Brig Anil Gupta
The deadly car bomb suicide attack on a convoy of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) near Awantipora in Pulwama claiming the lives of more than 40 troopers and leaving a score of them injured is a rude call to the nation to smell the coffee and accept the fact that militancy in Kashmir has been overtaken by the radical jihadists who want “Talibanisation” of Kashmir. The latest attack is severe of all the attacks so far leading to the highest number of “deaths” in one attack. Kashmir witnessed last such attack in 2001 when three terrorists belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammed carried out an attack on the Jammu & Kashmir State Legislative Assembly complex in Srinagar using a Tata Sumo loaded with explosives ramming into the main gate. 38 civilians and the three suicide bombers were killed in the attack. The next spate of such car bomb attacks was witnessed in 2005 when between June and November three attacks on different targets killing 23 civilian and security forces personnel. Car bomb attacks bear the signature of Taliban-Al Qaeda style of fighting, both are radical jihadist terror groups.
The preferred mode of suicide attacks by terrorists in Kashmir was the attack on the security forces camps termed as “Fidayeen Attack” and ambushes close to the Line of Control (LoC) referred to as “BAT attack”, till the killing of dreaded terrorist Burhan Wani. The reason was obvious. Terrorists and their akas in Pakistan were reluctant to cross the “threshold” fearing loss of popular public support. Till this period, Kashmir was being radicalised. The aftermath of Burhan Wani killing indicated that the enemy had succeeded in radicalising the Kashmiri society. Large scale public support to the terrorists, increase in stone throwing attacks on the security forces and senseless killings of army men, policemen and civilians not receiving the type of condemnation they deserved were indicators enough to assess that jihadists have overtaken the reins of ongoing movement in Kashmir. The subsequent statements made by Zakir Musa, one time accomplish of Burhan Wani and the present self-styled commander of Al Qaeda-affiliate terrorist organisation AnsarGhazwatul Hind, ridiculing the Hurriyat leadership and the so-called “Azadi” movement were clear and loud enough to be ignored but ignore we did leading to the present state.
Despite the reverses suffered by the various “tanzeems” due to the successful intelligence based operations launched by the security forces, the resolve of the jihadists did not dither. Their attacks became more deadly, barbaric and daring. There was a clear divide in the Kashmiri society between the peace-seekers and pro-jihad radicals. While the peace-seekers provided intelligence to the security forces for launching surgical operations against the terrorists, the radicalised supporters of jihadists provided them shelter, food and cover from the security forces by resorting to stone-pelting on security forces involved in anti-terror operations. The modus-operandi of the jihadists bore more and more semblance to ISIS, Al Qaeda and Taliban style of operations.
Kashmiri youth has been lured into jihad by giving a choice between “hell” and “heaven.” “It is an ISI sponsored religious war in Kashmir. It is not a fight for political freedom or choice between India and Pakistan but between heaven and hell,” according to veteran Kashmiri politician Muzzafar Hussain Beig. It is the race to heaven that has brainwashed the Kashmiri youth likes of alleged car bomber Adil alias Waqas Commando of Kakapora, Pulwama that is driving them to resort to such acts. This also explains the fact as to how Jaish has been able to carry out this dastardly attack despite the claim by security forces of virtually eliminating the JeM leadership in Valley including two close relatives of Jaish supremo Masood Azhar. A spurt of sniper attacks on the security forces camps also indicated the aggressive posture adopted by the jihadists but was soon neutralised by the Army through its counter-strategy.
Ironically, the main-stream political leadership of Kashmir which of late has become pro-jihadist is refusing to accept the obvious and continues to harp the same old story of a “political problem” and “misled innocent boys” who need to be dealt with sympathy rather than an iron hand. This attitude of theirs has only emboldened the jihadist. The latest attempt of communal and religious divide of the state by politicking the grant of divisional status to Ladakh by raising similar demands for Kargil, and Muslim majority districts south of PirPanjal mischievously referred to as Chenab Valley and Panjal regions. The Governor’s administration will have to act firm and quick to douse the fire lit by these forces. It may well become the alibi for spreading the wings of jihadists to these hitherto peaceful areas. The timing of the attack is also worth noting. It not only coincides with the renewed efforts of peace talks with Taliban but also with the heat building up within India in view of the 2019 elections.
The security forces will have to remain alive to the growing jihadist challenge and act swiftly and firmly to counter their new strategy. It is important to note the claim made by JeM that Adil Ahmad was inspired to become a suicidebomber after the Taliban claimed “victory” due to the announcement of American President Trump to reduce the American boot strength in Afghanistan. Any decline in resolute and integrated response by the security forces in Kashmir may lead them to harbour such ideas of presumed “victory” and embolden the jihadists further.
Though, it is too early to get involved in fact finding, many inputs lead to believe that there has been “negligence”. In an active conflict zone where the jihadists are purportedly fighting for the fulfilment of divine will- “Ghazwa-e-Hind”, there is no scope for negligence. Despite the warning issued by the J K Police through their signal dated 08 Feb 2019 and circulation of a video captured from terrorists showing car bomb attack in Afghanistan, there are many questions to be answered about the sanitisation of the area and the efficacy of Road Opening Parties. There is once again a case for reviewing the higher command system of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs). The present system of deputing Indian Police Service (IPS) officers to occupy higher ranks has been found wanting on numerous occasions in the past as well. There is a strong case for higher command posts to be occupied by the cadre officers who have gone through the rigours of ground level functioning of their respective forces instead of general cadre IPS officers who lack combat experience.
Since JeM has claimed the attack, involvement of Pakistan is obvious. Another fact that is obvious and unambiguous is that in Pakistan the reins of the government are firmly in the hands of notorious triad of Mullah-Military-Militants with ISI and terrorists ruling the roost and calling the shots. The so-called peace gestures of their Prime Minister and the Army Chief are only a smoke-screen to their real intents. India should not fall prey to the trap laid by the triad in form of opening the Kartarpur Corridor by using their puppet Imran Khan.
There is no doubt that Pakistan continues with its policy of state sponsoring of terrorism and abetting and aiding cross-border terrorism fully embedded with jihadi terror. The reduction of American boots will provide ISI the additional strength of Taliban and other Afghan specific jihadist terrorists to be employed against India. Pakistan has been temporarily able to tide over the economic crisis due to the hidden Chinese support and magnanimity of its Muslim friends. This has further emboldened the country to support jihadists and use them to implement their anti-India policy. How much effect the government’s decision to withdraw “most favoured nation” status to Pakistan will have, only time will tell? Nevertheless, immediate response will be of playing a “victim hood” card and further generate anti-India hysteria. The government of India will have to use its diplomatic strength and international good will to designate Pakistan as a “terror state.” The nation needs to unite to counter the jihadist challenge.
(The author is a Jammu based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst. The views expressed are entirely personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Brig Anil Gupta