Since the beginning of the New Year, fears of a dangerous border conflict have returned to haunt India and Pakistan as a spate of ceasefire violations and terrorist incursions continue to take place at the Line of Control (LoC) border between Indian and Pakistani-held Kashmir. Cross-border incidents are not at all uncommon, but what has sparked a deterioration in the situation lately was the brutal beheading and mutilation of two soldiers of the Indian Army’s Rajputana Rifles on January 8 in the Poonch sector of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K, the former name of the pre-independence princely state, now used for the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir). Adding salt to the injury, the perpetrators, allegedly Kashmiri militants backed by Pakistan Army regulars, took away the head of one of the slain soldiers and both service rifles as war trophies (Times of India (New Delhi), January 10; Daily Excelsior [Jammu], January 14). Pakistan has denied that its troops had any role in the beheading (AFP, January 16).
Since November 2003, India and Pakistan have observed a ceasefire agreement along their borders as part of confidence building measures in the disputed territories of Kashmir. However, the number of ceasefire violations has been steadily increasing, with one of the worst taking place last October, when Pakistani mortar fire killed three civilians in Barmulla district (Press Trust of India, October 16, 2012). Pakistan has also accused India of periodic military aggression on the border, most recently claiming that unprovoked Indian fire on mountain villages killed a Pakistani soldier near Kundi Post (AFP, January 16).
Shelling from the Pakistani side of the LoC is common when simultaneous attempts are made to push militant infiltrators into Indian Territory. Since early January, Pakistani troops have turned to heavy shelling at Indian forward posts as covering or diversionary fire, especially in the Krishna Ghati sector of Poonch district. A prior intelligence report indicated that over 200 militants were waiting at the time to enter into India across the LoC (Daily Excelsior [[Jammu], December 28, 2012).
India’s military intelligence report on the January 8 killings and beheading indicates that the incident was the handiwork of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) (Times of India, January 31). According to that report, a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist identified as Anwar Khan was responsible for the beheading. Anwar, who had earlier decapitated another Indian Army officer in 1996, was part of the ISI’s Border Action Team (BAT). This team was comprised of at least 15 LeT and Jaish-e-Muhammad terrorists led by Subedar Jabbar Khan, who is affiliated to the ISI unit in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa village of Tattapani. The intelligence report also said that Anwar was rewarded with $5,000 by the ISI (CNN-IBN, January 29; Times of India, January 31). An alternative source claims that another BAT member named Mohammad Ismail (a.k.a Ismail Langda) carried out the beheadings at the behest of the LeT and ISI (India Today [New Delhi], February 1).
The beheading triggered widespread discontent within India’s political and military circles as well as enraged public sentiment against what is viewed as the Pakistan Army’s brutal behavior and its alleged collusion with the Kashmir terrorists. Official denials have poured out of Islamabad, terming the Indian accusations “baseless and malicious” (Dawn [Karachi], January 9; Inter-Services Public Relations Press Release [Rawalpindi], January 14). Progress on bilateral trade and visa issues was put on hold as the killings brought both sides to the brink of war. An atmosphere of distrust was inflamed when the Indian J&K state government issued a nuclear disaster advisory that urged residents to build underground bunkers to protect themselves from a possible nuclear event in the region, a step that succeeded in catching Islamabad’s attention (Greater Kashmir [Srinagar], January 22).
India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement that “there can be no business as usual between the neighbors” was matched by the Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s description of “warmongering” Indian leaders (AFP, January 16). While the Pakistani foreign minister’s remarks were predictably criticized by India’s political and military elites, it was the reaction of Pakistan’s “non-state actors” that came as a surprise. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, founder of the dreaded LeT and the present chief of its charity wing, Jama’at-ud-Da’awa (JuD), suddenly became a pro-state voice, coming to the rescue of the Islamabad administration while hugging the limelight at this hour of crisis. Saeed used every available media source to air his anger, even using Twitter to send the message: “Kashmir and Pakistan are blessings of Allah, We will remain united in the struggle… Kashmir is indeed the jugular-vein of Pakistan – We have to re-capture this vein from the enemy.” 
Saeed reportedly urged Pakistani soldiers to fire on Indian security personnel guarding the line of control (LoC) a week before the beheading incident (Samay Live, January 10). Citing intelligence sources, India’s interior minister confirmed the presence of Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan Administered Kashmir (PAK) a week before the January 8 killings (Daily Excelsior [Jammu], January 10). However, Saeed rebutted India’s accusations and squarely put the blame on India for not resolving the Kashmir issue. He also threatened that the ongoing border tension in Kashmir could “turn into an ugly situation like a war” (Reuters, January 11). Hafiz Saeed and the JuD openly organized huge anti-India protests in Islamabad after the January 18 Friday prayers.
Evidently, there is a plan to revive Kashmiri militancy, which has been at a low ebb in recent years. At a mid-December meeting of Kashmiri separatist leaders hosted by the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), Syed Salahuddin of Hizbul Mujahideen/United Jihad Council (HM/UJC) and Hafiz Saeed of the LeT/JuD both expressed their desire to intensify Kashmiri militancy after the 2014 departure of the U.S.-led alliance in Afghanistan (Tehelka.com, January 9; India Today, January 11). Salahuddin is reportedly trying to convince the two factions of Hurriyat to unite, with the sole purpose of reviving the Kashmir militant struggle (Daily Excelsior [Jammu], October 31, 2012).
The disturbing situation at the border could be an act of desperation on the part of the Pakistani army and its jihadi proxies who have failed to boost Kashmir militancy for a fourth consecutive year. To be ready for 2014, the Kashmiri militants need to begin infiltrating cadres across the LoC now to begin recruitment and training, as well as political work to lay the groundwork of a new insurgency amongst the Muslim communities of Indian-controlled Kashmir and Jammu. According to a J&K state government report, the region experienced the lowest level of terrorist violence last year in over two decades of militancy (Press Trust of India, December 27, 2012). Arguably, the increasing frequency of border violations indicates that Pakistan is refocusing on the Kashmir issue even as the border incidents threaten the fragile peace between the two nuclear-armed countries. With possible support from the state establishment, terrorist proxies like LeT/JuD, are taking the reins into their own hands by deliberately provoking India to initiate military action in Kashmir.
1. See Hafiz Saeed’s micro-blogging Twitter Site which is handled by his son and the media department of the JuD: https://twitter.com/HafizSaeedJUD/status/294679663383572481.