By Taha Siddiqui
Between the night of Saturday 2nd of October and Sunday 3rd October, in the southern part of the Kashmir valley nearby the village of Almore Mandal in Jammu district, the Indian police discovered a yellow polythene bag with a package containing weapons. Witnesses in the area said a drone had dropped the package, and the police suspect it came from the Pakistani border. But reports from the area unveil that this is not the first such case.
Since beginning of this year, local police have reportedly seized a large number of weapons and ammunition brought in by drones allegedly from Pakistan.
A SHORT HISTORY OF DRONE WARFARE
Drone warfare against India from Pakistani soil was aimed for surviellance at first, Indian authorities say. But recently the interventions from across the Line of Control (LoC) (the cease-fire border between the two sides) have become bolder, with drones not only dropping packages but also carrying out attacks.
In late June two members of the Indian Air Force were injured when two bombs dropped by drones exploded at the military airport in Jammu region. This was the first such drone attack in this part of Kashmir region, which has been hit by numerous terrorist attacks in the last several decades.
According to South Asia Press research, in January 2021, the Jammu & Kashmir Police caught two persons while they were picking up a consignment of 16 grenades, two AK-74 rifles, nine AK magazines, a pistol and ammunitions, which were smuggled via drones, as per investigations.
In another case, the Punjab Police seized 11 grenades that were allegedly air-dropped from Pakistan in December 2020.
In October 2020, the Indian Army reportedly shot down a drone along the Line of Control.
A case of dropping arms was also reported when the Indian Border Security Force shot down a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) near Rathua village in the Hira Nagar sector of Jammu on June 20 last year. The drone was transporting an American-made M4 rifle, several grenades and ammunitions.
In yet another case, in the intervening night of June 3 and 4, 2020, a consignment of weapons was dropped through three drone sorties outside Dharamkot Randhawa in Punjab’s Gurdaspur. The consignment included two MP-9 guns, six pistols and counterfeit currency.
Owing to such cross border activity, the Indian Kashmir police chief recently acknowledged that despite the ceasefire agreement since February this year between Pakistan and India along the Line of Control and the International Border, some “Pakistani state actors” have been helping Pakistan-based terror groups operating in Jammu and Kashmir, by trying to maintain their supply chain of arms, ammunition and cash.
PAKISTAN’S DRONE TECHNOLOGY AMBITIONS
Pakistan had several requests for drone technology reportedly rejected by the United States, and went on to manufacture its own drones, with the help of Chinese and Turkish technology. Just this August, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) signed a contract with Pakistan’s National Engineering and Science Commission (NESCOM) to jointly produce Anka military drones. Also, China has become a major exporter of armed drones, with Pakistan being one of its 11 customers, with negotiations between the two countries starting in 2011.
It appears that Pakistan has started using this foreign drone technology as an alternative to sending militant proxies into the other side as it was facing immense pressure to crackdown on Kashmiri militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad at home. These groups regulalry infiltrated the border in the past, especially during cross-fire between the two sides, which Pakistani military sources say was a way to distract attention of the Indian side from finding out about such infilitrations. However, in recent years, such infiltrations have become harder due to improved border management from the Indian side. Also, given the international negative attention such groups were bringing to Pakistan, there were some cosmetic and performative judicial actions against these groups, thereby limiting their cross-border movements but they remain fairly operational domestically. And hence, Pakistan has opted now for deploying drones as a tactic to continue this conflict.
INCREASE IN VIOLENCE IN INDIAN KASHMIR LINKED TO INCREASED DRONE ACTIVITY?
Since the last few months, a new wave of violence and targeted killings has been observed in Indian Kashmir. This year 196 terror incidents took place till mid November, with October being one of the deadliest months in 2021.
On October 5, unidentified gunmen killed three civilians, then on October 7, militants shot dead two Hindu teachers in a school in Srinagar, and on October 11, five Indian soldiers were killed near the Line of Control.
From January 1st this year, about 200 people – mostly Indian security personnel and separatist militants – have died in the violences in Kashmir. Some 30 civilians, have been shot dead.
In response to the new warfare in Kashmir using drones, the Indian government is reportedly further upping its defences also by installing drone detection and countermeasures, such as radars, RF sensors, GPS spoofing and D4 systems.
Experts say that in due course, such drone warfare will become a constant irritant and a source of low-intensity attacks that India will have to face. The drone attacks on the Jammu air base strongly suggest that, even though Pakistan may have reined in its proxy forces, a new front may be opening up in the conflict over Kashmir, as Foreign Policy recently reported.