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Standing vigilant

Anniversary of Pulwama attacks must be an occasion to assess India's holistic security with regards to the continuing threats from the Pakistani establishment

Standing vigilant

February 14, 2020, marks the first anniversary of the infamous Pulwama terror attacks, one of the worst assaults on the Indian security establishment. Sadly, more than forty members of the coveted Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were martyred in this terror strike, jolting the Indo-Pak relations which are still struggling to come back on rails after severe impairment.

It's not pleasant to remember the moment when 78 vehicle convoy belonging to the 76th battalion of the CRPF was devastatingly hit by suicide bombing using a vehicle at Pulwama close to Lethpura, near Avantipur.

Preliminary enquiries revealed that a local, Adil Ahmad Dar, was used by the JeM to engineer the suicide bombing. He was perhaps a mere pawn in the hands of the notorious handlers of the ISI who have been training, arming and guiding the terrorists in J&K for subversive activities.

In the wake of Pakistan masterminding Pulwama attacks and hurting India's pride, it saw a furious retaliation in terms of an airstrike in Balakote, deep inside Pakistan, hitting JeM hideouts and bringing the two countries to the brink of war.

It would be worth recapitulating that Pakistan security agencies have intensified terror activities in J&K, especially after the killing of the terrorist Burhan Wani in July 2016. That said, it doesn't imply that Pakistan was quiet in fomenting terror before that. Strikes in Uri, Pathankot and intermittent terror attacks now and then, was routine handiwork despite extra vigilance and alertness exercised by the Indian anti-terror forces. A proxy war on a full scale, backed by systematic psychological propaganda and incessant radicalisation continued in full fury. It is important to now examine in the light of a holistic picture what all the Pakistan cantonment has been planning as it draws up fresh blueprints to hit vital targets in J&K.

If there has been a relative lull, it could be seen as tactical on part of Pakistan as Indian security agencies are stepping up their initiative with preventive intelligence to foil Pakistani plans post-Pulwama. Also, Indian diplomacy in the last year saw an all-round robust approach in pushing Pakistan against the wall in an apparent bid to force it into a state of international isolation. This was further compounded by the pressure mounted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) which probably had the desired impact, if only for some time. Many analysts of repute have described Pakistan's steps to comply with the FATF as cosmetic in nature. Pakistan embarked on a counter diplomatic offensive by seeking support from Islamic countries and China to dilute the FATF restrictions imposed to facilitate Pakistan's exit from the grey list and also to ensure that it doesn't reach the red zone.

Crucially, in a few days from now, the FATF review is on the cards. If Pakistan is not further indicted, it would be seen as a major diplomatic triumph, further emboldening it to realign terror groups with a fresh road map to spark trouble in Kashmir. In that eventuality, it would have no inhibitions nor hesitations in using the religious card to try and exploit the Kashmiri youth to its operational advantage. Such moves must be neutralised at the conceptual stage and to achieve this, intelligence data of very high-quality is required. Ad interim, it is critical to watch Pakistan rather closely, to keep monitoring its terror-related activities.

Coincidentally, the post-Pulwama attacks saw a devastating terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand the month after, taking a huge toll on innocent

lives. A month later, the world witnessed the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka,

killing more than 200. The island nation is yet to recover from this gruesome incident. The major revelation in these happenings was a new Islamic outfit coming to light, originating from North-Eastern Sri Lanka which was suspected of carrying out such strikes. There was also reported evidence of this newly known outfit's linkages to the southern parts of India. Experts are yet to confirm or deny if the Sri Lankan bombings have any connection to the Pulwama terror bombings set apart by barely two months.

As the world remains afflicted with a string of terror attacks, cutting across continents and taking lives at regular intervals in Niger, Burkina Faso, Somalia, Nigeria, Mauritania, Yemen, Afghanistan and many more countries, it would be naive to imagine that the world would be free from the fear of terror after the killing of ISIS head Baghdadi or the more recent killing of Al Rumi of Al Qaeda Arab Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen.

Prime Minister Imran Khan's body language after his most recent meeting with his Malaysian counterpart, Mahathir Mohammad looks belligerent. The same could be said of his high profile meeting with President Trump at Davos. Pakistan delegation's return from Beijing after holding the FATF related talks has raised some hopes and on the whole, there is some deceptive perception that all is hunky-dory. Still, such traces of belligerence do not merit to be ignored. The new status of J&K, repeal of Article 370 and incarceration of pro-Pakistani elements continue to prick the Pakistani intelligence establishment which would like to resort to more offensives in J&K at the opportune moment.

In a related India bashing development, a retired Lt General of the Pakistani army, Khalid Kidwai (former Director-General of Strategic Plans division), while speaking at a workshop at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) in London warned that India should not take Pakistan's nuclear capabilities lightly.

He further cautioned that Pakistan had the right to exercise all options to protect its territorial and ideological interests in a war-like situation and further said that the Indians shouldn't take nuclear prowess as a bluff. Khalid's rhetoric was full of aggressive tenor and seems to have had the state backing too. The timing of his speech at the workshop titled "South Asia Strategic Stability" is also worth noting.

Judging by the variety of developments in Pakistan, there doesn't seem to be any let-up in its attempts to hurt India interests by clandestine means, in desperation. Utmost caution, therefore, appears necessary as we observe the anniversary of the Pulwama attacks.

The writer is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst and a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Views expressed are strictly personal

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