The Pulwama attack on CRPF convoy in Jammu and Kashmir on February 14 which left 44 CRPF personnel dead is perhaps one of the deadliest attacks in recent time. The convoy had around 78 vehicles with almost 2500 CRPF personnel. The attack left the entire country numb with shock and pain. The families of the martyrs are still struggling to come to terms with such loss. The immediate response from the government and the opposition of putting a united front in favour of national security was a welcome move.
The intensity of the attack left many demanding outright revenge and nothing less. The Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility of the attack. However, the response from Pakistan government has been disappointing. It is denying any direct link and claiming that the government does not endorse such attacks and is ready to co-operate with India only if India provides some ‘actionable evidence’. However, earlier dossiers on the 26/11 attacks saw no action from Pakistan against Hafiz Saeed.
The Indian army retaliated soon and in another operation in South Pulwama it succeeded in gunning down the alleged mastermind of the Pulwama attack. While this is in no doubt an achievement for the army, it is time to ask some uncomfortable questions regarding the attack.
While social media is dominated by hypernationalists, it is time to try to understand what went wrong in Pulwama. To start with there seems to be an intelligence failure. An attack of this level is not the act of one single person or was not the product of a single day exercise. Reports show that there was some knowledge of such impending danger but nothing much was done in this regard. The problem is also that intel is at times so vague and also so regular that the possibility of missing it cannot be ruled out.
Questions are also being raised as to why such a large number of personnel were allowed to travel as part of a single convoy which rendered them more vulnerable. While many issues have been raised with regard to the technical aspects of the attack, one needs to move beyond such concerns to fully acknowledge its ramifications.
While political parties claimed to not indulge in politics over our martyred soldiers, members of the ruling party from day one have been doing exactly the opposite. A BJP minister, Jitendra Singh, conveniently included mainstream political parties while talking about those who endorse and give tacit support to such terrorist outfits. And he emphasised that they should be brought to book first. Tathagata Roy, the Governor of Meghalaya, talked about a complete boycott of Kashmiri people and its products.
The line between terrorist outfits operating from across the border and a common Kashmiri is completely blurred. The consequence is evident when Kashmiri students studying outside Jammu and Kashmir were harassed and hounded. Many were forced to return to the valley.
This attack has brought home a harsh reality that the suicide bomber or the fidayeen in the Pulwama attack was no Pakistani. Adil Ahmed Dar was a local boy who lived a few kilometres from the location of the attack. The valley of late has witnessed a rise in the number of young educated men joining the terrorist outfits. And without much training these people are left to face the army and get killed.
While the army sees the short lifespan of militants as an achievement, the increased recruitment which points to some kind of disillusionment is worrisome. Why young educated men are radicalised enough to move towards sure death? Why Kashmir is of late turning into a fertile ground for such recruitment is a question which should bother one and all.
In all this, the role of Pakistan cannot be denied. Pakistan continues to be a safe haven for terrorist outfits which are trying to destabilise not only India, but also Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Pakistan must be held accountable. India responded by working on diplomatic isolation of Pakistan and withdrew the ‘Most Favoured Nation’ status. It also hiked the import duty on Pakistani goods which will affect the country economically. India is also trying to lobby with other countries to get Masood Azhar listed as a designated terrorist by United Nations Security Council.
While France is going to raise the issue of Masood Azhar, China is most likely to veto the demand. China’s concern seems to back Pakistan so that China’s Xinjiang province does not see any cross-border terrorism activities backed by Pakistan. While international isolation of Pakistan may be difficult, India can think of working with other neighbouring nations like Bangladesh, Afghanistan, etc. in holding it answerable.
The rhetoric of war has sadly taken the centrestage and Kashmir’s problems have been pushed to the backburner once again. The situation in the valley has worsened. The death toll has gone up all across – be it the militants, security forces or civilians. What has also gone up is radicalisation and recruitment and this is not a good sign. But it is not specific to Kashmir. In Assam, when the democratic protests against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 fell on deaf ears of government, the state witnessed a rise in the number of young men and women joining the ULFA.
Whenever democratic institutions are scuttled, democratic spaces shrink, people are seemed to be attracted towards extreme measures including militancy. Kashmir problem is a political problem and requires a political solution. In an interview to Scroll.in, former RAW director Vikram Sood emphasised the need to have a political solution and an Indian approach to the problem. The need of the hour, according to many defence analysts, is to reach out to the common Kashmiri people and not to alienate them further by limiting to only military solution.
While self-proclaimed defence experts on social media and TRP hungry news channels are calling for revenge and retribution, the need to work for a solution of the problem taking on board other stakeholders is not on their card. Is peace possible in the valley? If yes, then what kind?
Ghazala Wahab writing in The Wire has some idea of what kind of peace can be worked out for the valley. She points out that 12 years back during the Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf regime, retired diplomats Satinder Lambah and Tariq Aziz were working on a formula which envisaged creating regional self governing councils in all the five regions of Kashmir – Jammu, the valley and Ladakh in India, PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan. That was perhaps the only time when all the stakeholders – India, Pakistan and Kashmir was on same page. It was also the most peaceful period since insurgency began in the valley in the 1990s.
With the end of Musharraf’s regime, this process came to an abrupt end. But it seems like a plausible option which may have improved the situation by decentralising power and taking people on board as partners. Kashmir’s solution must be a multi-pronged one. While military response can be an immediate step, in the long run the problem must be solved through lengthy political process of dialogue and engagement. And this engagement must grapple with difficult questions of radicalisation of youths along with army oppression and gross human rights violation in the region. If not, Kashmir may continue to simmer for a long time to come.
Parvin Sultana is an assistant professor at Pramathesh Barua College, Gauripur. She can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org