Pulwama attack raises questions about Indian security establishment
It is largely believed the terror attack at Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir was because of intelligence failure.
The suicide bomb attack on a CRPF convoy in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district on February 14, barely 20km from Srinagar, has raised serious questions about India’s security establishment.
Pakistan-backed terror outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), had claimed responsibility for the fidayeen attack.
The death-toll, by conservative estimates, is 40. In the aftermath of the attack, India revoked Most Favoured Nation status for Pakistan. India has also moved to diplomatically isolate it.
What went wrong?
Media reports have revealed that JeM had released a video warning online about an imminent attack. It showed footage from an attack in Afghanistan where a vehicle carrying an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was used. NDTV claimed that information about such an attack was shared with the Jammu and Kashmir police.
Furthermore, media reports from a month before, had spoken about the infiltration of an IED-expert, Abdul Rasheed Gazi, from Afghanistan into India, via the Line of Control.
“First and foremost, we must accept the fact that the attack in Pulwama changes everything, not only the relationship with Pakistan, which has anyway been rocky before, but most importantly the language of terror which is being used,” said Khalid Shah, Kashmir and Pakistan expert from the Observer Research Foundation, to Asiaville.
According to Shah, the Pulwama attack points to a massive failure, not only in terms of intelligence gathering and dispersal of those reports, but also a collective failure of the India’s internal security dynamics.
“The core part of India’s internal security dynamics are the following: when and where are such attacks going to take place, for this you need a robust intelligence gathering network. And thirdly, on a more general note, you need a coherent Kashmir strategy. India, as this attack bears out, failed on all these fronts,” Shah adds.
In terms of planning of the attack and its execution, Shah argues, cannot be undertaken by just one person. “There is an entire cell responsible for the planning and execution of such an attack. Moreover, the one who executed this attack, the Kashmiri man, he was just the courier, whose only job description entailed driving the vehicle and to stay motivated,” he says.
A large part of the attack deals with the improvised explosive devices themselves. “It is beyond me to fathom how on earth such a large quantity of explosives reached the Valley.”
While at this moment it’s not clear exactly where and how the explosives originated, if one assumes they were smuggled from across the border and into India, such a scenario indicts the military establishment, as it happened right under their nose.
In the alternative scenario, if one assumes the explosives originated in the Valley itself, and were used in Pulwama, it raises important questions as to how they happened inside, especially in a heavily militarised zone, where the intelligence establishment is very active.
“See it as a teamwork. Someone does a recce, a group is in charge of the explosives, someone is responsible for arranging the vehicle, and one person executes it. All these things invariably leads to a lot of chatter. How was this not intercepted by the intelligence guys? How did it escape them? It indicts the entire security apparatus,” Shah says.
India’s failure in solving Kashmir problem
The problem with India’s approach, Shah argues, is that it seeks to solve a problem once it arises.
“So you have tactical solutions like say the surgical strike,” he says. “And when that happens, the government automatically goes into self-congratulatory mode. While it is true that India has become pro-active in dealing with terror, yet the glaring fact is that terror recruitment has only increased.” For Shah, terror recruitment is a sign.
According to Jammu and Kashmir’s Multi-Agency Centre (MAC), the month of June 2018 itself saw 27 Kashmiri youth join various militant outfits. The data (till June last year) shows 82 local youth joining militancy since the beginning of 2018. In 2017, 128 local youths were reported to have joined militancy, which itself was a sharp increase from 84 in 2016, 83 in 2015 and 63 in 2014.
“Terror recruitment is a sign, a prognosis, of how grave the problem in Kashmir is,” Shah says.
Various other Kashmir experts have shown that the killing of Burhan Wani in 2016, considered a local hero, by the Kashmiris, and the heavy-handed approach by the Indian government in the aftermath of the protests against Wani’s killing, has only lead to severe disaffection among the locals.
“Any counter-insurgency expert will tell you, that in Kashmir, you cannot win against the terrorists without involving the locals. This Us-versus-Them approach of the government has done nothing but alienated the locals. The entire Kashmir strategy is a mess. And this is not just about any political party. It is a collective failure of the Indian State in its approach towards Kashmir,” Shah adds.
While Pulwama has brought India’s failure out in the open, what needs to be seen is whether this attack provokes the government into a fresh look at its Kashmir strategy, or whether it would revert to business-as-usual.