Pak Terror Tango

By Poonam I Kaushish

14 February was Valentine’s Day, the day of love. But in edgy Kashmir, the day ended bloody-red.

If I die in a war zone, box me up and send me home.

Put my medals on my chest, tell my mother I did my best.

Tell my nation not to cry, because I am a soldier born to die.

When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow we gave our today.

Poignant lines which encapsulate the Pulwama horror of 40 bloodied human flesh and dismembered parts amidst a mangled heap of the ill-fated bus, part of a 78 vehicle convoy of 2500 CRPF jawans travelling from Jammu to Srinagar to resume duty. The deadliest attack on security forces till date when a Jaish-e-Mohammad Kashmiri fidayeen rammed his 300kg explosives-laden SUV into the convoy and triggered an explosion which shocked the nation. The worst terror strike in Kashmir over two decades.

An angry India hit back asserting, ‘we will not forget, we will not forgive.’ With Prime Minister Modi talking tough and giving a free hand to security forces to take action they deem fit.  “Logon ka khoon khaul raha hai, yeh main samajh raha hun. A strong reply will be given to this attack.’

Though Kashmir has witnessed suicide attacks earlier, this new-age militancy of homegrown Kashmiris cannot be seen through the prism of the past anymore, whereby local youth played only supporting roles to militants sent by terror outfits based in Pakistan to cause mayhem. Pertinently, the Army’s “Operation All Out” launched in summer 2017 to eliminate terrorists only gave rise to more militancy.

Today, Pulwama is a wake-up call and underscores the growing radicalization of Kashmiri youth whereby instead of sending recruits to Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) for training, JeM brought in trainers from Pakistan. According to the Army there are over 191 local youths who joined various militant outfits last year, 65 more than 2017. Despite 257 militants being killed in 2018 there is a constant rise in the number of youths joining militancy whereby 250 are again active, 50 from Pulwama alone. Further, there were over 15 Pakistani JeM terrorists in Pulwama of which three were IED experts.

For this new generation of local militancy slain Hizbul Mujahideen’s Burhan Wani is the ‘poster boy’. A youth bred on constant years of strife and violence who have not only seen death and destruction but also overcome the fear factor. They are alert to the fundamentalists demand for self-determination and glorify those carrying out fidayeen attacks. Worse, they have no respect left for any national or regional leaders, perhaps including Hurriyat’s Geelani and Mirwaiz Farooq.

Undeniably, Pulwama once again raises several questions about how serious Pakistan is about reining in anti-India terrorism. Of course, New Delhi will demand stringent action against JeM Chief Maulana Masood Azhar who like Lakshar-e Toiba’s Hafez Sayeed continues to roam scot free.

Anyway one looks at it, the terror attack exposes the tenuous links in the troika that rules Pakistan —- Establishment, Army and ISI. New Delhi, times out of number forgets that its neighbour has been nurtured on a military psyche whereby it views India as an ideological, not solely military problem fed on a staple anti-India tirade since 1947. For the ruling troika seeped in armed tradition along-with its jihadist proxies, the ‘core’ issue of Kashmir is an article of faith. Succinctly, described by late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as “bleeding India with a thousand cuts.”

In this age of real politik, India will remain at the mercy of terrorist organizations which will always have the upper hand in choosing the time and place of the next attack. Our leaders should not be under any illusion that the death of the fidayeens will deter jihadis operating from Pakistan and their State sponsors from carrying on their irrational jihad. In fact, they could raise a lethal phase of violence, notwithstanding Islamabad’s diplomatic isolation.

At another level, the Government has a lot of explaining to do for intelligence failure. How was such a large-scale relocation happening in a terrorist-prone area? Is assembling a 300 kg-plus car bomb that easy in South Kashmir?  How did a rogue SUV find its way on a sensitised route and its planning go undetected? Were standard operating procedures flouted? Who was complacent? Is local support for militancy growing in the Valley?

Clearly, our supposedly vigilant intelligence agencies are not working in tandem given the  glaring security lapse in actionable intelligence and co-ordination, crucial for safeguarding India’s national security fabric. Obviously, New Delhi has not learnt any lesson from previous Pakistan operations against us.

What next? New Delhi needs all its wits, military intelligence, resources, wisdom and restraint to ensure that it remains in control of the Indo-Pak script.  One way is to adopt the Israeli Defence Forces strategy in which the aim is to cause the opponent more damage (quantitatively and qualitatively) than the opponent caused Israel in the same time span. The fear of punitive retaliation would delay the next conflict and restrain the enemy’s ambitions.

For the success of any strategy be it combative or “limited” war one needs national will, great swiftness and sagacity more than readiness to use military power. War is an option every nation prepares. This entails a clear view of where the dangers lie, and of what kinds of responses are necessary to meet those dangers. It includes also a basic, crystalline faith that India is on the right path and that Kashmir is worth defending.

Consequently, the success of counter-terrorism lies in degrading the JeM and LeT’s  capabilities, forcing them to change their intentions and denying them opportunities to strike. New Delhi  needs to think of ways to neutralise their fast-growing domestic base, availability of hardware and human resource, collaborative linkages with organized crime, gun runners, drug syndicates, hawala operators, subversive radical groups etc.

For any anti-terrorist operation to succeed one must be focused on the vitals, keeping a watch on the essentials, deliberate and debate the options and leave the desirables till the vitals have been achieved and essentials addressed.

Certainly, in this zero sum game the muscle-flexing, war rhetoric and one-upmanship will continue till the core issue of Kashmir is resolved. In the ultimate, India cannot wish away Pakistan and nor can Islamabad bully New Delhi to being a passive bystander. It must make clear that protection to terrorists by Islamabad is unacceptable. They need to be smoked out and bombed, a la US seals of Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad and India’s hitting NSCN(K) terror modules in Myanmar.

Our leaders must understand the nature of the threat and adopt a strategy that is in tune with the situation. Foreign and military policy and strategic plans are not a one-shot affair but requires long-drawn cohesive planning, calibrated force and diplomacy. The worrying possibility of a military flare-up hasn’t disappeared unless terrorism completely and miraculously disappears. Till then Modi cannot give up on that option.

NaMo knows only too well staying ahead is the name of the game. The nation which survives is the one that rises to meet the moment, which has the wisdom to recognize the threat and the will to turn it back, and does so before it is too late. Modi has made plain: Let not any one kick India around with tall talk of bleeding India with a thousand cuts! Will Pakistan heed? —– INFA