|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
Media report quoting IB source indicate J&K terrorists use sniper rifles being used by terrorists are stolen by Taliban from US-NATO forces in Afghanistan passed on to Pakistan's ISI, and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) has formed sniper teams whichmove in buddy pairs. Trained by ISI, these sniper teams are equipped with M4 carbines with telescope that can hit targets up to 500-600 metres with precision. Terrorists are also equipped with night vision devices. Army Chief, General Bipin Rawat has said it may be premature to conclude sniper squads of Pakistan-sponsored terror organisations have entered J&K. In April 2018, Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Samir Ahmad Bhat killed in an encounter was found holding a NATO-operated M4 carbine. The bit about Taliban stealing M4 sniper carbines from US forces in Afghanistan appears fake unless Taliban attacked logistics convoys for US-NATO forces moving by land through Pakistan. The SSG of Pakistan also use the M4 carbine. Besides, M4 carbine can be purchased off-the-shelf online, as also its telescope. Why our governmental defence-industrial entities can't get such weapons and develop own through reverse engineering is a separate issue, but it can be safely assumed that both HM and JeM would have sniper rifles – in all probability the telescope mounted M4 carbine. Whether 'sniper teams' have been formed or not is a matter of conjecture, because the M4 carbine equipped terrorists will at least be moving in buddy pair, of which the better shot will probably be armed with the sniper weapon, not both.
The border action teams (BAT) of Pakistan have mix of Pakistani regulars/SSG and terrorists. Whether we want to acknowledge or not, SSG personnel have been operating in J&K, the usual cover being that they are retired. A SSG havaldar caught in Kupwara in 1995 had the same excuse. We are hesitant to admit this phenomenon because we don't have any such concept for Special Forces beyond direct raids in close proximity of the border. If the sniper equipped terrorists have invested South Kashmir, the possibility of SSG personnel manning sniper weapons should not be discounted, which would only be a step ahead of the BAT mix of regulars and terrorists. After all, in Afghanistan not only is covert Pakistani regulars in major way, Pakistani army officers have also been providing leadership to Taliban, as has been proved in certain instances. The fact remains that terrorists in J&K now do have sniper weapons.
The first sniper attack by JeM terrorists was at Newa in Pulwama on September 18 when a CRPF jawan was injured. In subsequent attacks, a Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) policeman and an Army jawan were killed in Tral, and a Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) ASI was killed in Nowgam, on outskirts of Srinagar. In all these attacks, terrorists targeted sentries not only inside camps but even inside sentry posts. Terrorist-snipers on nearby high ground took aim from lighted mobiles when jawans were talking to someone. This has raised concerns in the security establishment and countermeasures are being put in place, including raising of security walls, which may not be possible in all cases.
Recall the JeM terrorists attack at the Army base in Uri during 2016, where the perimeter only had a cattle fence, no security wall. Snipers are regular feature along the border/LoC but their deployment in hinterland poses new challenges. Aside from sentries in camps and at installations, road opening parties (ROP) and patrols during halts are equally vulnerable if adjoining high ground have not been secured. Standard operating procedures may need review. China's anti-India stance has hardly changed post the Modi-Xi Wuhan Summit as indicative from the China-Pakistan bus service through POK and China's continued protection of 26/11 mastermind Masood Azhar at the UN.
Terrorists in J&K are using steel-core AK-47 bullets that can penetrate bunkers instead of normal lead-core bullets because of Chinese technology passed on to Pakistan. This was confirmed from ballistic analysis of bullets fired during terror attack on district police lines of Pulwama, South Kashmir in August 2018. In July 2018, reports emerged that China had developed the ZKZM-500 laser gun that can destroy a target 800 meters away by charring skin and human tissue, the frequency of the laser making it invisible to the human eye. It is noiseless and is powered by a rechargeable lithium battery with capability to shoot more than 1,000 shots per charge. Reports said that ZKZM-500 laser gun was ready for mass production and the first units are likely to be given to anti-terrorism squads in the People's Armed Police. The advantage of such weapon is that it is impossible to decipher where the attack came from. Aside from targeting individuals, the laser is very effective against fuel dumps, fuel carrying vehicles and rendering radars and mobile towers ineffective. China is arming its Police with these and may pass them on to Pakistan. Therefore, their employment against India at least on the border/LoC should not be discounted for the present. These laser guns may not find their way into the hinterland in J&K in present context but snipers with longer ranges are likely. We need to be mentally prepared for escalation of terrorism in J&K.