India needs to reshuffle its diplomacy and strategy following jihadist attack in Jammu and Kashmir


Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

India has come under jihadist attack once again. According to media reports, on February 14, 2019, at least 40 members of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed in one of the deadliest terror attacks in recent years in Jammu and Kashmir when a member of a jihadist group rammed a SUV [Sport Utility Vehicle] carrying over 100 kilograms of explosives into a bus carrying the members of CRPF in Pulwama district that also left many critically injured. Over 2,500 members of CRPF personnel were travelling in the convoy of 78 vehicles. Pakistan-based notorious jihadist outfit Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack.

The CRPF is the largest of the central paramilitary forces that come under the Ministry of Home Affairs. It has been carrying out law and order as well as counterinsurgency duties in Jammu and Kashmir and India’s northeast for several decades. The CRPF is generally less well trained and less well armed than the Indian Army, but it is usually used to bolster local police forces around the country in various contingencies including for counterinsurgency duties.

In the 2016 attack on an Indian Army base in Uri, 16 personnel had died. The 2001 attack on the Jammu and Kashmir state assembly in Srinagar had killed 38 people. For the CRPF in particular, this is the second worst attack in its history. The last time it suffered such casualties was in Dantewada when Maoists insurgents ambushed and killed 75 CRPF personnel in April 2010.

Following the latest jihadist attack, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a Twitter message said, “Attack on CRPF personnel in Pulwama is despicable. I strongly condemn this dastardly attack. The sacrifices of our brave security personnel shall not go in vain. The entire nation stands shoulder to shoulder with the families of the brave martyrs.”

Country’s Union Minister VK Singh responded by saying, “As a soldier and a citizen of India, my blood boils at the spineless and cowardly attacks. 18 brave hearts from the @crpfindia laid down their lives in #Pulwama. I salute their selfless sacrifice & promise that every drop of our soldier’s blood will be avenged. #JaiHind.”

It is not difficult to understand, such statements are fairly routine, and it is not sufficient to comfort the people of India unless the government goes into giving a befitting response to such extreme notoriety of Pakistan-backed jihadists. Unless Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his administration, with the help of the military establishment succeed in taking a really tough counter action to Pakistan’s agenda of terrorizing India, this will put a huge negative impact for Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during the upcoming Lok Sabha (People’s Assembly) elections.

According to The Diplomat columnist Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, despite the severity of the attack and growing pressure for action, New Delhi’s choices are much more limited than they may initially appear.

She further said, “On the diplomatic side, while we have seen Indian officials speak about isolating Pakistan and some steps may be taken in this direction, they are likely to have little substantive impact considering that the level of diplomatic intercourse with Pakistan is already quite minimal and no major negotiations or talks are underway. While India could downgrade diplomatic relations even further, it is unlikely that it could do very much to assuage the anger in the country”.

Commenting on India’s military options, Rajagopalan said, “India’s military options are equally constrained. If past crises are any indication, it is unlikely that there are any well-planned and prepared contingency options that have been decided in consultation between the political leadership and the Indian military. Thus, any response will have to wait until plans are drawn up, forces prepared, and equipment deployed.  This is likely to take time, possibly several weeks.

“It is also unclear that the Indian military has sufficient superiority over Pakistani forces to even consider any full-scale military retaliation. The Indian military has been starved of funds in the last several years, with very little capital acquisition and significant weaknesses in critical areas. The Indian Air Force, for example, is down to about 30 squadrons and it will be years before India is able to field the full 42 squadrons that has been sanctioned for the Air Force.

“It is also unclear that India will respond with a full-scale conventional assault as envisaged under the Cold Start doctrine. With elections looming, such a venture may be considered too risky. While it is possible that India could conduct a somewhat enhanced version of the 2016 surgical strikes, that may not be seen as sufficient”.

The option of isolating Pakistan:

One of the most significant steps that India may initiate is getting terror-patron Pakistan isolated from the world. For this, India actually needs support and help from the international community, more precisely, the United States, Israel and China. It is understood that Russia may have excellent relations with India; it is unclear if Moscow will move desperately in favour of Delhi in putting Islamabad under huge pressure. Moreover, Russia cannot play any significant role in placing Pakistan into isolation.

While India certainly deserves support from the United States and Israel in particular in taking some effective measure in putting Pakistan into isolation, Delhi’s foreign policy centering terror-patron Iran or Palestinian terrorists, including mega-terrorist group Hamas had already generated doubts. While Narendra Modi and Indian policymakers are proclaiming Israel as their “great ally” the actions of India regarding Iran and Palestinians do not really give credence to such claims. Rather it sound to be double-standard, if not a clear hypocrisy. As it is said, hypocrisy never brings good result in the end; India now may find itself trapped into its own diplomatic blunders. Moreover, extreme romance between Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin might not have been seen positively by the American policymakers.

And as to China, it is almost certain that Beijing will not shift from its policy of having warmer relations with Pakistan, irrespective of the fact, Beijing itself is facing threats posed by radical Uyghur Muslims. Because of China’s exposedly pro-Pakistan policy or more precisely anti-India strategy, it is unlikely that anything substantive can be done through the United Nations. Let us not undermine the growing influence of the Arab nations on the UN.

Position of United States:

In the wake of the Pulwama terror attack, US National Security Adviser John Bolton told his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on February 15, 2019 that America supports India’s right to self-defence as both sides vowed to work together to ensure that Pakistan ceases to be a safe haven for JeM and other terror groups.

A closer look into Mr. John Bolton’s statement will prove, United States is looking for working together with India to “ensure that Pakistan ceases to be a safe haven for JeM and other terror groups”. This statement is just the repetition of the existing policy of Washington. But, has it been able in compelling Pakistan in abandoning evil practice of patronizing radical Islamic terrorism?

Some serious questions about Indian security measures:

Though we know, India has several satellites in the orbit, it is may not be illogical to ask – why Indian authorities did not put its entire border area with Pakistan under strict surveillance through satellite.

Ignorance of Narendra Modi and BJP:

While the entire Indian nation were mourning the tragic death of the CRPF members and were demanding stern actions against Pakistan, Narendra Modi and his partymen were busy in attending political rallies in a number of places, showing as if nothing serious had happened. Is it what India would expect from its Prime Minister and the ruling party?

India must take revenge on its own:

Understanding the realities, India, instead of banking on its friends in the international community, should initiate a massive action against Pakistan. The positive sign here is – Indian policymakers have already assigned Army Chief Bipin Rawat, Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, Lt Gen KJS Dhillon, Lt Gen Anil Chauhan and Lt Gen Harinder Singh to “respond and hit back at terrorists”.

But, most possibly, a 2016-type so-called Surgical Strike may not work this time as Pakistan might have already put its entire border under high-alert. If Indian Generals will have to wait for an “appropriate opportunity”, it might take weeks, if not months and such delay will bring huge disaster to Narendra Modi and BJP during the upcoming general elections.

According to security and defence analysts, the best option for India to give a befitting lesson to Pakistan is a series of drone attacks, where there won’t be any casualty on the Indian side. India can target jihadist bases inside Pakistan through satellite images and hit those bases through drone attacks. Question here is – whether Indian policymakers are going to do that.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is the editor of Blitz. Follow him on Twitter @Salah_Shoaib

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