A state of tension and terror persists as India exacts first revenge: Full details of Pulwama? aftermath

Four days after the devastating attack on the CRPF convoy in Kashmir, India exacted it’s first act of revenge for Pulwama attacks as three militants including Jaish-e-Mohammed commander and alleged Pulwama mastermind Kamran were in a military encounter.

The gunfight in Pulwama comes within a week of the terror attack, which killed over 40 personnel of the CRPF on the Jammu-Srinagar highway, and is being touted as the deadliest terror attack in the valley in over a decade.

Four army officials including a Major, and two civilians were killed in the gunfight on Monday, while South Kashmir Deputy-Inspector General Amit Kumar was reportedly injured and hospitalised after receiving a bullet in his leg during the encounter, which went on for 16 hours.

Amid heightened tensions across the subcontinent, the attack was followed by a series of interesting and potentially damning responses from the central government, countrymen and the international community at large, which aims to turn up the pressure on Pakistan to address and curb its home-grown terrorism

are some of the crucial developments.

First crackdown

A joint team of Indian Army’s 55 Rashtriya Rifles, CRPF Special Operation Group launched a cordon in the wee hours on Monday, on receiving credible inputs about the presence of terrorists in the Pinglana area.

The four martyred Indian soldiers include Major VS Dhoundiyal, Havaldar Sheo Ram, Sepoy Ajay Kumar Sepoy Hari Singh.

Besides Kamran, a Kashmiri local and recent recruit of the terror group, Halil Ahmad, was also killed. A third terrorist, Mufti Abdullah, was also killed in the on-going encounter, News18 reported late evening. The two civilians who died, owned the house where the militants had reportedly holed up.

Strategic, diplomatic and economic sanctions

The Jammu and Kashmir administration has withdrawn all vehicles and security for five separatist leaders: Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Abdul Gani Bhat, Bilal Lone, Hashim Qureshi, Shabir Shah, in the wake of the Pulwama attack. This comes just two days after Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to the strife-torn state, which has been under curfew since February 15.

Immediately after the terror attack, India withdrew the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status given to Pakistan under the WTO trade pact.

The Pakistan Foreign Office’s spokesperson Mohammad Faisal announced on Monday that its High Commissioner to India, Sohail Mahmood, has been called back for consultations about the ongoing situation. It is not clear if he will be recalled—which would indicate that Pakistan has severed all diplomatic ties—owing to the festering relations between the two nations.

Everyone’s doing own bit

On Monday, a complete ban on cultural exchange with Pakistan was announced by the All India Cine Workers Association.

The film industry at large has announced a total ban on Pakistani actors and artists, adding that if an Indian still insists on working with them, strong action will be taken. Similar demands were made of Pakistani actors in Bollywood after the Uri terror attack in 2016.

Actors Akshay Kumar, Salman Khan, Amitabh and others have joined hands to donate towards the welfare of the families of the slain soldiers, through Bharat ke Veer fund. Several filmmakers and producers have also chipped in, even deciding not to release their upcoming films in Pakistan.

Cricketer Mohammad Shami has also donated money to the wives of CRPF personnel who were martyred during the attack. “When we play for our country they stand at the borders protecting it. We stand with the families of our jawans, we will always be there for them,” ANI reported Shami as saying. 

In what could be a huge blow to the Pakistan Super League (PSL), currently underway in Dubai, IMG Reliance has pulled out as producers and broadcasters of the 4th edition of PSL, in wake of the Pulwama terror attack. In a mail sent to the officials of the PSL and the Pakistan Cricket Board, IMG Reliance mentioned that the company will be suspending services with immediate effect while condemning the barbaric attack on the CRPF jawans.

Meanwhile, India’s largest public sector bank, State Bank of India, has announced it will waive all loans for 23 of the martyred soldiers.

In a rare gesture, a Bihar District Magistrate Inayat Khan has adopted the daughters of two CRPF soldiers from Bihar who were killed on February 14, pledging to sponsor their education along with other expenses throughout their lives.

Fake news is back with a vengeance

An image of Pakistani national and slain JeM terrorist, Ghazi Rashid aka Kamran, was circulated across social media and by noted Indian media portals—before it was discovered that his face had been photoshopped atop the body of a cop/model.

Another doctored photograph showing Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, posing alongside local militant and Pulwama suicide bomber Adil Ahmad Dar, has also made its way into people’s phones via WhatsApp groups which have been fuelling hyper-nationalism, hatred, war-mongering ever since the attack.

Online media has witnessed a flood of disinformation with some posts explicitly demanding an eye for an eye, along with messages urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to go to war with Pakistan as a fitting retribution for the Pulwama attack.

Around 8 people were arrested for posting anti-national content and writing inflammatory posts on social media regarding the Pulwama attack, while 15 others were booked on Sunday. Among those booked were seven students from Kashmir, studying in Jaipur and Bengaluru. Most of those arrested had hailed the suicide bomber and called him a hero while criticising the Indian Army.

India unleashes its military on Pakistan

The latest encounter comes against the backdrop of PM Modi’s rousing call to action, giving the military “khula ” or a free hand to determine “the timing, place nature of their response.” Many have termed this an act of abdicating political responsibility.

“I know there is deep anger, your blood boils looking at what has happened. At this moment, there are expectations and the feelings of a strong response which is quite natural,” Modi said in a speech mourning the police forces killed and those injured. On Monday, he said that the attack has that the time to talk about tackling terror is over and the world is now required to unitedly take concrete action against terrorism and those behind its spread.

Dithering action against terror groups and their backers will be like encouraging terrorism, he added.

The Quint notes that the timing of the event, just before the Lok Sabha polls, demands immediate and strict action against terror outfits from the ruling party. In a different but related report, it shows how terror attacks in Kashmir have increased manifold under the Modi government.

According to the report, terror incidents in Jammu and Kashmir have increased by 261% in the last five years, reflecting the utter failure of Modi’s Kashmir policy. But more importantly, it the role jingoism plays in Indian electoral because the masses don’t normally bat an eye when thousands of Kashmiri men, women and children are persecuted.

What happened in Iran?

A day before the devastating attack in Pulwama, 27 Iranian soldiers had been killed in a similar suicide bombing last Wednesday. The Revolutionary Guards were returning from the Iran-Pakistan border area when a car filled with explosives blew up beside their bus on the Khash-Zahedan road, reported the BBC.

Following the Kashmir attack and its likeness to the one on their soil, Iran has also accused Pakistan’s security forces of supporting the perpetrators of such terror operations. A strong warning from elite security chief Maj. Gen. Mohammed Ali Jafari said that Pakistan would “pay a heavy price” for terrorists on its soil.

“Why do Pakistan’s army and security body… give refuge to these anti-revolutionary groups?” Jafari asked on live television on Saturday. Jafari also warned Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE for backing terrorism in Pakistan. All three countries deny their involvement in the Iran attacks.

Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj also made a brief stopover in Iran on Saturday to express solidarity with the Iranian martyrs and the 40 CRPF jawans slain earlier last week. She met with Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Aragchchi where the two ministers discussed bilateral ties and close cooperation between the countries to combat terrorism in the region.

A similar attack was recreated in Pakistan

On Sunday, three days after Pulwama, a least 9 Pakistani Army personnel were killed and 11 more injured in a suicide attack on a convoy passing through the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) route near Balochistan. Baloch militants affiliated to BRAS claimed responsibility for the attack.

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was in Pakistan during the attack, notably ordered the freeing of over 2000 Pakistani prisoners in the middle eastern kingdom with immediate effect. He has also signed a $20bn business deal with India’s cash-strapped , suggesting a realignment of alliance in the region. China, meanwhile, has demanded proof of Pakistani involvement in Pulwama.

The nuclear option

“They kill 41, we should kill 82,” said Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Monday in an interview with News18. Calling for “tough coercive” action by the Indian government against Pakistan, Singh added said that while no one wants war, a mix of diplomatic, military and economic pressure is needed. 

“Enough is enough, India wants action. This is not time to talk but to act. These killings of our soldiers are no joke. We’re fed up. Something has to be done,” Capt Singh said. 

The Punjab CM said that India cannot be held ransom just because Pakistan has nuclear weapons. “We also have nuclear weapons. And didn’t they have nukes during Kargil War? India should call their bluff,” Capt Singh said. 

Meanwhile, his colleague in Congress and Punjab minister Navjyot Singh Sidhu had earlier landed in a controversy after he questioned in what is believed to be a reference to Pakistan, “Can an entire nation be blamed for a handful of people?”

Sidhu responded to the criticism saying, “Those who are branding me as anti-national should tell the people as to who had handed him (JeM founder Masood Azhar) over to Pakistan. What they (BJP) had been doing all these years to get at him”, Sidhu asked. Azhar had been released by India in exchange for the passengers of the IC814 plane, hijacked and flowed to Kandahar back in 1999.

“It (the terror attack) is a cowardly and dastardly act and I condemn it firmly. Violence is always condemnable and those who did it must be punished,” Navjot Sidhu clarified.

The terrible success of terror

As Kashmiri students and professionals are being heckled all over the country, Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi, in a press conference, said that parties should not engage in blame game in “this sensitive moment.” Referring specifically to students from Jammu and Kashmir, he asked that they not be targeted in what he described as “reprehensible.

In one widely reported instance, students from the Valley had to lock themselves inside a hostel room in Dehradun on Sunday to protect themselves from a mob that had gathered outside. 

“Those who are attacking these students are attacking our own citizens. Anyone attempting to question the martyrdom of our armed forces must be dealt strictly in accordance with law, but singling out J&K students only helps cause of separatist elements,” the Rajya Sabha MP said on Monday.

Asserting that the people of Kashmir are not responsible for the attack, National Conference (NC) president Farooq Abdullah on Sunday expressed concern over the alleged ill-treatment of Kashmiri students and businessmen residing outside the Valley. With a sense of finality, he stressed that attacks like Pulwama will continue till the Kashmir issue is resolved politically.

Actor-turned-politician Kamal Hasaan also raised a pertinent question on Monday, asking why the government has not a plebiscite in Kashmir yet, immediately sparking a controversy which compelled his party to ultimately clarify that his comments were taken out of context.

A difficult test

For every mob and hate rally targeting non-resident Kashmiris, however, there are hundreds of people across the nation opening their doors and homes to those feeling vulnerable and threatened. As the government mulls its options, it is the duty of the administration and all political and civil society leadership to ensure that calm is maintained. 

It is important to remember that this is a moment when the whole nation is reeling and recovering from a massive blow to its sense of security. Therefore, it is vital that we neither to succumb to manufactured hate nor to fear and intimidation.

At the same time, it is important to focus on the real failures and rooms for improvement because any punitive action has to begin at home, against negligent officials, and with the question: Why did the government allow such a large body of troops – nearly 2,500 men – to travel together in a large convoy of 80 vehicles? Especially when the government had intelligence inputs that such attacks could happen before elections?

Before baying for blood and indulging in jingoistic dialogue circling retaliation and retribution, it is important to take all these factors into account and look at the larger picture vis a vis the upcoming polls, fake news menace, the shifting regional politics of Asia, the future of Kashmir now practically under Army-rule, and how terror feeds on terror.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius