The aftershocks of the release of Masood Azhar in January 2000 are felt regularly. Every aftershock should remind the people of India of the rude shock that the country felt when the BJP-led NDA government decided to release Masood Azhar in exchange for the passengers and crew of Flight IC 184 who had been taken hostage. The picture of the external affairs minister, Jaswant Singh, escorting Masood Azhar and two others to Kabul and releasing them to their fellow-militants is a painful memory.
Soon after, Masood Azhar founded the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). The JeM mounted its first attack, using a suicide bomber, on April 19, 2000, on the Army’s 15 Corps in Srinagar. Since then, at regular intervals, the JeM has launched terror attacks on several targets — the Jammu & Kashmir Legislature complex and Parliament, in Srinagar, and in Kupwara and Baramulla districts.
The JeM operates at two levels: one is by infiltrating militants into Indian territory and attacking specific targets. Examples are Pathankot, Uri and Nagrota. The other is by recruiting local youth and using them as suicide bombers. An example of the latter is Adil Ahmad Dar who, on February 14, 2019, rammed his SUV into a convoy of the CRPF, blew up a vehicle and killed 40 jawans.
The unpleasant facts are that the number of infiltrators and number of local recruits have been on the rise since 2015 (see table):
My views on Jammu & Kashmir are well-known. The ‘establishment’ in Pakistan — weak civilian government, the army that has not learnt its lessons and non-State actors — have victimised J&K and dug the economic grave of Pakistan. At the same time, I am implacably opposed to the muscular, militaristic and maximalist position of the BJP-led Central government that has also victimised the people of J&K.
The NDA government has failed India in many ways but none with graver consequences for national security than its disastrous policy on J&K. On May 13, 2018, I wrote in this column that ‘All that India, as a nation, has stood for — unity, integrity, pluralism, religious tolerance, a government accountable to the people, dialogue to resolve differences etc. — are on test in J&K. India, as a nation, is failing the test’.
After Pulwama, the government and the hyper-nationalists are erecting a demon to slay in the run-up to the elections. Even as they did that, traders and students from the Kashmir Valley were attacked in Jammu and other cities of India. Kashmiri students were thrown out of their hostels and chummeries. Stray posts on social media were seized upon as acts of treason. Strident calls were made to ban exports to Pakistan and bar sports engagements with that country. The governor of Meghalaya, sworn to uphold the Constitution, said, ‘Don’t visit Kashmir, don’t go to Amarnath, don’t buy articles from Kashmiri tradesmen who come every winter.’ These are unmistakable sounds of the drums of war.
We mourn the loss of 40 lives and share the grief and pain of the families. But, in the sound and fury, we fail to ask pertinent questions: Who is responsible for national security? Was there a failure of intelligence? Was the decision to move over 2,000 troops in a single convoy a grave mistake? Why did Adil Dar, a 22-year-old youth, pull the trigger, kill 40 jawans and kill himself? Unless we ask these questions and find answers, there will be no reprieve from history repeating itself.
* Retired Lt General Hasnain wrote: “India cannot achieve its strategic objectives if Kashmiris remain targets of physical abuse and harassment and minorities are vilified on social media.”
* Retired Lt General Hooda said in an interview: “We must not close our eyes to the problem in Kashmir, after all, the terrorist who did this was a local terrorist… So, there is an internal problem.”
* Retired foreign secretary Shyam Saran wrote: “Kashmir cannot be isolated from the rest of India and its alienated population brought to heel through imposition of ever stricter security measures… What we need is a strategy which takes into account both the domestic and external dimensions of the Kashmir issue.”
* Retired IPS officer Julio Ribeiro wrote: “…if the community to which the terrorist belongs is not won over, the latter will continue to receive ‘oxygen’ from co-religionists and one fallen terrorist will soon be replaced by one or even two or three emotionally charged men.”
Even as these voices were being raised, the Army spoke the old language: Lt General Kanwal Jeet Singh Dhillon, Corps Commander, Chinar Corps, warned on February 19, 2019, that “Anyone who has picked up the gun in Kashmir will be eliminated, unless he surrenders.”
As we rue the remains of the day amidst growing anger and despair, we cannot lose hope. The worst that the present government can do will be to drag the country further on the road to disaster that will result in more mutual distrust among the people, more alienation in J&K, more loss of lives and more distance from a solution. I am confident, however, that the sane voices will prevail and a future government will show better understanding, wiser leadership and a sincere search for a political solution.