Not just the perpetrators, but also their handlers and masters, have to be brought to book through all available means at the disposal of the Indian government.
The Pulwama attack has once again brought the spotlight on Pakistan and it’s proxies operating in India. The Jaish-e-Mohammed, an organisation founded by Masood Azhar and headquartered in Bahawalpur in Pakistan’s Punjab province, has claimed responsibility for the attack.
It should be borne in mind that organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed and Jaish-al-Adl (which carried out a similar suicide attack on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard on February 13, killing 27 soldiers), the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban are all creations of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI.
These organisations must be considered as armed wings of the ISI to wage undeclared war on its neighbours and to give the Pakistan state a strong element of deniability.
It should also be recognised that since the 1980’s, Pakistan has been a state sponsor of terror and has consistently used terror as an instrument of state policy.
The ISI has been using such organisations to carry out Pakistan’s objectives, mainly in India, but also in Afghanistan and Iran.
In India, the main aim is to wrest away the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir by terror and force, while in Afghanistan it is to have a client government, which will carry out the bidding of Islamabad and provide it with strategic depth in a possible conflict with India.
The Jaish-e-Mohammed in general and Masood Azhar, in particular, have been considered as strategic assets and very important to Pakistan’s regional aspirations.
Unlike foot soldiers, who take the risk of entering India by crossing the Line of Control (LOC), Masood Azhar was sent to India on a Portuguese passport and arrived in Delhi from Dhaka in 1993 pretending to be Adam Issa, a Portuguese of Gujarati descent.
In February 1994, he and Sajjad Afghani, the then Chief Commander of Harkat-ul-Ansar were captured by the J&K police near Anantnag, South Kashmir.
Pakistan almost immediately started making attempts to free him. In June that year, two British nationals – Kim Housego and David Mackie — were kidnapped for the same purpose. However, Kim’s father, David Housego, who was the Financial Times New Delhi correspondent, was able to use his contacts in the UK and the USA to secure the release of these two without harm after a 17- day custody.
In October 1994, a Britisher of Pakistani descent, Ahmed Omar Sheikh, was sent from England and he successfully kidnapped three Britishers and an American from the backpackers paradise of Paharganj, New Delhi, to force the government of India to release Masood Azhar.
However, this plan did not succeed as the UP police were able to rescue the hostages from Ghaziabad, UP. Two policemen and a terrorist were killed in this rescue operation, but all the tourists were freed unhurt. Ahmed Omar Sheikh was sent to Tihar jail where he remained till December 1999.
The infamous hijacking of IC 814 from Kathmandu was also done for the same purpose and the ISI finally succeeded in getting Masood Azhar, Ahmed Omar Sheikh and a small time Kashmiri youth Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar freed in December 1999.
Zargar’s family ran a small shop called Latrum store in downtown Srinagar and he was added to the list of those to be released only to give a Kashmiri touch to the entire episode.
It should be borne in mind that Pakistan has never been a friend of the Kashmiris and distrusts them thoroughly. However, it covets their land for its strategic location and water resources.
Pakistan does not have any border with China except through Gilgit-Baltistan, a part of J&K, which has been under its illegal occupation since 1947. The people living here do not have any political or human rights and the original Shia inhabitants are now a minority due to the settling of Pathan and Afghan refugees and presence of thousands of Chinese for construction activity along the Karakoram highway.
The fight, against terrorism and militancy, is being fought primarily by the Jammu and Kashmir police since 1988. The Army, BSF, CRPF and other security agencies are playing a very significant role, but it is the J&K police which bears the brunt of the attacks and is usually the first responder to any terrorist attack.
Similarly, a large chunk of the Kashmiri population is pro India, but not very vocal about it.
The Pulwama attack poses a serious challenge to India and cannot be allowed to go unanswered. Not just the perpetrators, but also their handlers and masters in GHQ, Rawalpindi, have to be brought to book through all available means at the disposal of the Indian government.
Just as the Jaish-e-Mohammed is an auxiliary of Pakistan, stone pelters and those who interfere in anti-terror operations are their auxiliaries and must be dealt with sternly.
However, the rest of the Kashmiri population must be treated with honour and respect. This calls for careful calibration of the security forces response and J&K police can play a major role in that.
There have been unanimous parliamentary resolutions asserting that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. The Indian state must work resolutely to make that happen.