As many as 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed in a car-bomb attack in South Kashmir’s Pulwama on Thursday, 14 February. This was the worst terror attack in Kashmir in nearly two decades.
In terms of scale and casualties, it exceeds even the Uri attack of 18 September 2016, in which four heavily armed terrorists targeted an Army brigade headquarters, killing 19 soldiers.
The Pulwama attack can be compared to the car-bombing at the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly complex in Srinagar on 1 October 2001. Three terrorists rammed a Tata Sumo loaded with explosives into the main gate of the complex, killing 38 people.
Both the Uri and Legislative Assembly attacks are said to have been carried out by Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed, which has also taken responsibility for the attack on the CRPF convoy in Pulwama.
The fact that the Jaish-e-Mohammed is still active and holds the capability of carrying out an attack of such a scale should worry India.
But what should also be a cause of concern is that unlike the above two attacks, the Pulwama attack was carried out by a local militant, Adil Ahmad Dar.
In many ways, the Pulwama attack reflects the failure of the Narendra Modi government’s Kashmir policy much more than even the Uri strike.
Let’s look at some statistics.
According to the answer given by the Union government in the Lok Sabha, terror incidents in Jammu and Kashmir have increased by 261 percent in the last five years – from 170 incidents in 2013 to 614 incidents in 2018.
There were two major spikes in terror incidents: In 2016, after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani and again in 2018.
The Narendra Modi government’s tenure has also seen a massive increase in the number of youth joining militancy in Kashmir: From 16 in 2013 to 191 in 2018, an increase of nearly 12 times.
The number of active militants, both homegrown as well as foreign, is also said to have increased to 300 last year. This is an increase of nearly four times from 78 in 2013, which was the lowest since the armed insurgency broke out in Kashmir.
Where Did Modi Govt Go Wrong?
The fundamental problem with the trio of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP President Amit Shah and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval is that rather than viewing Kashmir as a political problem, they see it as a battlefield for some kind of ideological war. It is the same ideological preoccupation of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that led to the mess in the Northeast due to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. But that deserves a separate debate.
The BJP’s views on Kashmir are shaped by its desire to complete Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s unfinished mission and establish their rule in the Valley.
This is evident in the aggression with which they tried to capture power in the state – first by pushing Mufti Mohammad Sayeed for an alliance, then through their power tussle with his successor Mehbooba Mufti and finally by the imposition of Governor’s Rule in the state.
Contrast Modi’s policy with the manner in which the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government played a key role in fostering a PDP-Congress alliance government led by Mufti Sayeed in 2002, which was said to be one of the few phases of relative peace in Kashmir.
The ideologically driven intransigence of the Modi government has led to a disastrous Kashmir policy that has ruined whatever goodwill New Delhi had achieved in Kashmir since 2002.
Cut back to 2014. The Assembly elections that year witnessed the highest turnout in Kashmir in over 25 years. The increase was particularly significant in constituencies in the Valley that have historically seen low turnouts, mainly due to boycott calls by separatists.
The primary reason for the increase in turnout in Kashmir was the reaction of Kashmiri Muslims to the aggressive campaigning by the BJP in the Valley. Many Kashmiris felt that their identity, Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and state subject laws would be in danger if the BJP comes to power in the state.
There were several Kashmiri voters who came out and voted for the first time since the 1987 elections, which were heavily rigged by most accounts. For many the only aim was to defeat the BJP.
There was also a grudging acknowledgment that votes can make a difference, especially after the defeat of former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah at the hands of People's Democratic Party’s Tariq Hameed Karra from Srinagar in the Lok Sabha elections earlier in 2014.
However, this essentially anti-BJP mandate in Kashmir was squandered by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed when he allied with the party to form a government in the state. This, despite an open offer of support from the National Conference and the Congress.
The increase in local youths joining the ranks of militants began soon after the PDP-BJP government was formed. And it is no surprise that the PDP’s areas of influence in South Kashmir emerged as the main hub of militancy.
Most of the prominent homegrown militants of the past few years hailed from South Kashmir – Burhan Wani from Tral in Pulwama district, Riyaz Naikoo from Awantipora in Pulwama district, Saddam Padder from Heff in Shopian district and Ali Ahmad Dar, who carried out the car bombing on the CRPF personnel, from Kakpora, also in Pulwama district.
Many of the young men from South Kashmir who joined the ranks of militants, hailed from pro-Jamaat-e-Islami families.
Now, why is this important?
In the past, Jamaat is said to have had a tactical understanding with the PDP. In the 2002 and 2008 Assembly elections, Jamaat cadres are said to have ignored boycott calls to come out and vote for the PDP.
In return, they secured a relative degree of peace in their areas and a phasing out of the Ikhwanis (counter insurgent militia) that were a much-hated feature of the National Conference regime in the 1990s.
The alliance with the BJP ruptured the PDP’s ties with Jamaat and alienated its supporters across the Valley. So, when popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter in 2016, the PDP’s implosion accelerated dramatically.
A cycle of violence began – protests, crackdown by security forces resulting in civilian casualties and sparking more protests. Every civilian casualty and pellet injury created more resentment among Kashmiris. More youth took to militancy, more locals stopped helping the security forces. And PDP’s credibility nose-dived. New Delhi’s biggest asset in Kashmir was becoming a liability.
The National Conference on the other hand, still retained some goodwill among older voters in North Kashmir who benefitted from Sheikh Abdullah’s land reforms decades ago.
But even that wasn’t significant enough to address the fact that Kashmiris were more alienated from New Delhi than ever in nearly two decades.
A crucial fallout of this alienation is the complete collapse of the human intelligence network (almost entirely comprising local Kashmiris) that the security forces relied on.
Such a breakdown in human intelligence is one of the reasons why security forces have become sitting ducks for attacks like the one in Pulwama.
No Lessons Learnt
Sadly, the government seems to have learnt no lessons even after the Pulwama attack as most of its reactions are based on its warped view of Kashmir.
Take for instance Minister of State in the PMO Jitendra Singh, who chose to attack “mainstream” Kashmiri parties like NC and PDP, which are perhaps the only set of well-wishers of some importance New Delhi has in Kashmir.
If the government cannot differentiate between political opponents and threats to national security, it becomes clear why it has been unable to stop the rise of militancy in Kashmir in the past four years. The same goes for its inability to differentiate between Kashmiri civilians and terrorists.
It’s not just the BJP government, much of the right-wing ecosystem of pro-government news channels, public figures and even social media trolls suffer from the same cognitive problem.
And this is the reason why the Pulwama attack was followed by hyper-nationalist frenzy directed at everyone from the NC and PDP to liberals and common Kashmiris rather than any attempt to analyse the political and intelligence failures that led to the attack.
Armed forces personnel and Kashmiri civilians are paying with their lives for this disastrous understanding of Kashmir.
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)