan shelling

An Army porter was injured on Friday in heavy firing exchanges between India and Pakistan on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district, police said.

Surjeet Kumar was injured in Kalal area of Nowshera sector.

The firing began between the two armies after Pakistan resorted to “unprovoked ceasefire violation” using mortar shells and small arms to target Indian positions, a police officer said.



India, Pakistan exchange heavy firing on Line of Control (LoC)

Indian and Pakistani armies exchanged heavy fire across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district till early hours on Wednesday, Defence Ministry said.

The Pakistan Army used mortar shelling and small arms as they resorted to unprovoked ceasefire violation in the Sunderbani sector from around 10.30 p.m. on Tuesday.

“The firing continued till 4.30. a.m. Indian positions retaliated strongly,” Defence Ministry spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Devender Anand said.

Heavy firing exchanges also took place between the two armies in Nowshera sector of Rajouri and Krishna Ghati sector of Poonch on Tuesday.

A soldier was injured in Kalal area of Rajouri in the firing.

All educational institutions continued to remain closed within 5 km distance from the LoC in both these districts.





Three killed in Pakistan shelling on Line of Control

Three civilians were killed in shelling by the Pakistani army on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch district, officials said on Saturday.

Police said a woman and her two children were killed in Salotri village of Jhalas area in Krishna Ghati sector of the LoC when a shell fired by Pakistan army exploded inside a house on Friday night.

“Besides, four others including two civilians and two army soldiers have been injured in Pakistani shelling and firing,” a police officer said.

Indian and Pakistani soldiers have been trading heavy fire on the LoC in Poonch and Rajouri districts since the last eight days.

Local residents have described the hostilities on the LoC as ‘war-like situation’.

Authorities have closed all educational institutions within 5 km from the LoC in these two districts and asked people to remain indoors.



Pakistan claims IAF violates Line of Control (LoC)

Pakistan claimed on Tuesday that Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter jets crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and returned after the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) scrambled war planes.

Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Asif Ghafoor tweeted early Tuesday and Radio Pakistan claimed that the IAF planes dropped payload in haste before leaving, which fell near Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The alleged incident took place in the Muzaffarabad sector, claimed Radio Pakistan.

It follows a suicide bombing attack on a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy in Pulwama on February 14 that killed 40 troopers.

The attack was claimed by Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and prompted a spike in tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

The Indian government is yet to respond to the development but multiple reports have claimed that the IAF carried out the strike at a terror camp well beyond the LoC.

Flight tracking websites spotted heightened activities along the border with an IAF early warning plane Emb 145 and mid-air refueller circling in the area early in the morning.

Reports claimed that the IAF strike was carried out by a group of Mirage 2000 fighters at around 3.30 a.m.

The strike in Balakot is significant as the location is beyond Pakistan Administered Kashmir, indicating it was not merely an LoC violation but a punitive action inside Pakistani territory.



Indian and Pakistani troops trade fire on Line of Control (LoC)

Indian and Pakistani armies on Monday traded fire on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch district.

Defence Ministry sources said the firing exchanges started around 10.30 a.m. after the Pakistanis resorted to unprovoked firing targeting Indian positions.

“Our troops retaliated strongly and effectively after the Pakistan Army used small arms and automatics to target Indian positions in Kerni and some other sectors,” an official said.

“Intermittent firing exchanges were going on between the two sides,” the official said.



In Tripura, Modi dedicates new train line to nation

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday dedicated a 23.32-km railway track in southern Tripura to the nation and inaugurated the new complex of Tripura Institute of Technology (TIT) at Narsingarh, near here.

The 23.32-km Garjee-Belonia section, built at a cost of Rs 400 crore, is part of the Rs 3,407-crore Agartala-Sabroom (115 km) national railway project aiming to link southern Tripura’s last border town (Sabroom), which is just 72 km away from the port of Chittagong.

The Prime Minister, who arrived here from Guwahati, was accompanied by Tripura Governor Kaptan Singh Solanki and Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb.

Using a remote control system, Modi dedicated the new railway line to the nation and inaugurated the new complex of TIT from the Swami Vivekananda Stadium here.

The new TIT complex was built at a cost of Rs 103 crore, which was shared by the state and the Central government.

The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) has been laying new railway tracks in three places, including the Agartala-Sabroom route along India-Bangladesh border in Tripura, and that would facilitate the carriage of goods and passengers from the northeastern states on the Bangladeshi railway network.

The Indian and Bangladeshi railways are laying 15 km of tracks at a cost of Rs 963 crore between Agartala and Akhaura in Bangladesh to link the networks of the two neighbouring countries.

NFR’s Chief Public Relations Officer Pranav Jyoti Sharma said that the broad gauge railway line from Agartala to Sabroom was sanctioned in the Rail Budget of 2007-08 as a National Project.

The 115-km long Agartala-Sabroom railway line passes through four of the eight districts of Tripura – West Tripura, Sepahijala, Gomati and South Tripura.

“There is no good transport link in Tripura. Therefore, the train service would be a boon to the people of Tripura,” Sharma added.



Pakistan Army targets Indian posts on Line of Control (LoC)

Pakistani troops fired rockets on Indian Army positions on Tuesday on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch district.

Defence Ministry spokesman Lt Col Devender Anand said the Pakistan Army violated the 2003 bilateral ceasefire in Krishna Ghati sector around 10.30 a.m.

“Pakistanis … fired rockets,” the spokesman said. “No casualty or damage has been reported on our side.”