By Anil Gupta
16 February 2019
The Pulwama terror attack is a rude call to the nation to accept the fact that militancy in Kashmir has been overtaken by radicals who now want absolute Talibanisation
The deadly suicide car bomb attack on a convoy of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) at Awantipora in Jammu & Kashmir’s Pulwama district, which claimed the lives of more than 40 troopers and left many injured, is a rude call to the nation to smell the coffee and accept the fact that militancy in Kashmir has been overtaken by radical jihadists, who want the Talibanisation of Kashmir. The latest attack was the most severe of all and led to the highest number of ‘deaths’. Kashmir witnessed the last such attack in 2001, when three terrorists belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammed carried out an attack on the Jammu & Kashmir State Assembly complex in Srinagar using a Tata Sumo loaded with explosives that rammed into the main gate. Around 38 civilians and three suicide bombers were killed. The next spate of such car bomb attacks was witnessed in 2005 when between June and November; three attacks on different targets killed 23 civilian and security forces personnel. Car bomb attacks bear the signature of Taliban and Al Qaeda style of fighting, both of whom 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 hits” 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’s killing indicated that the enemy had succeeded in radicalising the Kashmiri society. Large-scale public support to the terrorists, rise in stone-throwing attacks on 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 had overtaken the reins of the ongoing movement in Kashmir. Subsequent statements made by Zakir Musa, one-time accomplish of Burhan Wani, and the present self-styled commander of Al Qaeda-affiliate terrorist organisation, Ansar Ghazwat ul Hind, ridiculing the Hurriyat leadership and the so-called Azadi movement were clear and loud enough to be ignored but did lead to the present state.
Despite the reverses suffered by 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 those involved in anti-terror operations. The modus operandi of the jihadists bore more and more semblance to the Islamic State (IS), Al Qaeda and Taliban style of operations.
The Kashmiri youth has been lured into jihad on the understanding that Azaadi-related activism would lead them to “heaven.” As veteran Kashmiri politician Muzaffar Hussain Beig said, “It is an IS-sponsored religious war in Kashmir. It is not a fight for political freedom or choice between India and Pakistan but between heaven and hell.” It is the race to heaven that has brain-washed the Kashmiri youth and the likes of alleged car bomber, Aadil Ahmad alias Waqas Commando of Gundi Bagh, Pulwama. This also explains the fact as to how the Jaish has been able to carry out this dastardly attack despite the claim by security forces of virtually eliminating the JeM leadership in the 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 mainstream political leadership of Kashmir, which has of late 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 jihadists. The latest attempt of to set up a communal and religious divide is evident from the politicking over the grant of divisional status to Ladakh by raising similar demands for Kargil and Muslim-majority districts south of Pir Panjal, mischievously referring to them 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 the 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 suicide bomber after the Taliban claimed “victory” due to the announcement by US 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 with fact-finding, many inputs lead to believe that there has been “negligence.” In an active conflict zone where 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 Jammu & Kashmir Police through their signal dated February 8, 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 once again arises the need to review the higher command system of the 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 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 the notorious triad of Mullah-Military-Militants with the Inter-Services Intelligence (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 the form of opening the Kartarpur Corridor by using their puppet Imran Khan.
There is no doubt that Pakistan continues with its policy of state sponsorship of terrorism and abetting and aiding cross-border adventurism fully embedded with jihadi terror. The reduction of American boots will provide ISI the additional strength of the 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, its immediate response will be of playing the ‘victim hood’ card and further generating 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.
Anil Gupta is a Jammu-based political commentator, columnist and security and strategic analyst. The views expressed are entirely personal.