The Pulwama terror attack, which took the lives of over 40 paramilitary men, has sparked a raging debate on how India should respond to Pakistan. Planners of this attack, their logistical support and infrastructure are still in place.
In a video recorded before the attack, the young suicide bomber claimed that there are more attacks waiting to happen. While the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir has admitted the security lapses that led to this attack, there should be a determined focus on preventing a second strike. There is also a loud chorus for a Pakistan-centric response, but the establishment should not lose track of the internal lapses and the possible future consequences of the internal failures.
Below are 10 hard questions that come to my mind.
One. The suicide bomber Aadil Ahmed in the video had spun a communal lexicon while explaining his reasons and motivation for conducting this strike. Some clashes have already been reported from Jammu. The collective moral of the nation will be tattered if communal clashes occur in Jammu and Kashmir and other states. It should be ensured that law and order is maintained and communal backlash is prevented.
Two. The large quantity of explosives used in this attack raises serious questions on the effectiveness of the counterinsurgency (and counter-terrorism) grid. How did such a large cache of explosives reach the Pulwama district of South Kashmir? Were the explosives smuggled from across the border? Were the explosives procured internally? Irrespective of whether the explosives were smuggled into or procured internally, serious questions need to be asked about the effectiveness of the security forces in controlling further proliferation of the explosive materials.
Three. The planners of the attack may have recruited a local Kashmiri boy to execute the suicide bombing, and he may not have needed elaborate training for the execution. Perhaps, the only qualifications needed for such an attack were driving skills and a die-hard motivation to carry a Fidayeen strike. Given the rising recruitment of local Kashmiris in the Pakistan-based groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), would it not be easy for the recruiters to find motivated local youth to conduct more attacks? Do the security forces have an elaborate intelligence-gathering mechanism to track the activity of such recruits?
Four. There has been a vehement denial in Kashmir and in some circles in Delhi regarding the trend of radicalisation of Kashmiri youth. Fardeen Khanday was one of the first Fidayeen attackers recruited by the JeM. In a video recorded before his death, he called for more boys to join the cause of JeM. From the news reports, it appears that suicide bomber Aadil Ahmed joined the JeM two months after Fardeen’s attack. Is a new crop of homegrown suicide bombers and Fidayeen attackers coming up in Jammu and Kashmir? How will the security forces deal with this development and prevent such recruitments?
Five. As per a report published in The Times of India, Afghan war veteran and IED specialist Abdul Rasheed Ghazi infiltrated into the Kashmir valley in December last year. This report, quoting intelligence inputs, suggested that Ghazi was sent by the JeM to avenge the killing of Masood Azhar’s nephews, Talha and Usman. The video released by the suicide bomber also claimed that one of the main motivations behind the attack was the revenge for the killings of Talha and Usman. This raises serious questions about the increasing infiltrations along the Line of Control. The union government has largely maintained a silence on the cross-border infiltrations. At a time when the JeM is sending its best fighters, which include nephews of Masood Azhar, to conduct attacks in India, the questions that arise are (1) what is the likely number of such highly trained fighters now active in the valley? (2) Why are these infiltration not being curbed on the Line of Control? (3) How do infiltrators traverse the distance and manoeuvre through the security grid from the LoC to the districts of South Kashmir?
Six. The Jammu-Srinagar highway is the main connecting route between the two regions of the state. It is the most utilised route for mobilisation of the troops connecting the two different regions. Numerous attacks have happened on this route. Is the highway secure for the movement of troops anymore? How will the route be secured if India decides to go on a full-scale strategic escalation against Pakistan? What are the mechanisms in place to secure the highway? Have any lessons been learnt from the continued attacks on the highway since 2016?
Seven. Before and after the hanging of Afzal Guru, the Parliament attack accused, the Indian media and intelligentsia brazenly eulogised the convict, turning him into a cult figure. While the JeM has taken the responsibility for the Pulwama attack, why is the media shying away from naming the “Afzal Guru Squad” — the Fidayeen wing of the JeM — for conducting attacks post-Burhan Wani encounter? Did the sympathy wave created by the media and intelligentsia for Afzal Guru overlook the consequences of glorification of individuals accused of terrorism?
Eight. Some sections of the Indian media and security establishment had overzealous obsession with Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hafiz Saeed. This singular obsession with this terror group made other Pakistan-based groups appear less significant in comparison, and perhaps that is why the strategic community didn’t pay much attention to the JeM. With the revival of the JeM, followed by the re-emergence of the Al Badr group in Kashmir valley, it seems the prime time analysis, which is prone to myopic viewpoints, fails to inform policymakers and the general public of the looming threats. Al Badr, along with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami, is known to have fought in the Afghan war against the Soviet forces. The JeM is also said to have been linked with Deobandi Afghan Taliban.
Nine. The immediate consequence of the Pulwama carnage is the sense of fear that has developed in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which could possibly lead to rescheduling or cancellations of the parliamentary polls in the state. Ever since Jammu and Kashmir came under the central rule, efforts have been made to revive the electoral politics in the state. The state and central governments have failed to conduct elections in the Anantnag parliamentary constituency of South Kashmir and the Lok Sabha seat is vacant since April 2016. Should the government give Pakistan, the terror groups and the separatists a sense of victory by not holding or delaying the parliamentary polls?
Ten. There was a clear intelligence input regarding a possible IED attack. An intelligence note, which is now in public circulation, suggests that all branches of the CRPF, the BSF, the Indian Army, the CISF, the ITBP and the Jammu and Kashmir Police were warned of a large-scale attack. The Governor of Jammu and Kashmir has admitted the “security lapses” leading to the deadly attack. While the Governor’s admission is welcome, can individuals involved in the key decision-making at the highest level of the state and central government continue to hold the charge? The current security is not just precarious but utterly insensitive too.
The possibility of another terror strike looms large, and the government has, as per allegations, appointed “yes-men” in key security assignments in the state. Most of the talented officers, including those with decades of counter-insurgency (counter-terror) experience, have been given insignificant postings in the state police and central agencies. What does it say about a government that has turned some of the best Kashmir and terror experts into fence-sitters, even as the new face of terror unfolds?
The author is an associate fellow at ORF. This article was originally published on Observer Research Foundation.