1.Two days before Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s much hyped visit to Pakistan, at least 40 uniformed men were killed (sources attribute 49,including injured who later succumbed to death) when a suicide bomber rammed an explosive-laden SUV into the convoy of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Pulwama district of Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK). The convoy comprising of 78 vehicles and 2,500 CRPF personnel was heading from Srinagar to Jammu, a stretch of 276km. A road opening party was deployed in advance for security and the convoy had armored counter-terror vehicles. The attacker, a Kashmiri Fedayeen Adel Ahmad Dar rammed the vehicle from the wrong side of the highway at the bus carrying 39-44 passengers. This was the first suicide car bomb attack in Kashmir since the 2001 strike on the Legislative Assembly in which 41 people including three suicide attackers were killed. Within hours of the incident, in a familiar pattern of sabre rattling, India blamed Masood Azhar led Jaesh e Mohammad (JeM), for perpetrating the attack and threatened Pakistan with dire consequences.
2. Indian official version of the incident is paradoxical; it stated that JeM has claimed responsibility in a video and that 350 KG RDX explosive was used against the target. Later, Army and security agencies disputed the claim and voiced that between 60 to 100 KG of explosives were used. A day after the incident, after the Cabinet Committee on Security meeting under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India revoked Pakistan’s Most Favored Nation status, and vowed to internationally isolate Pakistan. India also announced to impose 200% duty on Pakistani goods, a measure likely to hurt India more as the volume of bilateral trade of $490 Million vs $2 Billion favors India. Prime Minister Modi termed the attack as despicable and asserted that the sacrifices of security personnel will not go in vain. He also announced a free hand to the Armed Forces to punish the masterminds of the suicide bombing. “How, when, where and who will punish the killers and their promoters will be decided by our forces”. Later, Home Minister Rajnath Singh claimed that the attack was sponsored and sheltered by Pakistan. He went on to state that “we will undertake whatever it takes to avenge this”. Indian Minister of Water Resources also announced that India has decided to stop its share of water that used to flow to Pakistan, a reiteration of earlier statement after the Uri incident in 2016, legally within the ambit of Indus Water Treaty but geographically untenable. As if it was not enough for Pakistan, a terrorist attack targeted 27 Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Sistan province. The Jaish e Adl, an Iranian- Baloch separatist group operating in the borders of Iran and Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack, provoking an angry statement from the Iranian government against the US and its proxies albeit, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
3. Pakistan on the same day denounced the act of terrorism according to its stated policy. It refuted Indian allegations and termed it as an Indian attempt to divert world attention from the excesses and grave violations of human rights in IoK. Prime Minister Imran Khan in a television speech on 19 February, responded to Indian threats by rejecting alleged connection of Pakistan in the Pulwama attack and asking for an evidence to corroborate involvement of Pakistan and to share any “actionable intelligence”. He also made an offer of talks to India on all issues, including terrorism. Prime Minister Khan issued a stern warning to India that any attack from their side will be retaliated in the same manner, “if you think that you will launch any kind of attack on Pakistan, Pakistan will not just think about retaliation, Pakistan will retaliate”. The National Security Committee of the Cabinet after its meeting on 21 February, chaired by Prime Minister also mandated the Armed Forces of Pakistan to suitably respond to any Indian aggression.
The Indian Narrative and Riposte
4. The Indian built narrative following the Pulwama attack stipulates, first, Adil Dar the attacker belonged to the Kashmir chapter of JeM led by Masood Azhar, who is based in Pakistan; therefore Pakistan is responsible for this attack. Second, Pakistan’s growing confidence after being recognized as the central player in on-going US sponsored Afghan peace talks has led it to up the ante in Kashmir. Third, Pakistan must be punished through some retaliatory action. Before analyzing the Indian logic, it may be imperative to examine some of the unexplained facets of the Pulwama attack. The incident occurred at 3.15pm near Awantipora on February 14, the convoy of CRPF had commenced its journey at 3.30am from Jammu, after being stranded there for many days due to inclement weather. Movement of convoys is only known to security establishment and besides deployment of road opening parties; it had armored vehicles for protection. Why then a head on vehicle from the wrong side of road allowed? How within 10 minutes, JeM attributed videos of the incident were uploaded on social media, with visibly dubbed voice, obvious editing and weapons shown were US M16 rifles with telescopic optic used by Nato forces in Afghanistan and not available in Pakistan or in the Valley? How without investigation it was known within few minutes that IED blast weighed 350 KG, was infiltrated from Pakistan and pictures and videos of attacker were uploaded on media? How the attacker passed through numerous security check posts established after every 10 KM in the most militarized zone of the world, especially as Dar was arrested by Indian Forces in September 2017 and was a category C militant according to Police record? (1) Two days before Pulwama incident, J&K Criminal Investigation Department had issued warning for a possible terrorist attack, (2) despite which such laxity in security, while there was also the option of airlift? It is also relevant to mention that the 40 CRPF employee initially killed in the incident were primarily from lower caste communities (3 Sikhs and 1 Muslim). Only 5 out of the total were from Hindu upper caste background (12.5%) (3), could this have been the reason for such show of apathy or to create frenzy against Muslims and Pakistan by hardliner Hindus? These are some of the predicaments related to the incident just two months prior to Indian Elections? A review of the incident will be followed by the analyses of the Indian logic, post incident.
5. Let’s examine the first Indian allegation that the attacker belonged to the Kashmiri chapter of JeM led by Pakistan based Masood Azhar, therefore Pakistan is responsible for the attack? Adil Ahmad Dar, the 22 years old bomber was a resident of Gundibagh village in Pulwama district, who was arrested, tortured by Indian security forces in September 2017 and according to his parents, left home on 19 March 2018, never to be seen again. (4) There can be two plausible explanations for his disappearance; either he was cultivated by Indian security agency or enrolled by JeM? It is a fact that JeM is based in Pakistan and has a sizeable following, but was proscribed in 2002. Its leader Masood Azhar is not alien to Indian security agencies. He was arrested in 1994 from IoK and remained in Indian captivity, long enough for him to be cultivated? In 1999 he was released as a quid pro quo to Indian highjacked aircraft with 49 passengers. He and JeM were linked by Indians to Parliament attack in 2001, on which India and Pakistan went to the brink of war and to Pathankot and Uri incidents. His footprints were also found in Christmas 2003 attack on President Musharraf. If the involvement of JeM in Pulwama incident is accepted, would this act have been committed by a non-state actor either at own accord or at behest of ‘Paymasters’ or the State of Pakistan? It is a well-known fact that JeM and Hafiz Saeed led Jamatud Dawa (JuD) have a very large following in IOK. India cannot turn a blind eye to the reality nor can divert world attention that there is an indigenous Freedom Struggle being waged in IOK. More than 700,000 Indian security forces have not been able to suppress this desire for freedom despite use of most brutal methods and atrocities. If nothing else, there cannot be a greater proof of hatred against India than the presence of more than 60,000 mourners at the funeral of Adil. According to India’s own media, the explosive used in the attack was 60 KG locally made Nitrate based, found in fertilizers. This amply proves that even if Pulwama is not a staged incident, it was launched by a local resident who may have been a member of JeM but certainly this does not prove involvement of Pakistan. Most refutable indicator is the issue of timings; would a state stage a clandestine operation in a neighboring country(s) with the potential to spoil the atmosphere, when there is a high level visit scheduled with promise of large investments?
6. The second accusation states that Pakistan’s growing confidence after being recognized as the central player in on going Afghan peace talks has led it to up the ante in Kashmir. There can be some truth in Indian assertion, though the conclusion is misplaced. Pakistan has been the major facilitator of bilateral talks between US and Taliban, leading to the pronouncement of withdrawal of the bulk of US forces from Afghanistan. Pakistan’s efforts have been lauded by US President Donald Trump, paving way for cordiality in bilateral relations after many years of abrasion. The main message from President Trump’s interview on 19 February is that US is alarmed at tension between India and Pakistan and is continuously monitoring the situation. Pakistan’s full cooperation is vital for a peaceful settlement of Afghanistan issue and a face saving withdrawal of US forces before US presidential elections in 2020.Besides Afghanistan, pro-active foreign policy in the Middle East, breaking of thaw in relations with Russia and warmth in relations with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE has also elevated it as a power broker. Indian allegation of upping the ante in Kashmir by Pakistan does not stand vindicated as Pakistan has always made an offer of dialogue to India and believes that solution to Kashmir dispute is through a dialogue between India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir. The strategic initiative of opening of Kartarpur corridor has also elevated Pakistan’s stature internationally and a manifestation for its desire for peaceful co-existence. It is therefore evident that hollow Indian threat of internationally isolating Pakistan is not likely to materialize.
7. The third Indian threat of reprisal against Pakistan also needs to be viewed in a context. After every incident, India has retorted in kinetic form, on the escalatory ladder, from cross border Artillery duels to air targeting to surgical strikes, threat of war or a covert terrorist attack inside Pakistan. These have neither proved effective nor have prevented reoccurrence of similar incidents. Any action initiated has its own dynamics and the level of escalation and the termination is beyond the control of the initiator. A government engaged in election campaign can ill-afford to initiate a prolonged conflict, detrimental to its prospects of re-elections. As a face saving grace heralded by media blitz, India is likely to ‘fake’ a response similar to Uri surgical strike. At the diplomatic plane India will make concerted efforts to portray Pakistan as a terror sponsoring state, influence FATF to declare Pakistan as “Black” and use its influence to block IMF loan to Pakistan. It could also renew its efforts to declare Masood Azhar as an International Terrorist, a move which has previously been scuttled by China.
Who Could Benefit?
8. A review of host of factors related to Pulwama Attack leads to the synthesis of various possibilities. First, JeM masterminded this attack, executed by Adil Dar either with covert connivance of Pakistan or independently to regain the lost space in the valley and counter Al Qaeda and ISIS which had claimed responsibility for recent terrorist attacks in J&K. This could be plausible but the involvement of the state of Pakistan could not have been possible as the timings of the attack are most detrimental to its interests due to the visit of Prince MBS after 2 days, affect Pakistan’s stance on Kulbhushan case in ICJ, Pakistan’s defense in FATF and Pakistan assisted Afghan Peace process. Second, BJP through the deceit of Security Adviser, Ajit Doval staged the incident through JeM or by cultivating Dar to pave way for resurrection of hardliners and Modi . It defeats conscience that how can a state be involved in cold blooded murder of its citizens? There are many instances to prove other way in the murky waters of intelligence war. Even watershed event of 9/11 is looked at with skepticism and there are many books written to support this theory. Take the case of Samjhota Express, in which Pakistan was immediately blamed but later was discovered that a serving Indian Army officer, Colonel Prohit executed this.(6) Then there is Elias Davidsson’s famous book, Betrayal of India, which concluded about Mumbai Attack, “It is highly plausible, that major institutional actors in India, the US and possibly Israel, were complicit in conceiving, planning, directing and executing the attacks of 26/11; evidence of a deceptive investigation is even stronger.”(7).The prime suspect in Mumbai Attack, Ajmal Kasab, has been recently identified as a citizen of India. (8).Third, the attack was launched by Adil Dar either as a ‘lone wolf’ or in connivance with a Kashmiri group waging freedom struggle. The convoy of CRPF was stranded for 2 days in Jammu and their movement and destination were known to the locals. Dar was humiliated and tortured by Indian security forces and his house burnt, these heinous acts could be a strong motivation to take revenge. His residence was barely 10 KM away from the scene of attack; the configuration of the explosive used in the attack was also detected to be local. The fight for freedom, kindled by Burhan Wani and many others has imbibed, amongst the Kashmiris, the spirit of sacrifice never seen before. All this at a time when since inception, BJP government has unleashed a torrent of brutalities and intimidation. The political dispensation has also not functioned and after dismantling of coalition government led by Mehbooba Mufti, BJP has first imposed Governor’s Rule and later Presidential Rule controlled by the Center. Fourth, the incident was masterminded by a state or states with common interests to heat up the sub-continent to a brink of war. This theory is given credence by the fact that suicide attack of 13 February on Iranian Revolutionary Guards was also launched in synchronization with Pulwama attack casting Pakistan in negative perception on both counts. The objectives could have been to pressurize Pakistan to follow dictates in Afghanistan, create dissension between Iran-India and Pakistan and to accrue concessions. The various possibilities have been listed without validating the most likely and I leave it to the judgement of the reader to draw own conclusions.
The Factor of Indian Elections
9. A review of Pulwama incident leads logically to the most important near-term event in India which could be significantly affected by the attack and the ensuing events. The Indian general elections are scheduled from April to May 2019. In seven of the eight state elections in 2018, Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) was in direct contest with the Indian National Congress (INC).Also, the elections results in the states of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana are considered a barometer of the pulse of the public before the general elections. In first four states, INC has formed government, replacing BJP in three states, while in last two states, regional parties have come into power. Rahul Gandhi aggressively attacked Narendra Modi, levelling allegations of corruption in the Rafael aircrafts deal and crony capitalism against the BJP talisman and raising larger issues of farm crisis and joblessness on him. The loss of key party-ruled states in Hindu heartland has dimmed the aura of invincibility of saffron juggernaut. To stem the tide BJP leadership of its President Amit Shah and Narendra Modi have to do something fast and real! The major electioneering slogan for the BJP party has been, ‘Ajay Bharat, Atal BJP'(5), meaning an India which is victorious and cannot be subjugated by anyone and a party which is committed to its principles and core values. Anti- Muslims, anti-Pakistan rhetoric and projection of its Foreign Policy achievements, diplomatic isolation of Pakistan, more than 7% economic growth and employment opportunities also figure prominently in BJP election campaign .Pulwama incident with dubious credibility, could be just the right remedy for reviving populist support for BJP? The attack in Pulwama spawned a nationalistic fervor rarely seen in India since 1999 Kargil conflict. In the aftermath, residents of metropolitan cities across India have held vociferous protest marches, Kashmiris all over India are being intimidated and denied jobs, and media has been mulling possible methods of punishing Pakistan. The craving for a revenge is visible all over India.
10. The Hindutva nationalism of the urban middle class is largely fronted by right wing groups who conveniently exploit the sacrifices of down trodden. Hindu nationalism subsumes the story of caste and class because of the role it plays in politics. BJP is aware that low caste Hindus, Dalits(166 Million), Adivasi (104 Million) and other scheduled castes are not inclined to it. A deliberately crafted hyper nationalism help combine people across class, caste and religion. Ever since installation of present government under Narendra Modi, in May 2014, there has been a visible rise of populism and anti- Muslim cum Pakistan sentiments amongst Indian populace. Post Mumbai attack; there was a heightened tension between the two nuclear neighbors under Congress government but not a belligerent public . On the contrary, after Pathankot and Uri incidents in 2016, and 2017 respectively, there was a visible surge of animosity against Pakistan, orchestrated by hard line Hindus. The confrontational stance of BJP government can be measured from the fact that despite numerous terrorist attacks in Pakistan with Indian and Afghan linkages ( later even confessed by serving Indian Naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav), it has never stirred public opinion for a war with India. Pulwama incident could become a conduit to galvanize national fervor. The incident is also being used as a pretext by BJP government to refer the case of demographic status of IoK under Article 35 A of the Constitution to the Supreme Court to appease Hindu hardliners and to seek credit before elections. All these attribute the main beneficiary of Pulwama incident as the BJP government, an opinion increasingly being voiced by Indian intelligentsia, media,politicians and even general public.
11. The Attacker of CRPF convoy at Pulwama was a local Kashmiri, alienated due to torture and insult to him,his parents and heavy handed security tactics by Indian Security forces which was the prime motivator for this extreme act. Instead of an introspection of its tone-deaf Kashmir policy, that have galvanized Kashmiris today, Modi government has always cast blame on Pakistan as perpetrators. The timings of Pulwama incident were most detrimental to Pakistan due to high profile visit of Saudi Crown Prince, defense of its cases in FATF,ICJ and central role in facilitating US-Taliban peace talks. Even if assumed that JeM has facilitated this act, how does it imply the connivance of the State with a banned organization whose past and present acts have favored India more than Pakistan and which was involved in an assassination attempt against its own President?
12. Pakistan itself has been the prime victim of the scourge of terrorism and since 9/11 has suffered more than 64000 deaths and US $ 104 Billion in economic losses. In comparison, according to figures released by the Government of India, their toll due to terrorist acts, from 2005 to 2016 has been 707 dead and 3200 injured. (9) Despite these stark differences, India has always tried to gain international sympathy for its sufferings. To blame Pakistan for the act of terrorism which it has always denounced in all forms and manifestations, is to divert the world attention from indigenous freedom struggle being fought in IoK, by now third generation of Kashmiris .
13. India has the history of blaming the state of Pakistan for any terrorist act on its territory, without even conducting investigation and drumming up war hysteria. On the other hand Pakistan has demonstrated maturity in numerous terrorist attacks against it military assets, like
P-3(Orion), AWAC and against its citizens and schools with a definite Indian and other foreign linkages. Actions initiated have its own inertia and could be difficult to retract! The assigned mandate by Modi to its Armed Forces,to select the nature, time and place of the retaliation is bound to be responded by the services due to posterity and could lead to an escalation ladder which BJP government may find difficult to control and also the political cost of losing the coming elections.
14. Instead of addressing the symptoms and turning a blind eye to the realities in Kashmir, India ought to address the root cause of uprising by Kashmiris and the existence of ‘Jihadi’ organizations in IoK and Pakistan, by a structured dialogue with Pakistan and representatives of Kashmiris.
15.The forthcoming Indian Elections and the dismal performance of BJP in key states in Nov-Dec 2018, puts a strain on Modi to retort against Pakistan which could re kindle the sense of populism prior to ‘Lok Sabha’ elections. An operation similar to Uri but more in magnitude (as Pulwama incident was twice as deadly) may be in the offing? The reported Indian build up in Kashmir valley could be an indicator as India want to ensure superior ratio to guarantee success and then be able to absorb the quid pro quo elsewhere. Pakistan’s growing international clout and its relevance as a peace broker in Afghanistan and Middle East could be both a deterring and limiting factor for India in its quest for revenge.
(1)The Mumbai Mirror, Feb17,2019
(2)Outlook, 15 February 2019
(3)Article published in prestigious Indian Magzine, The Caravan by Ajaz Ashraf a Dehli based journalist on 21 February 2019.
(4)India Today, Feb 15,2019
(5)Economic Times of India,10 September,2017
(7)The Betrayal of India: Revisiting 26/11 by Elias Davidsson
(8) Aajj News India, November 21,2018
(9)Statistics of Terrorist Attacks in India from 2005 to 2016 released by Govt of India(Times of India, Mumbai, july,16, 2016