Above: A scene after the Pulwama attack/UNI
The horrendous Pulwama killing has caught India napping and shows the need to evolve a holistic strategy to combat Pakistan’s Deep State which is using terrorism to bleed India through a thousand cuts
By Col R Hariharan
The suicide attack by Adil Ahmed Dar, a 20-year-old Kashmiri cadre of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama on February 14, killing over 40 CRPF jawans, is a watershed moment in our long history of fighting militancy in J&K. The never-before-seen outburst of anger and outrage across the country at this attack showed that public patience is wearing thin at the insouciant way successive governments have been handling the Kashmir issue.
Immediately after the attack, an elated JeM claimed responsibility for it. Public reaction to it ranged from a flood of hate messages in social media against Pakistan and Kashmiri terrorists to non-partisan protest rallies to Bollywood slapping a ban on the participation of Pakistani film artistes in films. A Pakistani prisoner with suspected links to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, another Pakistan-based terrorist group, serving a life term in Jaipur jail, was killed by other inmates, ostensibly in a quarrel with them. The sense of outrage was reflected in the body language of Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the Pulwama attack. The usually taciturn Modi repeatedly emphasised that the sacrifice of the jawans would not go in vain and warned Pakistan it would pay a heavy price for the killings.
Buoyed by the huge success of the Pulwama attack, the JeM is likely to keep up the momentum by carrying out more terror strikes. In follow-up operations in Pulwama after the attack, four security forces personnel, including an army major, were killed and a few others, including a DIG and a brigadier, were injured, sending a clear signal that, far from being a lone wolf attack, Pulwama was a well-planned one. Security forces, meanwhile, eliminated three JeM terrorists, including the suspected mastermind of the Pulwama attack and IED expert Abdul Rashid Gazi.
Strategic analysts have been discussing a number of military options available to India. These ranged from carrying out air strikes on the JeM headquarters in Bahawalpur in Sindh to missile attacks on terrorist camps across the Line of Control (LoC) in PoK to carrying out covert operations to eliminate Masood Azhar, the founder-patron of JeM who is living in Pakistan. While carrying out any of these military options would satisfy the widespread demand for revenge, it would not persuade Pakistan to dismantle its proxy war apparatus.
In the wake of the Pulwama attack, India has taken a series of measures on the diplomatic, trade and financial fronts. It has requested the international community to take concrete diplomatic steps such as issuing statements condemning Pakistan, supporting India’s efforts to blacklist it by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and designating Azhar a global terrorist by the UN. Though over 50 countries have condemned the Pulwama attack, only the US seems to have named the JeM as the Pakistan-based terrorist group involved in the attack.
India has withdrawn the Most Favoured Nation status given to Pakistan in 1996, although it is unlikely to have much impact as the total trade between the two neighbours was only $2.4 billion in 2017-18, just 0.31 percent of India’s total trade.
Coming to FATF, it is a policymaking body to promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system. Pakistan was placed in the grey list of monitored jurisdiction of FATF in 2018. India proposes to present a dossier on its support to the JeM to persuade FATF to place it in the high-risk and non-cooperative category. Though China had not objected to placing Pakistan in the grey list, it is likely to obstruct any move by India to blacklist it. However, India’s move is likely to highlight Pakistan’s complicity in the terrorist attack in Pulwama among the 38 countries in FATF.
RESPONSE TO TERRORISM
The Pulwama attack is significant, not only because it has the dubious distinction of topping the number of security forces personnel killed in a single terrorist attack in J&K during the last decade, but it indicates the scaling up of the JeM’s terrorist technique when it used a car bomb in the Pulwama attack.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the last vehicle-borne suicide attack in the state was carried out on November 2, 2005, near the residence of then chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, killing three policemen and six civilians. In another attack on a CRPF camp in Avantipora a little over a year ago, JeM terrorists had used steel-jacketed ammunition that penetrated body armour for the first time.
Two days before the February 14 attack, there was intelligence input about the JeM preparing for a car bomb attack against security convoys on the Jammu-Srinagar road. However, it did not specify when and where it would take place. According to K Vijaya Kumar, the governor’s security adviser, sanitising the road was “impossible” as there were 70 intersections, 35 on each side. CRPF authorities did not seem to have factored in the risks of sending an unwieldy 70-vehicle-long convoy on this road without sufficient security.
The explosives-laden vehicle was reported to have followed the convoy, despite warning from the convoy’s security detail. That the vehicle ultimately managed to ram a bus carrying CRPF troops to complete its mission indicates the lack of alertness of the escort vehicles which should have been prompt in responding to a potential threat situation.
Usually, when military convoys move in militancy-prone areas, civilian traffic is stopped. However, in J&K, this standard security procedure was discontinued as the state government wanted to avoid inconvenience to civilian vehicles on this lifeline. Only now, after paying a compromise cost of over 40 lives, have the authorities reimposed the restriction on civilian traffic when convoys of security forces move.
Though initial reports said 350 kg of explosives were used in the blast, probably it was much less. Investigators who found a jerrycan which was probably used for the blast said that it could not have held more than 30 kg of military grade RDX. It was probably smuggled across the border over a period of time and stashed in safe houses. This would indicate that the JeM’s supply conduits from across the border and within the state are still intact in spite of sustained security force operations to cut them off.
Tale of failed alliances
Just like the much-hyped but failed alliance between the BJP and the PDP in J&K, the party has burnt its fingers in the Northeast. Alliances here have been with parties known for their militant agitations on demands for greater autonomy or separate statehood.
- In Assam, the Asom Gana Parishad snapped ties with the BJP on January 7 soon after the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, was passed in the Lok Sabha. However, the BJP-led coalition government in the state has the support of 12 MLAs of the Bodoland People’s Front (BDF), a vocal and often violent proponent of a new state of Bodoland to be carved out of Assam.
- In Meghalaya, the United Democratic Party recently left the BJP-led North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) over the saffron party’s aggressive stance on this Bill. While Meghalaya CM Conrad K Sangma hasn’t yet snapped ties with the BJP, he too has indicated that all’s not well in the alliance.
- In Tripura, the BJP has partnered with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), which has threatened to quit NEDA over this Bill. The IPFT allegedly has links with militant organisations like the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) which seeks secession from India and has been an active participant in the insurgency in the Northeast.
- In Mizoram, the BJP has tied up with the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) which has also threatened to reconsider its ties with the BJP if the latter continues to push for this Bill. The MNF started out as an insurgent outfit in 1961 demanding autonomy for the Mizo Hills.
- Continuing its alliance with the BJP is a practical compulsion for the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) in Nagaland. But even here, Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio and his party have passed a unanimous resolution rejecting the Bill. The NDPP needs the support of the BJP’s 12 legislators in Nagaland to stay in power. The alliance had shaped up after the BJP gave Rio an assurance, though still unfulfilled, of passing a new Naga Accord granting massive autonomy to the state, including rights to have its own flag and set of laws.
The increased involvement of local youth in terrorist attacks shows the ability and resilience of the JeM to recruit, train and motivate them to undertake suicide missions despite 2018 proving to be the bloodiest year for militancy in J&K.
MILITANTS ON THE BACKFOOT
Only last month, Northern Army Commander Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, speaking in the backdrop of “Operation All Out”, claimed that 2018 was the most successful year in anti-militancy operations in the passed decade. According to home ministry figures, during 2018, over 257 terrorists (including many leaders) were killed in 614 incidents, while 91 security personnel and 38 civilians lost their lives. The data showed that between 2014 and 2018, there was a 93 percent increase in the number of security personnel killed in terrorist incidents in the state which increased by 176 percent. According to SATP, “the total fatalities recorded in 2018 are the highest recorded in the state since 2010”.
SATP’s assessment also showed progressive increase in the spread of terrorist activity in J&K. This was gleaned from fatalities reported from districts. In 2018, fatalities were reported from 16 of 22 districts in the state as against 13 districts in 2014. The SATP assessment says: “Significantly, by end 2011, at least seven districts in the state had been declared completely free of militancy…,” while the state home ministry had reported militancy related incidents “in single digits”.
An objective introspection of the reasons for the increase in Pakistan-inspired terrorist activity in the state would attribute it to the BJP-PDP alliance’s politics of expediency and opportunism to stay in power. During the ill-conceived coalition rule, the “war on terrorism” became a bundle of contradictions; security forces taking measures to safeguard men and material were slapped with FIRs, while stone-throwing mobs guided by Pakistan-inspired terrorists were allowed to go scot-free.
Flying of Pakistani and Islamic State flags on top of mosques and city centres were dismissed as acts of misguided youth. Terrorist leaders killed in clashes were glorified by politicians, including those in power.
It sent a strong signal that the state government was not serious about ensuring security in the face of growing terrorist activity.
LOSS OF CREDIBILITY
Undoubtedly, this eroded the Modi government’s credibility in tackling terrorism in the Kashmir Valley, despite the much-publicised surgical strike carried out across the LoC. It is sad that in spite of the huge sacrifices made by our security forces and loss of lives and resources, our Kashmir narrative continues to be a work in progress regardless of who is occupying the hot seat in New Delhi. The Pulwama attack is only a reiteration of the fact that Kashmir continues to be India’s Achilles’ heel in statecraft.
There is no doubt that the Pakistan Army is waging a hybrid war to avenge its rout in the 1971 war against India and terrorism in Kashmir is part of it. Peter Chalk and Christine Fair have quoted Hamid Gul, the former director-general of the ISI, in their December 2002 article, “Lashkar e Tayyiba leads the Kashmir insurgency” in Jane’s Defence Review, as saying:
“We have gained a lot because of our offensive in Kashmir. This is a psychological and political offensive that is designed to make India bleed through a thousand cuts.”
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has the blessing of the Pakistan Army, which gives it enormous clout in shaping the country’s India policy more than ever before. So it is doubtful whether international pressure could influence Pakistan to give up its strategic option to use the Kashmir insurgency to bleed India.
So we need to clean up our own act and evolve a holistic strategy beyond the vague and sketchy Kashmir narrative that swings between cosmetic solutions based on political opportunism and expediency and a combat narrative in fits and starts. Unfortunately, the political narrative goes into periodic hibernation, while the combat narrative is largely reactive to the Pakistan Deep State’s actions using terrorism to further its strategy to bleed India.
Kashmir politicians have never been serious about doing their bit politically to counter terrorist propaganda. They have always disowned responsibility for the situation in the state.
Typical was the reaction of National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah to the Pulwama attack. He said the common people have no role in the attack. “Such attacks will continue and will not come down till the Kashmir issue is resolved politically. Please don’t beat us. We have no role in it (attack) and we are not with it (terrorism). We want to live with dignity, study and earn our two meals and do not wish to build castles.”
National political consensus is essential for evolving a holistic Kashmir strategy. In a welcome move after the Pulwama attack, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh called for an all-party meeting to discuss the follow-up action.
Political parties of almost all hues, including the irrepressible Congress president, Rahul Gandhi, curbed their temptation to score brownie points against the Modi government and attended the meeting. They expressed solidarity with security forces fighting terrorism in Kashmir. It showed the potential to build a national consensus on Kashmir.
However, five days after the meeting, the Congress and the BJP seemed to be back in business and doing what they do best—name-calling, using the Pulwama tragedy. And as the country nears a general election, the Kashmir issue and the Pulwama attack will be buried under other bread and butter issues in pre-electoral oration by politicians.
In the meanwhile, rather than waiting for the mythical national consensus on Kashmir to emerge, a few urgent measures need to be taken.
First, create a counter narrative using social media to confront Kashmiri terrorists who are carrying out propaganda to attract and motivate youth to join them.
Secondly, take instant action against politicians and other people who glorify terrorists. The withdrawal of security for 18 Hurriyat leaders and 150 other politicians is a step in the right direction.
Lastly, allow the security forces to do their job without taking populist actions that block their work.
India should get ready for the long haul now.
—The writer is a military intelligence specialist on South Asia, associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the International Law and Strategic Studies Institute