Two Year of Pulwama Attack : Hate on the Day of Love
As the nation commemorates the second anniversary of Pulwama Attacks Police restrains Mehbooba Mufti's visit to South Kashmir, as it could disturb the law & order situation
Today is 14th February, a day celebrated across the World as “Day of Love”, India will re-live the pains of the 2nd anniversary of an attack which left 40 of its bravehearts dead and many mourners in its wake.
A day when Hate trounced Love, a culmination to decades long hate, one which will further increase hate mongering in the years and decades to come. Will Love make a comeback in India, especially Kashmir or will it be overshadowed by Hate and Death? Only time will tell and How Indians will reflect, react and reassess these emotions.
It was the Valentine’s Day of 2019, when a local suicide attack in Lethpora near Awantipora rammed his explosive-laden car and killed 40 Indian Paramilitary Jawans in Kashmir. Jaish-e-Mohammed, a terrorist outfit, claimed responsibility of this attack on a convoy which was travelling on the Srinagar-Jammu Highway.
The NIA has submitted its 13,000 page chargesheet in a Jammu Court in late August of 2020 more than 1 and half years after the incident. The NIA has named 19 in the Case including JeM Chief Masood Azhar, 6 of whom are now dead in various encounters. It unveils the fact that the plan had started taking shape since 2016. The Car was packed with two IEDs weighing around 200 kgs, including 35 kgs of RDX supposed to have been brought in 3 tranches across the border over a 3 month period in early 2018.
Umar Farooq, the mastermind of the attack and Azhar’s nephew, later neutralised on March 29th 2019 and is amongst the 7 Pakistani Nationals named in the case. Apart from Farooq, there were 2 locals Sameer Dar and Adil Ahmad Dar (Suicide Bomber) and 3 Pakistanis Mohd Kamran, Mohd Ismail (alias Saifulah) in his team which planned and prepared for the attack. Shakir Bashir, Insha Jan, Peer Tariq Ahmad Shah and Bilal Ahmad Kuchey, provided logistics and harboured the JeM terrorists in their houses.
The NIA stated that it received information from the foreign law enforcement agencies to crack the case.
Last year on the occasion of the 1st anniversary of the gory incident, Rahul Gandhi of Congress had questioned the government on the delay in justice to the slain soldiers and had implied that BJP – the ruling party had used the incident for political gains.
After nearly 15 days of the incident in Pulwama, Indian fighter planes went inside Pakistan and bombed one of jihadi training base deep in Pakistan. Pakistan retaliated back, bombing near LoC. In subsequent dog fight, India lost a fighter plane and pilot was captured. Thankfully due to intense diplomatic effects of Saudi Arabia and other world powers impending nuclear war was averted.
Background of Hate
The militancy in Kashmir can be traced back to late 1980’s. After several years of dreadful violence, the fight against militancy in Kashmir seemed ultimately to end soon. A record low, the number of militants had been reduced to about 50 odd in 2014, when compared to several thousands in 90’s. This can be attributed to several factors like strong anti-infiltration grid built near LoC, India-Pakistan peace process between 2004–2013, Pakistan’s precarious economic conditions & its fight against terrorism inside its own country.
When the new government came in 2014, there were high hopes that India-Pakistan peace process will proceed further ahead and the violence in Kashmir will cease completely just like in Punjab. But India-Pakistan relations started to get sour again, which also affected the Kashmir valley. Beef lynchings and other anti-Muslim actions in the country had its own effect as well. It triggered big protests and shutdowns in valley. Hate preached online
Anger inside once less militancy prone area of south Kashmir (Pulwama, Kulgam, Shopian) started to rise from 2015. Militancy which had waned in 2014, now resurged and evolved via online radicalization. Militants who once masked their face, started to show their faces via videos with more fiery speech. In the new social media driven era, these videos eased communication gaps between local youths and spread like wildfire. Every militant funeral in south Kashmir attracted thousands of villagers and in turn became fertile recruitment ground for future militants. Words like martyrdom, images of new militants holding guns and their lifeless bodies after death created new narrative. The groundswell of militancy support increased with increasing number of local militants and resultant encounters.
This social media driven radicalization started in 2015 with infamous Burhan Wani gang. Within a year Burhan Wani was killed, but seeds sown by him was successful in methodical progression of militancy. His videos created unprecedented number of followers and his death sparked major unrest inside valley. It took nearly 10 months for Kashmir to return to normalcy. This in turn increased the presence of Army were removed previously as part of demilitarization.
Hate helped in Jaish revival, Changed 2017 & Operation Allout
In Kashmir militancy, Jaish-e-Mohammed, the most dreadful terrorist organization focussing on India made another entry due to the fertile groundswell. Jaish has been at the forefront of many major terror attacks in India including the Parliament attack, RedFort attack, Akshardham temple attack. By 2014, Jaish in Kashmir valley had virtually become defunct. In the aftermath of the Burhan Wani’s death a blue print of Jaish’s revival in south Kashmir was planned. Old militants like Noor Mohammad Tantray who were once sentenced and were resuming normal life were recycled. Through amplified radical indoctrinations, Noor built a factory of suicide bombers. He was a part of planning unit for both the 2017 Pulwama police lines attack and the Srinagar airport attack.
Security scenario in south kashmir completely changed and 2017 saw the worst come true. Once dark, locals in South Kashmir were afraid to venture out of their houses in anticipation of violence and encounters. Daily encounters, killings increased manifold and this became fodder for social media & posters. Local police officers and army jawans were abducted from their homes and killed to instill fear among locals not to join security forces. In an ongoing struggle for one-upmanship Lt Ummar Fayaz’s abduction and killing made the Central Government to call for “Operation Allout”- an aggressive approach in dealing with militants in spring of 2017. Cordon and Search Operations (CASO) & flush outs, which were once abandoned in 2003, were reintroduced in south Kashmir.
Many militants were ruthlessly neutralised initially. But this created a fear-psychosis which further pushed the local youths to militancy. After an initial dip it opened a floodgate with students joining in droves. Even professors and doctorate students joined the ranks.
Crowds Disruption — Love for those hated by Army
By the time some positive results had started to come for the armed forces, a new trend started during encounters and CASO’s in late 2017. Massive crowds which often showed their presence only during militant funerals, started to move dangerously close to action sites. Some amongst the crowd even started stone pelting. These disruptions in some cases even helped the militants escape. To add salt and to eulogise those who helped videos showing these dramatic escapes went viral. Villagers who helped would often pride themselves. Security forces despite having advantage of aerial surveillance (using drones, choppers) & tight deployment, were not able to stop these escapes. This worrying trend made many A+ grade militants, escape from security dragnet for quite long time.
Crowd mobilization would happen through whatsapp groups, announcements via community halls and by word of mouth. Details of Security forces movement were passed and shared among these groups, effectively mobilizing big crowds, who would pelt stones and the militants to flee. Some of these so called “saviours” would travel several miles to save the militants. This was increasingly becoming a nuisance for the forces and they resorted to suspension of internet services in the specified areas to decrease the crowd control activity.
Whatsapp groups which were used to mobilize stone pelters were shutdown. Group admin were coerced or cajoled into submission by the police. In addition CRPF was deployed for enforcing law and order situation at such sites. These measures yielded positive results. Though they couldn’t completely stop the crowd mobilizations and subsequent militants escape, they drastically reduced the militants escape success rate.
Love snuffed out – in wake of Operation All Out
Heavy human toll was seen as the Operation AllOut progressed – around 300 militants were killed, mostly locals including top commanders, Local civilians mostly youth who died were around 140, hundreds if not thousands either blinded or injured and nearly 250 security forces personnel were also lost. A correspondingly high losses of buildings and homes also happened since heavy mortar and explosives were used.
In this period, significant number of political workers and alleged informers were tortured and killed by militants. This also enhanced military concentration in the area. Many new security installations were created, at some areas a mere five kms separating them. Human Rights and Privacy was routinely breached, and people of all ages were frisked during these CASO’s. This was the background which created and sustain the Jaish activities in the area and this ultimately helped them in planning and executing the Pulwama Attack, the biggest peace time attack against the security forces in the country.
Conspiracy theories & Intelligence failure – a Love Hate relationship
After the Pulwama attack, government was heavily criticized for the failure in intelligence gathering. Security forces explanation that the suicide bomber was grade C militant could not get much support. Grade A,A+ militants are higher priority and operations are planned on them. Intelligence networks heavily tracks these militants to neutralize. Likewise, Intelligence networks are more concerned about decapitating the leadership. Grade C militants are generally fresh recruits, many are few days/months old. To escape from the intelligence radar, JeM targeted these grade C militants with heavy radicalization and preparations for suicide bombing operations. One among them is Adil Ahmad Dar. But this has not really been accepted by many – since the fallout has been that of a particular party making the most political mileage out of it.
One of the mystery is how such large quantity of RDX could have been smuggled through the border, keeping the military, CRPF, BSF, police, and intelligence agencies entirely in the dark. This and many other questions are still to be answered. They have always pointed out that either there was a laxity across the board or ill intentions in the Intelligence Failure.
Yet another question which rakes up its head time and again is the role of suspended DSP of J&K Davinder Singh’s role in Pulwama attack. Opposition leaders have regularly accused him and have in an oblique manner targeted the government over his role and the support he enjoyed. Even when caught with terrorists while travelling to Delhi has not made him a persona non-grata – this has created a environment of mistrust against the ruling dispensation in many.
Another major dissatisfaction and an indication that it was something that either the government let happen or had a role to play for later actions - was the Prime Minister Modi alleged continuation with his shooting at the Jim Corbett Park with the Discovery Channel. The Opposition alleges this could have happened only if there was prior knowledge of the actions.
The Aftereffects of Pulwama Attack – no Love Lost
India’s main security focus has rightly remained on Chinese moves from mid-2020 along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh. A consequence of this development is the recession of the Pakistani threat in the people’s minds. This is reflected in media reports and discussions too.
The second ‘anniversary’ gives us an opportunity to reflect upon the Indian response to that attack which marks a watershed in India’s approach to terrorism. It also sent a very significant strategic signal to the international community.
‘Balakot Air Strike’: Love Thy Neighbour has got a new connotation The Indian response to the Pulwama attack through the Balakot air strikes conclusively changed the dynamics of Indian responses. The surgical strikes showed a resolve to take armed action in response to unacceptable attacks. The Balakot attack did not give them an option of not engaging. It had to therefore respond and the aerial combat that occurred after the Balakot strike drew in the world’s powers to defuse the situation.
The international intervention that took place succeeded quickly because of intense pressure to release Wing Commander Abhinandan. Revelations by their politicians also reveal that both the generals and the government were intensely alarmed at the prospect of a war.
The clear takeaway from these developments is that India must now ensure that the international community is left in no doubt that India will forcefully but creatively use its armed might to respond to any unacceptable terrorist attack. More than that, the international community must also be reminded of the doctrine of pre-emption that India had announced after the Balakot strike. That made it clear that if India in a wake of an unacceptable attack would act and draw blood.
The object has to be for the international community to put the pressure on those who use terror as part of its security doctrine. The major powers should not seek Indian understanding and restraint as was the case before the Balakot strike. Unfortunately, neither the government nor the Indian security community has paid enough attention to project its pre-emption doctrine, more so in its conflicts across the LAC or even with Nepal.
India has never accepted third party intervention in its issues. It is clear ever since the Shimla Agreement of 1972 that all bilateral issues, including that of J&K, have to be resolved bilaterally, with either Pakistan or its other neighbouring countries.
Since 2016, the Modi government has also made it clear that a resumption of India-Pakistan dialogue can only take place when Pakistan refrains terrorists using its land against India. The international community knows India’s position and despite occasional offers such as were made by former ex US president Donald Trump has never tried to mediate.
International Interventions – Love All
Behind-the-scenes international interventions seen in the aftermath of the Pulwama terrorist attack and the Balakot strike do not erode India’s position of a refusal to accept mediation to resolve bilateral issues. These interventions fall in a different category and it was crisis diffusion. This does not and should not cause India any diplomatic discomfort.
This is also a good opportunity to briefly consider Pakistani approaches towards India in the past two years. Clearly, the establishment there had hoped that Modi would seek to make positive moves in India-Pakistan relations after his 2019 election victory. However, the Pakistani establishment was completely shocked by the constitutional changes in J&K in August 2019, as was most of the World including China. This subsequently took the form of China flexing its muscles on the LAC and its resultant tensions.
Instead of taking the rational position that they did not detract from Pakistan’s traditional stand on the issue, it went overboard in launching an all-out campaign against India. It demanded that they be reversed. Besides, it condemned the administrative steps including the detentions and the curfews and the communications blockade taken in the wake of the constitutional changes.
Pakistan met with total disappointment on the issue of the constitutional changes. Barring China and a few Islamic countries, the international community, including major Muslim countries, virtually took the changes to be within India’s domestic sphere. There was, however, concern at the administrative steps and quietly the major powers did urge that the situation be normalised as soon as possible. While this need not have worried India, the fact is that international liberal opinion was deeply concerned at the detentions and the communications black out. But with Biden in the seat in US, India will need to calibrate its steps to perfection. The new administration has many Kashmir backers and this might not be all that easy as in the Trump era.
Reducing ‘Diplomatic Ties’ With India Only Affected Pakistan – Hate begets Hate
To show its anger on India’s J&K move, Pakistan downgraded diplomatic ties and also sought to curtail the limited trade that existed between the two countries. These have hardly been of any consequence to India. Pakistan’s major effort in the past six months has been to show that India sponsors terror in Pakistan.
In a widely publicised media conference in November 2020, Pakistan foreign minister and the army spokesman sought to project audio recordings and bank transactions as evidence of India’s state terrorism in Pakistan. There is unlikely though to be great pressure on terrorism on Pakistan for its role in extricating the US from the Afghan mess is vital. What will be expected is that it ensures that it does not precipitate a crisis with India.
This is not always possible as seen in the Pulwama attack and the events that followed; it must always be vigilant on Pakistani terrorism. Hence, India must maintain its current policy of insisting on Pakistan abandoning a soft stance on the terrorist organisation operating from its boundaries before any dialogue process can begin even if the Biden administration encourages the Modi government to start talking to Pakistan.
Some Vital Takeaways – Love triumphs and Hate will need to end
Pulwama suicide attack was not first suicide attack in Kashmir. In 2001,a 16 year old boy belonging to jaish drove a car, full of explosives into Kashmir legislative assembly complex. Bombing killed 38 people including civilians and security forces. This returning of the suicide bombing to Kashmir even though after 18 years needs an in-Depth analysis to understand what made the suicide bombing to vanish and reappear.
There was peace process between India & Pakistan. Once it started to dry up, Militant violence and disturbance across LoC started to increase by leaps and bounds. Ceasefire violations, Fidayeen attacks, momin mujahideen (guest fighters from Pakistan) in villages, IED attacks, finally suicide bombing returned gradually one by one.
Mainstream political parties like NC, PDP, once acted as bridge between India & Pro-Independence / Pakistan separatists. After online radicalization and trust deficit of these parties with locals, these parties too lost their traditional support base. Generations changed and current generation believe more in militant voices than to leaders of these political parties.
After what the Central Government did in August 2019, removing article 370, trifurcating the State and reducing its status to that of a Union Territory the situation has seen no improvement. Political vacuum in valley widened after article 370 abrogation. Currently both separatists and mainstream politicians are discredited, this vacuum will swing locals more towards militant voices across border.
Though ground level intelligence gathering was good in valley, challenges posed in cyber domain were not tackled with counter narratives. Internet shutdowns in last few months might have brought the militant recruitment to decline, but the process has not dies out. This is band-aid measure and cannot be sustained in the long term. Once the government decides to bring back high speed internet, online propaganda videos will surf again, radicalization of youths & street protests will return.
Militancy in Kashmir cannot be eliminated with kinetic security operations alone. Both soft and hard approach can be applied to manage the situations. In coming days, Peace in valley depends on how locals are convinced of current situation.
There is an added angle to seen – that of the change of guards in Afghanistan which can bring about a U-turn by many terrorist organisations which can make Kashmir their playground after the ‘Victory’ in Afghanistan. Many have maintained that the ‘Hard’ stance of the Modi Government cannot not bring Peace to the Valley and the youth have to be given Jobs, Respect and Love.