The manner in which the Pulwama attack was carried out on February 14 has grown quite common in recent years, but in Kashmir this is the first of its kind. Suicide attacks of any kind by the Kashmiri resistance have been extremely rare. The vehicle used in the attack must have been prepared in or around Pulwama because Indian army footprint is so vast that it would have been impossible to carry the explosives from afar, let alone from across the Line of Control that is barricaded by latest gadgetry, including electric charge, and the ever ready military personnel.
As investigations into the Pulwama attack begin, Pakistan must act against the Jaish
As India mourns the death of 40 CRPF personnel in Thursday’s terrorist strike in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district, it is clear that the attack was meant to provoke. The Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Pakistan-based terrorist organization which has orchestrated numerous strikes in the Kashmir Valley, has taken responsibility for what is now the highest toll of security forces in any attack in the State. Investigations should yield a better picture, but it is a matter of extreme concern that a suicide bomber could time his attack to hit a security convoy. There is no question that Pakistan bears the onus to explain why Masood Azhar, the leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, enjoys such freedoms on its territory, if not outright support from the establishment. Certainly, diplomatic backing by Pakistan and China has been crucial in defeating efforts at the United Nations to put Azhar on the list of banned terrorists. Early details indicate that a sports utility vehicle laden with a huge quantity of explosives targeted the convoy of 78 buses carrying about 2,500 soldiers from Jammu to Kashmir.
The video of the presumed suicide bomber too hints at an altered standard operating procedure meant to provoke and escalate tensions. Forensics teams have already begun work and answers to the disturbing questions the attack has raised on intelligence gathering, dissemination and coordination in the Valley must be pieced together. However, if the terrorists have acted from an updated playbook, New Delhi’s response must not play into their plans with reflexive and precipitate official action. India has withdrawn the Most Favored Nation status to Pakistan in a signal that it will not wait for preliminaries in the effort to isolate Pakistan. Coercive diplomacy is likely to continue, but to be effective the effort needs a wider net, especially at a time when the U.S. is seeking Pakistan’s help in firming up a deal with the Afghan Taliban. Beijing too must not, and cannot, evade questions about its previous blocking of action at the UN, specifically against Azhar. Post-Uri, after terrorist attacks the air is always thick with calls for retributive cross-border strikes. The past history of limited, if any, returns from such precipitate action must serve as a cautionary check. Instead, the effort must be to isolate Pakistan for its support to the Jaish and seek substantive action, to effectively upgrade intelligence and plug security gaps, and to win the confidence of the local population in the Valley. Thursday’s attack was meant to provoke and polarize the country. New Delhi’s response must, instead, be to isolate the perpetrators and keep the peace on Indian territory.
The use of raw military force is no answer, and what better to illustrate this than the American misadventure in Afghanistan, the longest war in its history. The Indian leadership would have to sit down with Pakistan and the Kashmiris, rather than taking the easy and lazy route of murdering people who are demanding their political rights.
At the moment, Pakistan has a very clear and strong stand on militancy and militant groups. Even in the case of Afghan Taliban, it is showing little tolerance. This, as Pakistan’s principal position, is being widely acknowledged even by the Americans. Pakistan’s role in convincing the Taliban to sit down with Americans and work for peace in Afghanistan is now largely appreciated. My interactions with various people afford me a strong understanding that there’s no appetite for militant groups, and there seems to be a consensus on this between the civilian and military leadership. The army chief has been openly advocating for an urgent need to get out of this syndrome and that violence is not the solution for resolving any disputes.
Under these circumstances the theatre inside Kashmir is of significance. The way pressure is being used by the Indian military in Kashmir is quite noticeable. Because the movement of resistance militants in winters becomes very restricted, it is very easy for the military to cordon them off and take action against them. And we have seen the rising fatalities of the Kashmiri resistance fighters in the last two months – more than 20 top leaders have been killed. In this backdrop the suicide attack is a sign of desperation among Kashmiri youth who are watching the violent deaths of their comrades on a daily basis.
From Pakistani point of view, the timing is potentially detrimental to its interests. At a time when Islamabad is trying hard to get out of the US-nursed Afghan quagmire which has been the prime source of instability in the region, such an attack is designed to shift Islamabad’s focus. It is no secret that India is deeply unhappy at the current shape of events in Afghanistan and has indicated its desire to frustrate the peace process. In addition, Pakistan was getting ready to welcome the Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman when the attack happened. The landmark visit is coming at a time when the new government is trying hard to bring foreign investment to deliver on its promises of economic stability, development and job creation.
The need of the hour for India and Pakistan is to reach a strategic understanding for permanent peace in South Asia. Pakistan’s military leadership that took over in November 2016 has openly and consistently called for peace and dialogue with India. Sadly, New Delhi has not just dismissed such overtures but Prime Minister Narendra Modi has maintained a gung-ho approach in line with his domestic anti-Pakistan rhetoric with an eye on elections. The motivation to use the incidents like the Pulwama attacks for revving up domestic support becomes greater now that the national elections in India are only a couple of months away. The Modi government might be tempted to further vitiate the atmosphere, but that would be extremely unwise. The two countries need cool heads to diffuse any untoward situation. In the long term we need wisdom and courage to solve the Kashmir problem to the satisfaction of the principal party to the dispute – Kashmiris.
The views expressed in this article and the insert editorial do not necessarily represent those of the ViewsWeek.