Removal of ISI Chief: Post-Pulwama Impact?

On February 19, 2019, immediately after the dastardly attack in the Pulwama district of the state of Jammu & Kashmir wherein over 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were martyred, I had argued that the Pulwama attack had an imprint of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). During the Pulwama attack, a local Kashmiri militant drove a vehicle packed with explosives in the range of 200 to 350 kg into a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) bus that was part of a police convoy. Though the suicide attacker was a local but was proselytized and indoctrinated by Pakistan- based terror outfit, the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), of which Maulana Masood Azhar continues to be the leader. Immediately after the attack, the JeM not only claimed responsibility for the incident but also released a video of the suicide bomber.

However, what was striking was the ‘timing’ of the Pulwama attack. As mentioned earlier, the attack carried the stamp of the then newly appointed chief of the ISI, Lt Gen Asim Munir. The General was a former Northern Areas commander and Director General Military Intelligence. Generally, Pakistan’s ISI chief is a handpicked person of the Army Chief. His appointment to this position was an indication of a revival of a new type of a terror-strategy in J&K, and rest of India as a whole. The two attacks: one a day before Pulwama in Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan border, killing 27 Revolutionary Guards also had an ISI imprint. No doubt, Lt Gen Asim Munir had a plan in place with serious consequence for its neighbourhood.

However, what was different post-Pulwama was the response by the Indian government. The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, in his hard-hitting statement made it absolutely clear that “the attack on CRPF personnel in Pulwama is despicable. …… (and) the sacrifices of our brave security personnel shall not go in vain.”

And to Pakistan’s disbelief, on February 26, the Indian Air Force went deep inside Pakistan on a pre-emptive strike and successfully bombed a JeM training camp in Balakot. Pakistan too responded, but feebly. Pakistan was also under pressure from the international community to defuse the tension.

The historic victory of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2019 elections is unprecedented. With 303 seats in Indian Parliament, the BJP has surpassed its own performance of 2014 elections. Never ever in the history of Indian politics, any prime minister has returned to power with a similar mandate in its second term. And the prime minister has made it absolutely clear that there is going to be ‘zero-tolerance’ to any form of terror emanating from outside its borders. Unlike the swearing-in ceremony for Modi’s first term in 2014, wherein Pakistan was also invited along with other nations of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Pakistan was snubbed this time. New Delhi’s message was loud and clear: no warming in ties between the two until Pakistan continues to aid and abet terror. And, later also, during his two -day visit to Bishek for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), June 13-14, Modi did not engage Pakistan.  It is against this backdrop that the ISI chief’s removal has to be seen.

Lt Gen Asif Munir is possibly the only ISI chief with the shortest ever stint of eight months as Pakistan’s intelligence chief. Munir was an expert on Kashmir and also familiar to the terrain. Also was very close to Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. The new ISI Chief, Lt Gen Faiz Hamid, again is a close confidant of Gen Bajwa. He was recent, in April, appointed as Adjutant General at the General Head­quarters (GHQ). Gen Hamid is from the Baloch Regiment. He was earlier in-charge of the internal security wing at the ISI. Possibly, with his appointment, Pakistan wants to give a message to the outside world that it wants to deal with the growing internal security challenges. Pakistan is currently facing a strong secessionist movement in its north-western region in the form of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). The Pakistan Army has declared the Pashtun movement as ‘anti-national’. Balochistan continues to be in turmoil. So, definitely, there are internal security challenges to Pakistan. The deep external debt increased from Pakistani Rs 6,000 billion to Rs 30,000 billion, creating a deep economic crisis.

But this is also a fact is that the removal of the ISI chief Gen Munir comes just two days after the SCO summit in Kyrgyzstan. Undoubtedly, the massive victory of Modi in the recently concluded elections have signalled a clear message to Pakistan and ISI is that any adventurism on the part of Rawalpindi will be dealt with strong and massive retaliation. Despite the removal of Gen Munir, dealing with Pakistan will continue to remain a major challenge for New Delhi.

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