Kashmir - SAT Editorial

India: The Pulwama Revelations

In early 2019, the long-standing rivalry between India and Pakistan appeared to be heading for another major armed conflict. On February 14, 2019, a vehicle-borne suicide bomber attacked a convoy of vehicles transporting Indian security forces on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway near Lethapora in the Pulwama district of Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJK). The incident claimed the lives of 40 members of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), as well as the attacker, a young Kashmiri local. In spite of Pakistan’s swift condemnation of the attack and denial of any involvement, India quickly laid the blame for it on its neighbor. The following day saw the tensions between the two nuclear-armed countries rise, precipitating not only a series of events that continue to haunt the region, but also an array of concerns about Indian state connivance—some of which have recently surfaced.

Kashmir: The Attack and Standoff

 Since 1947, both India and Pakistan have claimed Kashmir, with each country administering a portion of the disputed territory. Since the late 1980s, a sporadic insurgency has gripped the territory that is now not merely administered but also occupied by India. India has frequently blamed Pakistan for giving the insurgency material backing. Following India’s assassination of renowned insurgent leader Burhan Wani in 2016, unrest in Kashmir intensified. Since then, an increasing number of young people from Kashmir have joined the armed struggle, with the vast majority of them being locals rather than foreigners.

Following the Pulwama attack, the most devastating attack on Indian forces in the region in many years, India asserted that it had “incontrovertible evidence” of Pakistan’s role but did not immediately disclose it. Arun Jaitley, the federal minister at the time, declared that India would use all diplomatic means at its disposal to isolate Pakistan from the rest of the global community.

Despite Pakistan’s denial of any guilt and offer to assist in the investigation, India seemed to be unwilling to engage in productive dialogue.

In addition to other Indian responses that spilled over into the typically apolitical worlds of sports and cinema, the Indian Air Force (IAF) ascended the escalation ladder on February 26 by employing twelve Mirage 2000 jets to cross the Line of Control (LoC) and drop bombs on Balakot, Pakistan. Afterward, India claimed to have targeted a Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp and executed several terrorists—between 300 and 350. Pakistan, on the other hand, asserted that it swiftly dispatched aircraft to engage the IAF jets, which dropped their payloads before swooping back over the LoC. A day later, an Indian MiG-21 was shot down over Pakistan, and its pilot was taken prisoner in the ensuing dogfight between Indian and Pakistani fighter pilots. Yet, on March 1, Pakistan returned the pilot to India as a gesture of peace, defusing the situation, which had by that point perilously approached the brink of war.

Doubts and Confessions

While a major conflict had been avoided despite the Indian media\’s war-mongering in the run-up to the clash between the countries’ air forces, some in India were already beginning to question the state narrative.

A 12-person team from India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) was sent to investigate the incident with the Jammu and Kashmir Police. Initial inquiries indicated that the vehicle had been carrying more than 300 kilograms (660 lb) of explosives, which Lt. Gen. Hooda, the former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian Army’s Northern Command, claimed may have been taken from a construction site. Initially declaring that it was impossible for them to have crossed the border illegally, he subsequently added that he could not rule it out. However, despite a year of inquiry, the NIA failed to identify the explosives’ source.

Moreover, a 500-page document from 2021 detailing conversations between renowned Indian anchor Arnab Goswami and Partho Dasgupta, the former CEO of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), presented shocking details about Goswami’s close ties to the office of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other officials in the ruling party. These exchanges revealed that Goswami had advance knowledge of numerous highly classified activities and specifics, including the Balakot strike, three days before it took place. On February 14, 2019, Goswami made a comment about the incident in Pulwama, saying, “This attack we have won like crazy,” and going on to boast about the ways in which the attack had enhanced the reputation of Modi.

According to a Frontline story on the Pulwama attack’s second anniversary, there had been a number of intelligence reports on Mudasir Ahmad Khan, the purported suicide bomber’s handler, and their plans to attack security personnel. Nevertheless, despite being on the radar of intelligence agencies, he was not detained. Similarly, the suicide bomber Adil Dar had previously been detained six times before the incident but had been released on each occasion without being charged.

In fact, Satya Pal Malik, the former governor of Jammu and Kashmir, recently highlighted similar lingering concerns about deliberate governmental negligence.

In an interview with Karan Thapar for The Wire, Malik asserted that the Home Ministry declined to provide five aircraft that the CRPF had requested to transport its personnel, forcing a sizable contingent of security personnel to travel by road in a convoy, which rendered them the target of a lethal terrorist assault. Additionally, he claimed that Modi instructed him to keep quiet about some alleged oversights Malik had raised following the Pulwama attack.

India: Debate Over Complicity

It is essential to recall that even the CRPF’s internal probe disputes the Indian government’s position and identifies intelligence failure as one of the causes of the attack, in addition to other factors. Strangely enough, though, the security forces and intelligence organizations that had missed the signs warning that such an immense calamity was about to take place allegedly managed to capture or kill the perpetrators and claim victory the very next day.

Most crucially, Modi’s political benefit from the episode is something of the past, despite the fact that, by all accounts, he was in an untenable position heading into the 2019 national elections.

But not only did the disinformation campaign that followed Balakot and Pulwama spare him, it additionally strengthened the majority of his party.

Jumping on the bandwagon, he appeared to have no reservations about exploiting the deaths of his nation’s soldiers for electoral gain for himself and his party.

Although the media-fueled public euphoria in India following the Balakot airstrikes did wonders for his national appeal—portraying him as a courageous leader when it meant confronting enemy Pakistan—the families of some of the soldiers who perished in the attack are now calling for an investigation into the events in light of these alarming revelations. If these demands were satisfied and hypothetically proved their fear of the attack being a political move, one wonders how they would reconcile the notion of patriotism with such betrayal—not by an adversary but by the state itself.


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