Ajay Banerjee in New Delhi
Multiple scenarios are emerging in Kashmir — some scripted by the Pakistan army, others stemming from the evolving status of Afghanistan where Taliban is being ‘mainstreamed’ , thanks to the US, Russia and China bringing their versions of what should define ‘peace’ in the troubled country.
On Thursday, an explosive-laden vehicle driven by a suicide bomber had rammed into a CRPF convoy in Pulwama killing 40 personnel. The style is similar to attacks carried out by the ‘Islamic State’ and the Taliban. For India, its security forces and the people of Kashmir, such suicide attacks threaten to become the new normal. And that is a reason to worry, says a serving Army officer, who has recently commanded a unit in Kashmir. An explosive-laden vehicle can be rammed literally anywhere and “predicting it would be impossible”, he says.
While a car explosion occurred in the Valley after 15 years, Pulwama was the single biggest attack in terms of casualties in the three decades of Pakistan-backed terrorism here. Experts are warning that if not handled deftly, this could turn the Valley towards even more violent times. They are also cautioning against the Pakistan army’s narrative of local Kashmiris carrying out attacks. Kin of South Kashmir’s Adil Ahmed Dar, the suicide bomber in Pulwama attack, and his village have been reported in the media as cementing the Pakistan-script of ‘local boys’. A pre-attack video of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Dar furthers the narrative. The use of locally available commercial explosives in the attack, similar to those used in mining, emphasise upon the ‘local boys’ narrative.
Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia (retd), a former Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), counters the local boys’ theory: “The youth who carried out the attack was just driving the vehicle. The attack was planned, scripted and directed by the Pakistan army using the JeM.” Locals are lured through a mix of radical ideology and promise of handsome payment to their families, says the former DGMO who now heads the think-tank Centre for Joint Warfare Studies.
Pulwama terror attack is also a desperate attempt by the JeM to show its relevance after all major local terrorists have been wiped out by the Army in its operations in the past 24 months. Lt Gen Sanjay Kulkarni (retd), former Director General Infantry, says: “The Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan is arranging logistics for the JeM to execute attacks in Kashmir.” It also indicates that the JeM, led by Masood Azhar, wants to insist upon its importance. Azhar was released from Jammu jail in a swap for passengers from IC 814 during the Kandahar hijacking of 1999. The attack on Pathankot air base in January 2016, at the Uri military camp in September 2016 and Nagrota military camp in November 2016, all have been carried out by the JeM. “Technology enables immediate relay of information by sympathisers to attackers,” says General Bhatia, while adding that convoys will have to keep moving.
The Afghanistan imbroglio
A spillover of developments in Afghanistan into Kashmir is another worry. In 1989, when the Soviet forces exited Afghanistan, Kashmir faced the first brunt from the ‘Mujahids’, trained and armed by the US to drive out the Soviet Army. Pakistan army chief-turned-president General Zia-ul Haq’s ‘K2’ plan — the Kashmir-Khalistan plan — was put into action and the Kashmiri Pandits were hounded out of the Valley amid mindless killings. Punjab, by then, was already burning.
Post 9/11, things changed. Afghanistan-based groups were busy fighting the US and its allies. However, in 2019, change is coming. The forces of western powers are set to withdraw. Center for Strategic and International Studies, a US think-tank, has said: “A precipitous withdrawal of our (US) security forces, our financial support for the Afghan army, and our foreign aid would be a moral disaster and strategic setback for the United States.”
General Kulkarni warns that if the US pulls out of Afghanistan, Pakistan “would want the Taliban to train its guns on India”. Experts assess that Afghanistan has around 45,000 armed fighters. General Bhatia fears “a 1989 kind of blow back into Kashmir.” India is uneasy to say the least.
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