A dastardly terror attack was reported on February 14, 2019, in Pulwama district of the Indian state of the Jammu & Kashmir killing over 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel. A local Kashmiri militant drove a vehicle packed with explosives in the range of 200 to 350 kg into a bus that was part of a police convoy. The suicide attacker may have been a local but was proselytized and indoctrinated by Pakistan- based terror outfit, the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), of which Maulana Masood Azhar is the leader. Immediately after the attack, the JeM not only claimed responsibility for the incident but also released a video of the suicide bomber. Noteworthy is the fact that JeM is the outfit, also responsible for 2001 attacks on the Indian Parliament. Since then, New Delhi has been working hard to list Masood Azhar as a designated terrorist in the UN list. But at Pakistan’s behest, China has continued to block India’s request to designate Masood Azhar at the UN Security Council. Ostensibly, China has condemned the Pulwama attack. However, off the record, China has refused to end its ‘technical hold’ on the ban on Azhar, blocking India’s attempts to declare him a ‘global terrorist’.
China and Pakistan are believed to be ‘all-weather friends. And, Beijing has gone all out to guard Islamabad’s patronage of the terror network. Ironically, at a systemic level, there is a bigger power play on. China has recently pledged $51 billion in investments and development projects, including the Belt and the Road (BRI) and the China -Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) plan. China now also wants the CPEC to be extended to Afghanistan. The CPEC is a most important project as it is believed to be the most strategic one connecting China’s western provinces with the West Asia, eventually to become the world’s largest hub connecting Iran, Afghanistan, the five Central Asian countries, Russia, India, East Africa, Europe and other countries and regions. Moreover, being an international economic corridor, CPEC will help China in its ambitious initiative which connects China’s north-western Xinjiang province to the Gwadar port in Arabian Sea. The CPEC goes through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
China has realized the significance of three necessities, namely a strong economy, maritime space and unrestrained energy supply to become a great power. China also wants to play a bigger strategic role in the Indian ocean region. The implications for India of this strategic nexus between China and Pakistan not only undermines the security in different ways in the region, but also gives value to Pakistan as Beijing’s strategic surrogate. And, under China’s shield, Pakistan is ‘masking malevolence with duplicity’ thereby promoting terror in neighborhood.
Secondly, the attack on the police convoy also gives the first hint as to what awaits in J&K and rest of India after the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Undoubtedly, the US troop withdrawal is advantage Pakistan. This will have serious security implications. To the extent that Pakistan continues to support terror and safe havens, India’s counter-terror efforts cannot succeed. This car-bomb is one of the most dreaded attack in the recent past, indicating a resurgence of a new form of militancy in J&K. The JeM, which claimed responsibility of the terror attack, has got a boost after Imran Khan’s government came to power. Until recently, it was a bit dormant in Pakistan. But, in the recent Pakistan elections, it had supported Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf. Also, this election witnessed the mainstreaming of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) in Pakistan. Many of its members contested elections under the banner of other parties. Therefore, we can witness more such dreaded attacks on the part of JeM, instead of LeT in the Kashmir Valley. Both JeM and LeT have their roots in Pakistan. They have no affiliation to Kashmiri people. Their recruitment to training is all taken care of by the Pakistani establishment and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Third, let us also not miss out the fact that this attack carries the stamp of the 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 is 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 in Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan border, killing 27 Revolutionary Guards also mirrored the Pulwama attack. No doubt, the new ISI chief has a plan in place with serious consequence for its neighborhood.
New Delhi’s immediate response to the Pulwama attack has been to isolate Pakistan diplomatically and punish economically by the withdrawal of the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to Pakistan and imposition of 200 per cent customs duties on goods from across the border. Nonetheless, it’s too little, too late. New Delhi will have to carve out a concerted multi-pronged plan to deal with this rogue state.