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The proof of Pulwama

On Tuesday, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) filed a charge sheet in the Pulwama terror attack case. It has formally named 19 people, including the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Masood Azhar, for planning and carrying out the attack on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy, killing 40 security personnel. Azhar’s nephew, Mohammad Umar Farooq, was sent to Kashmir to execute the bombing and was in touch with the Jaish leadership back in Pakistan, during, before and after the attack, according to the charge sheet. One of Azhar’s brother also told Farooq, who was killed in an encounter subsequently, that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) wanted Jaish operatives to find out about Indian Air Force bases; Jaish was also planning a second terror attack after Pulwama, but had to abort it due to international pressure on Pakistan.

Pulwama was a defining moment for geopolitics in South Asia. Despite Pakistan’s strenuous denials, it was clear then — and it is clearer now — that the attack had the clear sanction of the Pakistani establishment. A set of observers, at that point, wanted to make a distinction between the Pakistani government and terror-based groups. But while it is still at the charge sheet stage, the NIA investigation has shown that this is an artificial distinction — and in fact, there was a very high degree of synergy and coordination between the Pakistani military intelligence and terror groups based in Pakistan. It also shows that Pakistan was more than willing to escalate the situation with another terror attack, but the Balakot retaliatory attack (framed diplomatically as a “pre-emptive strike”) and the concerted international diplomatic pressure, mobilised effectively by India, forced Rawalpindi to back off.

The international community today recognises Pakistan has given patronage to terror groups and supports terrorism as a State policy — but it has vacillated between appeasing Islamabad-Rawalpindi and penalising it in a somewhat half-hearted manner. Pakistan remains a key source of global instability, and any country — including its best friend, China — which wants stability must force Pakistan to act against terror. For India, the lesson is simple. In terms of security, New Delhi must never let its guard down, for Pakistan’s intent is clear. In terms of individuals, letting Azhar get away in 1999 (after the IC-814 hijack) has proved to be enormously costly; such an error must not be repeated. In terms of diplomacy, India must be alert to the joint China-Pakistani project of undermining India and counter it across platforms.

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