What Does the Return of IED Attacks in Kashmir Mean for the Army?
Till last week it was the sniping war at the LoC which was live, with casualties on both the sides. Even as we were discussing the new Indian Army sniper rifles under induction, it was certain that a change in character of the proxy war in Kashmir would take place sooner than later. Pakistan’s deep state masterminding the actions of terrorists in the Valley had already experimented with targeting of local policemen and soldiers on leave.
For long, analysts were anticipating the return of one of the most effective weapons of sub-conventional conflicts: the improvised explosive device or the IED and its derivative, the car bomb. It returned in Pulwama with the addition of an even more potent weapon, the suicide bomber.
Rise and Fall of IED Attacks in Kashmir
The proxy war in Kashmir has experienced most of the above in the past and seen the back of them many years ago. The Nineties and the early millennium did see many IED attacks, which imposed much caution on movement of convoys and small vehicle detachments, including VIP movement.
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However, after 20 July 2008 IEDs suddenly dried up; it was almost a switch turned off. On that date, Pakistan-sponsored terrorist organizations in the Valley targeted a bus of the Kupwara convoy inflicting heavy losses. Attacks using IEDs thereafter have been far and few reflecting the dearth of talent for fabricating them.
IED fabricators are often referred to as “IED doctors” and are specialists in their own right within the terrorist ranks. The Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) had several such doctors and the IED threat in South Kashmir, particularly in the Pulwama and Anantnag districts, was rampant.
Car Bombs & Suicide Attacks
The story of car bombs is different. The first such bomb was detonated at the gate of the Chinar Corps HQ in 2001 followed by a similar action against the J&K Assembly in Srinagar the same year. Thereafter in 2004, a bus carrying officers of the Baramula division of the Army was targeted by a Maruti 800-based car bomb. Mercifully, the officer casualties were superficial but the driver of the bus was killed. His cabin was the only part not reinforced by extra steel to harden it like the rest of the bus.
In this case, armoured steel skirt-plates of derelict tanks had been transported to Srinagar and welded to the sides of the bus and industrial rubber waste was bought as scrap, melted and pasted to the floor to reinforce it. That improvisation saved many lives. More importantly, it led to the concept of hardened passenger vehicles for troops traveling in convoys. The practice lasted as long as the threat remained live; probably it died out after IEDs and car bombs became history.
There have been no effective car bomb attacks since 2004 and no effective IED attacks since 2008.
They came armed with grenades and AK 47s and were prepared to die by the bullets of the security forces. So the concept of the suicide bomber eluded Kashmir for long.
Pakistan Aims to Alienate Kashmiris From India Through This Re-learnt Strategy
What made security analysts predict the return of the IED and the car bomb?
I can say for myself that my study of the Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan conflicts led me to the deduction that these improvised but potent weapons had not probably been sufficiently fielded in Kashmir. Their nuisance potential had been insufficiently exploited by terrorists. With Pakistan’s own experience with the unfriendly terror groups it relearnt the potential all over again. That is why I was writing on this and anticipating more than a year ago.
The impact of the three improvisations— the car bomb, ground or side emplaced IEDs and the explosive strapped suicide bombers—if employed as a strategy by the sponsors of proxy war could have a major impact on the security situation in Kashmir. Firstly, it would impose tremendous caution on movement of vehicles, patrols and, especially, VIP columns, thus affecting operations, logistics, and supervision.
Secondly, it would entail additional deployment for checks at entry points and scanning of vehicles.
Third, and most importantly, it would force the security forces to impose additional population control measures—the bane of the sub-conventional operational environment. That would mean many more check points undoing much of what had been done by the political leadership such as removal of posts and picquets and vehicle check points.
This last factor is the key which the separatists and their sponsors seek at all times. It neutralizes all efforts of the government and the security forces to return Kashmir to normalcy. It also helps, indirectly, in the recruitment drive for local cadres.
Security Agencies Should Avoid the Trap
Although, a single incident should not be taken as an emerging norm, the Pulwama car bomb attack on the CRPF convoy does convey Pakistan’s intent of taking the proxy war to another level. It can simultaneously continue projecting its peace intent through the request for talks. India can not afford to be seen as relenting to Pakistan pressure and take a precipitous step to end the Kashmir problem in a hurry.
Frankly, there is no solution on the cards for the moment. Unless India positions itself strongly, diplomatically and militarily, we will not see the end of the Pakistan strategy being played out in the Valley. The issue of options available to India is a separate subject and will be analysed accordingly. However, knee jerk reactions under public pressure do not make for pragmatic strategy. Internal security has to be tightened in the Valley and intelligence efforts have to be redoubled with immediate effect.
This, ultimately, remains the centre of gravity in this proxy war.
(The writer, a former GOC of the Army’s 15 Corps, is now associated with Vivekanand International Foundation and Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies. He can be reached at @atahasnain53. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)