The suicide bomber terror attack on a paramilitary convoy in the Pulwama district February 14 that killed more than 40 troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force and injured many others is the most deadly attack that has taken place against Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir over the last two decades. The banned terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) has claimed responsibility for this attack and a local youth, Adil Ahmed Dar, has been identified as the suicide bomber who rammed his car laden with high explosives into the bus that was part of a convoy of almost 80 vehicles.
There is anger, anguish and outrage in India against the perpetrators, and by extension Pakistan, which has been providing support to the JeM among other terror groups. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised that the response will be swift and that the security forces have been given a free hand to act. He added that Pakistan will also be isolated and India has withdrawn the MFN (most favoured nation) status that had been accorded as per international trade practice.
The global condemnation has been uniform led by the United States, Russia and other major powers , though China has been reticent given its traditional support to Pakistan. It may be recalled that at the UN Security Council, Beijing has used its veto to protect the JeM and its top leadership from global sanctions.
This is not the first terror attack that India has faced and the JeM carried out the first fidayeen or suicide attack in J&K in November 1999. It is significant to note that this attack in Pulwama is the second such incident where a fidayeen mode was used and the fact that the JeM could motivate a local youth to carry out such an attack. This strand is very disturbing and can have corrosive long-term implications.
The immediate response will be tactical and some kind of military response across the Line of Control (de facto cease fire line between India and Pakistan) can be expected . PM Modi, who is seeking re-election, cannot be seen to be pusillanimous over Pulwama and the Pakistani linkage – a charge that was hurled at his predecessor, Dr Manmohan Singh, in the 2014 election campaign. However Delhi has to evolve a long term strategy that goes beyond the current electoral compulsion to prevent a similar terror attack and the related loss of life and limb.
India has been subjected to a proxy war since early 1990 in J&K, wherein the ‘deep state’ in Pakistan has fished in troubled waters and enhanced its ability to engage in terrorism against both security forces and civilians. The Indian track record has been mixed and while there is little doubt that the challenge is complex – note the nuclear dimension and the steady support extended to Pakistan by China and many members of the Islamic world – there are some policy initiatives that need to be reviewed and recast in a radical manner.
The most critical is the politics surrounding terrorism and Pakistan in the Indian domestic context. It is encouraging that after some early finger-pointing post Pulwama, when the coffins of the CRPF were received in Delhi, political parties closed ranks in a rare show of national solidarity. It is perhaps likely that in the run-up to a highly contested and contentious national election, such a security lapse could be exploited in a cynical manner for electoral gain but the challenge for the Indian political constituency is is to derive the appropriate lessons for the post Pulwama phase.
The nature of the attack – a car laden with more than 60 kg of explosives according to preliminary reports being able to access a security forces vehicle on a national highway – is a lapse that will no doubt be investigated by the agencies. Was this an intelligence failure ? There are unverified reports suggesting that the JeM and its support base within the Kashmir valley had been planning a major attack in end January / early February and while major events such as Republic Day passed without any incident it is evident that the adversary was able to surprise the local security forces.
While corrective measures at the tactical level will be pursued, the deeper challenge is to evolve a composite national strategy that will include all strands – the political, security, socio-economic and most critically a demographic outreach so that more local youth do not follow the Adil Ahmed Dar path. The political dynamic within the J&K state is not encouraging and the breakdown of the BJP-PDP partnership is indicative. In the first few hours after the Pulwama attack, there has been a deplorable verbal attack on the local political parties and their leadership – and the language has been abusive. This is most undesirable and the national mood of anger should not be exploited in a subversive manner by that cross section which stokes hatred and inflamed but misplaced nationalism.
At the end of the day, the long term solution to the tangled Kashmir issue lies in the socio-political domain – within J&K ; between Delhi and Srinagar ; and between India-Pakistan and China. The stance adopted by Beijing in shielding the Pakistani ‘deep state’ (read military and security establishment) in its support to both terror groups and the ideology that nurtures it has been a major obstacle and this will be an abiding challenge for Delhi irrespective of who is the next Prime Minister of India.
It has been repeatedly stated within government and outside that India has to fight the proxy war waged by the Islamic terrorist ecosystem on its own. To that end, the national policy approach to Pakistan, the scourge of Islamic radicalism and the fervor of jihad has to be more consistent and objective than impulsive and emotive. The external domain that includes the major powers and the regional neighbors will call for a long-term politico-diplomatic effort by Delhi that will build on the current isolation of Islamabad by unilateral Indian action. Can China be prevailed upon to play a less obstructionist role ?
The need for a radical review of the internal security infrastructure including an intelligence revamp was noted after the Kargil war of 1999 with Pakistan. It is a poor reflection of India’s national resolve that post Pulwama the same issues are back on the national radar and the recommendations made 20 years ago are yet to be implemented. This complacency that translates into precious lives lost periodically must be erased.