The vehicle-bomb suicide attack on a CRPF convoy near Awantipora on Thursday is the deadliest ever terror strike against security forces in three decades of militancy in Kashmir. The loss of so many security personnel while on duty will be mourned across the country. Jaish-e-Mohammed, which works out of Pakistan under the leadership of Masood Azhar, has claimed responsibility for the attack. The Jaish has carried out other attacks in Kashmir in recent years, including the one at Uri and at Pathankot. Yet India’s efforts to have Azhar designated as a global terrorist have been repeatedly blocked by China, a staunch ally of Pakistan. It is no wonder that both Beijing and Islamabad have been conspicuously silent as outrage has poured in from all over.
The route taken by the 78 vehicles with more than 2,500 jawans on Thursday is used by troop convoys travelling up from Jammu to camps in Srinagar. As it is the only highway, their movement is no secret. There have been attacks by militants on that road targeting troops and civilians in the past — returning Amarnath yatris were targeted in 2017 further south on the same highway — and for that reason, the road is heavily guarded. But as Thursday’s attack has revealed, a bomber in a vehicle loaded with explosives just has to wait for his opportunity. Whether Jaish had advance information and how the bomber slipped through road opening parties that must clear and secure the route, is now a question for investigators to probe. For now, however, this moment calls for sobriety and wisdom. With parliamentary elections only weeks away, the timing of the attack is a fraught one. In BJP-dominated Jammu, a bandh has already been called for Friday. But the nation would be better served if the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre, and all political parties, including those in the Valley, pause and reflect on the grave juncture in Kashmir in which this devastating attack has come.
After years of near normalcy, the Amarnath land row crisis was the first turning point. Then, the 2015 re-emergence of militancy in the Valley took place in the backdrop of a general draining of optimism, with the hardening of the Centre’s position on Kashmir and the worsening of relations with Pakistan, despite the initial hopes raised by the decision of the BJP and PDP to come together to form the government in 2014. This moment calls, therefore, for a sober look back, and ahead. Those who project militancy as the last resort of a betrayed people while claiming to speak for the interests of the Valley also need to reflect on how terrorism can delegitimise even a genuine political aspiration.