The killing of at least 40 CRPF soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district Thursday in the worst terror attack the Valley has seen, has reignited the debate on active militancy in the area, the preparedness of intelligence agencies, the diplomatic roadblock by China to bring Masood Azhar, head of Jaish-e-Mohammad which has claimed responsibility of the attack, to justice, and the political ramifications in the time of general elections.
VIDEO | Modi says terrorists will pay for Pulwama attack, Oppn backs govt
The attack, condemned by world leaders, especially by the United States, has put pressure on Pakistan to stop providing safe havens to terror groups. The attack also puts focus on fidayeen attacks by the Pakistan-based terror group and what challenges lie ahead for the paramilitary forces which took over the law and order duties in the state from the BSF in 2005. Explained: India withdraws Most Favoured Nation status to Pak — how Pak’s economy will be hurt
The car bombing
On Thursday afternoon, a suicide bomber rammed his Scorpio SUV laden with explosives into a CRPF bus in south Kashmir where a convoy of 78 vehicles, carrying over 2,500 jawans were moving to Kashmir from Jammu. Most of the men were returning from leave to join duty in Srinagar, said sources. The convoy had started from 3.30 AM from Jammu to reach Kashmir. About 35 kilometres from Srinagar, at around 3.30 PM at the Jammu-Kashmir highway, a Scorpio SUV laden with explosives is suspected to have emerged from a side road to hit the bus at a right angle.
“A car suddenly came in the middle of the convoy and there was a huge explosion,” said a CRPF man who was travelling in another vehicle that was part of the convoy. “When we came down, the bus was not there. It had been completely charred and the bodies were scattered all around”.
A resident of Lethpora told The Indian Express that the explosion seemed to shake the ground beneath. “We were sitting at home when there was a deafening bang and the earth shook,” he said. “It was so powerful that we were thrown away from the place we were sitting”. The national highway was then closed for traffic and the media barred from moving towards the explosion site. Mobile internet services were snapped in south Kashmir and Jammu, while the data speed in Srinagar was scaled down to 2G.
Security sources said while the Intelligence Bureau did not have any input about an impending attack, all the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were followed. A road opening party was sent before the movement of the convoy. The whole route was sanitised. IEDs were ruled out. How this attack happened still, is now in the realm of investigations,” CRPF IG (Operations), Kashmir, Zulfikar Hassan said.
Pulwama attack worst in Valley
The terror attack at paramilitary forces in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district Thursday is the worst the Valley has seen.
Before Thursday’s attack, the most casualty suffered by CRPF in an attack was on June 25, 2016, when a vehicle was attacked by three LeT militants, leaving eight personnel dead and 22 injured.
The scale of Thursday’s attack can be gauged from the fact that in the whole of 2018, CRPF did not lose as many men as it did on Thursday. According to the Union Home Ministry’s figures, CRPF lost 30 men in terror attacks in 2018. Governor Satya Pal Malik said that the attack was partly the result of an intelligence failure, especially due to the fact that security forces could not detect the loading and movement of the explosive-laden Scorpio.
India says will make Pakistan pay
After holding a cabinet committee on security (CCS) meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Friday said those who committed the heinous act will pay “a heavy price”. “Those who did the heinous act will have to pay a heavy price. Those who supported it will definitely be punishment,” PM Modi said. “To all my colleagues, in ruling and Opposition, it’s a sensitive time. We need to speak in one voice because this battle is for us to win,” he said.
Following the CCS meet, India decided to withdrew the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to Pakistan. Briefing the media in New Delhi, senior Cabinet minister Arun Jaitley said the Ministry of External Affairs will launch an all-out effort to isolate Pakistan for orchestrating the dastardly attack on the CRPF personnel.
“The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) will initiate all possible diplomatic steps which are to be taken to ensure the complete isolation from the international community of Pakistan of which incontrovertible is available of having a direct hand in this act,” Jaitley said, adding that it will withdraw the MNF status granted to the neighbouring country in 1996.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh will head to Jammu to take stock of the situation. On Thursday, he blamed Pakistan for the attack and said a “strong reply” will be given to them in retaliation. BJP general secretary Ram Madhav told The Indian Express the immediate priority for India would be to make Pakistan accountable for the attack.
Meanwhile, Pakistan said the terrorist attack in Pulwama district is “a matter of grave concern” even as it strongly rejected Indian media and government’s allegations of the country’s link to the strike “without” probe.
‘Stand with govt’: Parties come together to condemn Pulwama attack
Congress president Rahul Gandhi Friday said the party is “fully supporting the government” to bring perpetrators of the attack to justice. “This is a time of mourning, sadness, and respect. We are fully supporting the government of India and our security forces. We are not going to get into any other conversation apart from this,” he said.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh said the country will not compromise with terror forces. “Today is the day of mourning. Our country has lost close to 40 armed forces jawans and our foremost duty is to convey to their families that we are with them. We shall never compromise with the terrorist forces,” he said.
In view of the attack, all political programmes of BJP leaders, including PM Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, scheduled for Friday have been cancelled. AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also cancelled her press conference Thursday, saying “it was not the time for politics”.
The Congress also cancelled the scheduled luncheon meeting on Friday that Rahul was to have with the heads of missions of G-20 countries and envoys of neighbouring nations. Condemning the attack, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said, “It is unfortunate that terrorism is again raising its ugly head in Jammu and Kashmir and precious lives of our paramilitary forces have been lost.”
Expressing solidarity with the families of the slain CPRF personnel, leaders across the political spectrum condemned the deadly attack in Pulwama and asked the government to take strong steps, including initiation of political process, to reach out to all stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir.
International community condemns attack
Condemnations came in from the US, UK, UN, France, Russia, Israel, Canada, Germany, Australia, Thailand, Turkey and, among the neighbours, Maldives, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. The White House asked Pakistan to immediately end “support” and “safe haven” to all terror groups as it strongly condemned the Pulwama terrorist attack.
“The United States calls on Pakistan to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil, whose only goal is to sow chaos, violence, and terror in the region,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a late night statement on Thursday. Condemning the attack, the US State Department said in a statement that it was “resolutely committed” to working with the Indian government to combat terrorism in all its forms.
Car bombing is not new to Jaish. In the spring of 2000, seventeen-year-old schoolboy Afaq Ahmad drove an explosive-laden Maruti into the headquarters of the Army’s 15 Corps in Srinagar. The car exploded at the gate as the boy panicked. This announced the entry of Jaish, then newly formed by Maulana Masood Azhar who was released in 1999 by the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in exchange of the crew and passengers of the hijacked IC-814 plane at Kandahar.
China’s repeated stalling of efforts by India and the US to blacklist Azhar have also boosted Jaish’s three-year-long campaign to revive itself in Jammu and Kashmir.
Jaish’s first major strike that pushed India and Pakistan to the brink of war was the 2001 Parliament attack. In January 2016, it was behind the attack on the Pathankot airbase in which seven security personnel were killed. And the September 2016 Uri attack in which 20 soldiers were killed. New Delhi subsequently responded with a surgical strike across the LoC.
The Pak-based Jaish — Azhar is based in Bahawalpur — has its umbilical cord linked to the Taliban. Soon after 9/11, when Islamabad sided with the US, Jaish took it on. In fact, the Jaish suicide attack on the J&K Assembly in Srinagar soon after 9/11 that killed 23 was the first attack in Kashmir to be officially condemned by Pakistan.