Pulwama strike mirrors changes in the dynamic in Kashmir, Pakistan and the regionhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/pulwama-terror-attack-aftershocks-jaish-e-mohammad-kashmir-pakistan-5588444/

Pulwama strike mirrors changes in the dynamic in Kashmir, Pakistan and the region

Pulwama tragedy signals a significant escalation in terrorism in the Kashmir Valley. Given the type, target and the scale of the attack, it seems obvious that this was done at the behest of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

Pulwama strike mirrors changes in the dynamic in Kashmir, Pakistan and the region
The Pulwama tragedy signals a significant escalation in terrorism in the Kashmir Valley. (Photo: Reuters)

There are three dimensions to the suicide attack by Masood Azhar’s Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in Pulwama on February 14 that led to the tragic deaths of at least 40 CRPF jawans.

The first dimension is Kashmir related. The Pulwama tragedy signals a significant escalation in terrorism in the Kashmir Valley. Given the type (Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device-VBIED), target and the scale of the attack, it seems obvious that this was done at the behest of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). The motivation would have been to refocus attention on the Valley after a spate of successes by the Indian security forces in neutralising terrorists, to provide a higher degree of visibility to the JeM, and to show the attack as being carried out by a local Kashmiri. However, it is obvious that while a local Kashmiri youth was the trigger, he was merely cannon fodder. The sourcing of material, training and planning was the handiwork of Pakistanis. The moot point, however, is whether this attack is a reversion to the 1990s pattern of terrorism involving the Pakistanis in pole positions and Kashmiris in sacrificial roles. While time will tell, the security forces in Kashmir will have to factor in this modus operandi and devise counter-measures.

The second dimension is Pakistan-related and has two sub-dimensions. First, it announces the arrival of Lt General Asim Munir, the new DG ISI, on the Pak-sponsored terror firmament. Munir was promoted to being a three-star general in September 2018 and given charge of the ISI in October 2018. Among his previous appointments were Director General Military Intelligence (DG MI) and Force Commander Northern Areas (FCNA). The latter, especially, would have given him familiarity with J&K and the infiltration of terrorists into India facilitated by the troops under his command. The Pulwama attack is possibly Munir cutting his teeth in terrorist operations and showing his boss, the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, that despite his lack of seniority, he is indeed one of the “boys” when it comes to India.

Second, it is now emerging that Bajwa, who completes his three-year tenure as army chief in November, is interested in an extension. Signals of this are apparent in the sycophantic articles that have started appearing in the Pakistan media. Below, for example, are just three excerpts from one such article published in The Daily Times on February 4:

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“A leader of a different kind, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa is instrumental in strengthening the national power in the domain of security, economy and foreign policy presiding over a paradigm shift from a national security state to a development oriented, confident nation and society.”

“Starting with foreign policy, Bajwa has become the most relevant military leader ever produced in this part of the world.”

“General Bajwa’s leadership has put Pakistan on the international stage, at times when Euro-Asia is rising in clout. His continued role is going to be an integral part of Pakistan’s success trajectory in the time to come.”

Reports, however, indicate that Imran Khan is not inclined to give Bajwa an extension. Why should he? Having inherited Bajwa, Imran Khan is beholden to him for facilitating his being elected prime minister. Khan would rather appoint his own army chief, not realising that once appointed, a Pakistan army chief is no one’s man. Perhaps aware of PM Khan’s disinclination, it would suit Bajwa to create a crisis in Indo-Pak relations that would ensure Imran Khan’s continued dependence on him.

The third dimension is regional. As is its wont, Pakistan has declared victory prematurely in Afghanistan. Buoyed by the US’s desperation to exit Afghanistan and hence its renewed dependence on Rawalpindi, Pakistan has concluded that relations with the US are back on an even keel. Combined with its “all-weather” friend China, and the recent cosying up to Russia, Pakistan feels that it has covered all its bases. This is all the more so because its failing economy has got a shot in the arm through bail-out packages from Saudi Arabia and UAE.

Hence, even before any agreement has been reached between the US and the Taliban, to say nothing of an intra-Afghan agreement, Pakistan has concluded that it can now shift its focus to its primary target — Kashmir and India. For Pakistan, therefore, the situation is akin to 1988-89 when the Soviets had withdrawn from Afghanistan and the Mujahideen were poised to take over in Kabul allowing it to shift attention to Kashmir where the insurgency had just about begun.

Two other aspects of the regional dynamic need to be noted. On February 13, one day before the Pulwama attack, a bus carrying Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) of Iran was targeted by a similar kind of attack in the Chanali area of Khash-Zahedan road in the Sistan-Balochistan province. Twenty-seven were killed and another 20 injured in the attack. The Sunni separatist group Jaish al-Adl claimed responsibility for the attack. Interestingly, Jaish al-Adl has its hideouts in Pakistan. While details of the nature of the attack are awaited, it would be useful to compare the modus operandi and the explosives used in this attack with the ulwama attack given that Pakistan is the common element in both.

This article first appeared in the February 18, 2019, print edition under the title ‘The attack, its aftershocks’. Devasher is author of Pakistan: Courting the Abyss and Pakistan: At the Helm. He is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat and currently Member, National Security Advisory Board and Consultant, Vivekananda International Foundation.