The Pulwama terror attack which claimed the lives of more than 40 CRPF troops was the deadliest to have occurred in Kashmir in terms of casualties. The Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) or Army of Mohammed, claimed responsibility for the attack while Adil Ahmed, a young man from Pulwama who joined JEM in 2018, was identified as the perpetrator. This brutal attack has ratcheted up the already tense relations between India and Pakistan, leading many to wonder what the cross-border implications of the attack will be on the two countries.
Interestingly enough, even before the forensic evaluation of the scene of the crime was completed, the Indian Government embarked on a diplomatic and economic offensive against Pakistan. The Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi was summoned to the Indian Foreign Office for a strongly worded demarche. Concomitantly, the ambassadors of foreign countries were briefed on the attack and on Pakistan’s purported role by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. New Delhi also revoked Pakistan’s MFN status and pledged to launch an all-out effort to isolate Pakistan, an effort that has already been initiated by the Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, who on February 16, 2019, declared that custom duties on all imports from Pakistan would be raised to 200 percent. India is further expected to seek Pakistan’s blacklisting in the upcoming FATF meeting, and according to reports, Indian agencies are already busy with preparing a dossier to establish Pakistan’s culpability in the recent Pulwama attack.
Pakistan’s response to these allegations by India has been an outright rejection of any involvement in the attack. The Foreign Office released a statement expressly condemning such ‘acts of violence anywhere in the world’ and dismissed all such inferences made ‘by elements in the Indian media and government that sought to link the attack to Pakistan without investigations.’
Insurgency in Kashmir, which once was attributed to links across the border has morphed into a homegrown movement for liberation, at the vanguard of which are the new generation of Kashmiri youth; educated and enlightened. These young liberators are challenging the military might of the Indian establishment and their struggle is garnering popular support from within, which has had a dispiriting effect on the Indian security forces, who despite overwhelming presence in the region have not been able to weaken the will of the Kashmiris.
The surge in violence in Kashmir is rooted in decades of violence, repression and discrimination against the Kashmiri people. According to the UN, the ‘excessive use of force, unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests, sexual violence, detention of families and children, as well as enforced disappearances’ is tantamount to a gross and consistent violation of human rights. All evidence suggests that by resorting to hardline policies in Kashmir, India has failed to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Kashmiri people. Against such a backdrop, pointing a finger at Pakistan for bloodshed and violence in Kashmir is both vile and risible. The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who was elected in 2014, had vowed to undertake a hard line policy in its dealings with Pakistan and to crackdown on the separatist movement in Kashmir.
As such, the Modi Administration, like its predecessors has been unable to recognise discontent and disenfranchisement among the Kashmiris against Indian policies, and their disproportionate use of force, in a trend that will continue unless India brings sanity and rationality in its Kashmir policy. With general elections in India only a few months away, the Indian Prime Minister would need to project an image of tough leadership in regard to national security matters. As the situation currently stands, he is already under pressure from hard line groups for a decisive retaliation against Pakistan, much in the pattern of the ‘surgical strikes’ India claimed to have carried out against Pakistan, following the 2016 attack on an Indian army base in which 19 soldiers were killed; claims that have been denied by Pakistan.
Meanwhile, according to media reports from February 15, 2019, the US National Security Adviser, John Bolton, assured his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval of US’ cooperation “to work together to ensure that Pakistan ceased to be a safe haven for JEM and terrorist groups that targeted India, the US and others in the region.” It was further reported that in a telephone call, Bolton had assured Doval of US’ support for India’s right “to defend itself against cross-border attacks.” On February 16, 2019, Modi stated that the “country understood the anger simmering within the soldiers,” and gave free reign to the military to respond to acts of violence in kind.
Pakistan’s response to these allegations by India has been an outright rejection of any involvement in the attack. The Foreign Office released a statement expressly condemning such ‘acts of violence anywhere in the world’ and dismissed all such inferences made ‘by elements in the Indian media and government that sought to link the attack to Pakistan without investigations
Although, JEM has been classified a proscribed organization in Pakistan, India claims that the group and its leader, Masood Azhar, were openly active in Pakistan, raising money, recruiting, and training. India has further attributed several similar terrorist activities to the group, including a 2001, raid on its parliament in New Delhi, and demands that Pakistan should take ‘immediate and verifiable action’ to stop the activities of these militants. In response, Pakistan has vehemently rejected these insinuations as ‘part of New Delhi’s known rhetoric and tactics” to divert global attention from their human rights violations. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister has called for an end to such ‘tit for tat’ accusations, in favour of the resumption of dialogue. In fact, since assuming office, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, has repeatedly focused on dialogue with the promise to take two steps forward for every one step taken by India, in order to forge friendly ties; an effort that has been stonewalled by the Modi administration on grounds that India saw no constructive approach from Pakistan.
The terrorist attack in Pulwama has been rightly condemned by the international community, including Pakistan. At the same time, there has also been a growing realization that the reinvigoration of insurgency in Kashmir is home based and home grown, in popular reaction to India’s ‘muscular policies’ in the form of atrocities by Indian security forces on helpless protestors. The option for peace in Kashmir is only achievable if India desists from pursuing its hardline policies against hapless Kashmiris and if it works in tandem with Pakistan to find a solution that brings harmony to a region that has long been plagued by instability and conflict.
The old practices of blaming and intimidation have proven ineffective for India in the past, suggesting the need for an alternative strategy that does not rest on the need for one-upping the other but on collective efforts geared towards sustainable peace in the region.
For its part, Pakistan also needs to exercise greater insight and control on the clandestine activities of non-state actors that operate from within the country to malign the State with their unacceptable actions. Just days before the Pulwama attack, Jaish ul-Adl, a Salafi jihadist terrorist organization based in the Sistan and Baluchistan Province of Iran, carried out a car bomb attack against Iranian revolutionary guards, killing 27 of them. The brutality of the attack by an organization that has allegedly sought shelter in Pakistan, prompted the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, to warn that ‘unless Pakistan did more to crack down on Jaish al-Adl, Iran would take action it deemed appropriate’.
While the State of Pakistan or its agencies may not be involved in carrying out or supporting activities detrimental to peace and stability in the region, the buck does not stop there. We need to get up from our languorous slumber and exercise greater vigilance. The evolutionary trends in terrorism have already outwitted even the most resourceful countries. In South Asia, its burgeoning existence is a painful reality. ‘No country in the world has suffered more than Pakistan from the scourge of terrorism, often perpetrated from outside’. Today, Iran seethes with anger, India grits its teeth and the world is looking for foot prints in Pakistan, in such times, we should not be found cuddling the neighbour’s sheep.