In the deadliest attack on security forces in three years, eight CRPF personnel were killed and 21 others critically wounded when terrorists rained bullets on a bus carrying them in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district on Saturday.
This is the third terror strike in three weeks targeting security personnel and the deadliest after the June 24, 2013, attack on Army personnel at Hyderpora on the outskirts of Srinagar in which nine army personnel were gunned down. Claiming responsibility for the attack, the Lashkar-e-Taiba said it was carried out by a two-member fidayeen squad.
The Lashkar spokesman also warned of similar attacks in future. In response, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh implicitly pointed the figure at Pakistan, saying that India will not count bullets while retaliating if Pakistan fires first. "An attempt is being made by these terrorists and our neighbouring country to destabilise India,” Singh added, without naming Pakistan.
“I call upon Indian youth to stand up to face such forces, and we should greet and welcome the bravery of our security people and the way they are working with such valour and courage.” Meanwhile, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said the attack on CRPF personnel was an attempt at “subverting peace” and the state’s efforts towards development.
"I am unable to understand how somebody can indulge in such shameful acts of bloodshed in the name of Islam, and that too in the holy month of Ramzan when people seek forgiveness and peace," Mehbooba said. There are two clear narratives that one can draw from this string of attacks against Indian security forces in the volatile state.
On one hand, some in the Pakistani establishment are unwilling to give up on the dream of keeping the Kashmir issue alive with the help of "non-state actors" - a euphemism for terrorists. The second narrative is rising public sympathy for militants/terrorists in Kashmir. This column will seek to explore both narratives.
Hussain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the US, has written extensively on Pakistan's double game. “The state is willing to crush jihadi groups that engage in violence against Pakistani citizens and security personnel but has no qualms about the mobiliation of jihadis that target other countries, particularly India, Afghanistan, and even the United States,” he wrote in a recent column.
“The problem with this policy has been that jihadi groups do not make the distinctions made by the government and often collaborate with each other on the ground.” Last month, a senior minister in Pakistan’s Punjab province made a startling assertion along the same lines.
In an interview to BBC Urdu, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said the government cannot take legal action against militant groups like Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) as the “state itself remained involved” with them. In his explosive new book, Husain Haqqani reveals that an ex-chief of their spy agency had admitted to the involvement of “some retired Pakistani Army officers" in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack.
Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha, who then headed Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agency, made the admission to his CIA counterpart, Gen. Michael Hayden at a meeting in Washington in December 2008, according to Haqqani’s new book. This is not new to India, but merely another confirmation of long-held suspicions. The book follows Pakistani-American Lashkar-e-Taiba operative David Headley’s revelations in a Mumbai special court earlier this year on the 26/11 attacks.
Headley confessed that he was "handled" by senior officers in Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the ISI. He also confessed to having visited terror training camps in Pakistan, during the course of which he met and interacted with LeT commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Jamaat-Ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed.
Despite these assertions, there isn’t much India can hope to achieve without concrete legal action against the accused and support from the international community. In the past decade, American officials have sought to pressure Pakistan into denying safe havens for insurgent groups involved in destabilising Afghanistan, especially the Taliban and its brutal offshoot, the Haqqani network.
But that has not created the requisite incentive for Pakistan to give up its terror apparatus, especially with China around the corner. Ever since Beijing decided to block UN sanctions against Pathankot attack mastermind Masood Azhar, there has been a growing feeling in New Delhi that China’s policies are driven by a malicious desire to undermine India’s security.
Although it may be true, one must understand the nuances of China’s policy. In a recent column, Praveen Swami, a leading Indian analyst on international and security issues, writes: "Although the world sees China as a fire-breathing dragon, its leaders know their power rests on pillars of the most fragile porcelain. The armies massing (ISIS) in West Asia, Beijing fears, could bring the roof down on their half-century-long effort to build a great power.
Facing a serious transnational terrorism threat, China’s security establishment finds itself under-resourced and ill-prepared. Its intelligence services don’t have the global reach of the US. Beijing, moreover, is sceptical of America’s expensive way of war. Instead, Beijing seeks to use regional clients like Pakistan to contain the threat.” It is a strategy fraught with risks.
On the local front, there is growing public sympathy for militants in Kashmir. And the most obvious indication of this is the massive crowds that gather at the funerals of militants. Earlier this year, thousands gathered for the funeral of Dawood Ahmad Sheikh, a Hizbul Mujahideen commander killed in a gunfight with the Indian armed forces.
Late last year, the funeral of Abu Qasim, a top LeT commander, also saw massive crowds and three districts were shut down for three days to protest his killing. This must concern Indian security agencies a great deal. Although the scale of militant violence isn’t anywhere as intense as it was in the 1990s, the death of eight CRPF personnel is yet another cruel reminder that the situation in Kashmir is far from normal.
Although terrorism and violence are a consequence of Pakistan’s proxy war, India cannot be under any illusion that it is the only obstacle standing in the way of a peaceful and secure Kashmir. The ruling BJP’s cynical politics inside and outside the state, which includes widespread minority bashing, is a cause for serious concern.
The party’s sectarian and communal endeavors in states like Uttar Pradesh are bound to find an unpleasant resonance in Kashmir. To think otherwise is naïve, at best. Of course, the poor state of governance in the region is another cause for serious concern.
The ruling PDP-BJP coalition government has thus far failed to convince the people of Jammu and Kashmir of its ability to bring the state back to normalcy, as the recent NIT Srinagar episode indicated. Ideological differences between the coalition partners have come to the fore on hot-button issues, with economic development left unattended.
Meanwhile, Mohan Guruswamy, a Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation think-tank, argues that New Delhi needs to take a step back in the region: “We need to implement policies that will strengthen the state government and give it a free hand in dealing with the discontent and violence. Central forces cannot behave like an occupation army but must be an instrument of the state government’s insurgency fighting effort.
Remember the law says that central forces can only be brought in to aid local authorities and act under their authority. Prime Minister Modi and Rajnath Singh must act decisively to improve the state government's position and power to tackle the insurgency. I would also restore the Unified Command headed by the Chief Minister to take charge of the effort to quell the militancy.
New Delhi must get out of its day-to-day micromanagement and constant undermining of a Constitutionally and popularly elected state government.”