By Rajesh Sinha

A week after an attack should be more than enough time to overcome initial shock and outrage. However, after 40 men of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), India’s main paramilitary force for internal security, were killed in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir, when an explosive laden vehicle rammed into their bus on Feb 14, there is no sign of the anger dying down.

Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) – the terror outfit that claimed responsibility for the attack – being based in Pakistan has further fuelled anger, more so among the radical elements among the Hindus.

Chest thumping and breast-beating has come to be the standard reaction to terror attacks in India, and the Pulwama carnage is no different. What is dissimilar is the level of noise generated by members of the government and their party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) along with its sister organisations. Also different is the fact that the Pakistan link has provided their stormtroopers a ‘reason’ to resume targeting fellow Indians – all moderate, liberal voices as well as Kashmiris – in the country.

Government’s ‘response’

So far as the Narendra Modi government is concerned, a look at its response to the attack and the approach it has had towards the problem of insurgency shows that rhetoric does not match action, action does not provide desired outcome and none of these is backed or justified by facts. If the attack should have been a wake-up call, it has gone unheeded. If it should have been a turning point, the government has refused to turn.

The Modi government seems to have become a prisoner of its own propaganda about a strong, 56-inch chest Prime Minister and prefers a simplistic, muscular approach towards complicated problems.

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Treating the problem in Kashmir as mainly a security issue that can be tackled simply by eliminating those who take to the gun, the talk is now about extorting revenge through military means.

Anger and outrage is natural, but it cannot be policy. Prussian general, Carl von Clausewitz called war ‘politics by other means’, that war is an instrument of policy. War, he proposes, should be seen as a means to achieve the political goals which states set themselves. The goal is not victory in war but what victory brings.

Calling for revenge – some even asking for war – teaching Pakistan a lesson may be ok, but where is the policy? Just victory cannot be the objective of going to war. What is it supposed to achieve? Did the much touted ‘surgical strike’ in 2016 ‘teach a lesson’ to Pakistan?

Flying the face of government’s claims of success, the situation in J&K has deteriorated steadily and number of terrorist incidents and overall casualties has been going up.

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According to government’s own figures, terrorist incidents in J&K increased 177% over four years to 2018, from 222 to 614; 838 terrorists were killed over the last five years, a 134% increase from 110 in 2014 to 257 in 2018.

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The year 2018 witnessed the most terrorist incidents over the last five years, 80% increase over 2017.

As many as 339 security forces died – a 94% increase from 47 in 2014 to 91 in 2018 – in 1,708 terrorist attacks over the five years ending 2018 in J&K, Hansraj GangaramAhir, minister of state in the ministry of home affairs informed the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) in his reply on February 5, 2019.

Source: Govt reply in Lok Sabha

Further, news agency PTI reported, the number of youths joining militancy increased from 16 in 2013 to 191 in 2018, an increase of around 12 times under the Modi government.

The number of active militants, both home-grown as well as foreign, is also said to have increased to 300 last year. This is an increase of nearly four times from 78 in 2013, which was the lowest since the armed insurgency broke out in Kashmir.

J&K has also seen a steady increase in IED blasts and other bombing incidents over the last five years, with 2018 witnessing a 57% jump in such incidents, said a report presented by the National Bomb Data Centre (NBDC) of the NSG during a recent two-day international conference in Delhi.

J&K was alone in this: the two other major theatres of violent insurgency in India — Left Wing Extremism (LWE) hit areas and northeast — saw the number of such incidents going down.

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While J&K saw a total of 37 incidents of bombing (improvised explosive device and explosive ordnance triggered) in 2014, these incidents grew to 46 in 2015, 69 in 2016, 70 in 2017 and as high as 117 during 2018.

“There was considerable decrease in IED blast incidents in all regions of the country except in J&K where terrorists resorted to increased use of IEDs during 2018,” the report accessed by PTI said.

It added that while IED blast incidents reduced to 77 last year from 98 in 2017 in the LWE-hit areas of the country, such incidents in J&K rose by 57% from 21 in 2017 to 33 during 2018.

The killing of 40 jawans of Central Reserve Police Force in a single attack, that too by a suicide bomber, understandably raises concerns. This is the deadliest attack on security forces in J&K and second worst on the CRPF after 75 personnel were killed in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada in 2010.

Increasing disaffection and govt approach

What is of serious concern to India is that Jaish-e-Mohammad, a ISI-backed terrorist organisation, managed to find enough local support to find a suicide bomber as well as the backing required in the enormous logistics involved in putting together an enormous amount of high explosives – 100 to 300 kg, as per reports – for the vehicle borne explosive device.

This indicates a worrying level of disaffection and disenchantment. A people who feel they have a stake in the system do not let it down. A government has to find ways to bring about that feeling rather than just go around wielding a stick and smiting people.

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The aggressive Hindutva stance aggravates things further. Periodic proclamations of India being a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, using campaigns in the name of cow protection and beef-ban or cooked up instances of anti-national slogans to specifically target Muslims and Kashmiris, particularly Kashmiri students in various universities across the country – all these intentionally or unintentionally would only increase, if not create, disaffection.

The government has, however, paid scant attention to this. In fact, going by what security and foreign policy experts say, addressing the problem in Jammu and Kashmir does not seem to have been paid much attention by the government and there has been no clear and sustained approach to it.

Former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, wrote in The Indian Express: “What is happening in Kashmir and in other disturbed parts of India is only the more acute manifestation of a national malaise whose symptoms are rising communal, parochial and sectarian confrontations which often erupt into brutal violence.

“While the state has to deal with such violence and restore safety and security, the only sustainable answer is addressing, through constitutionally-mandated political processes, underlying political, economic and social grievances that are drivers of these multiple mutinies.

“To treat each such manifestation as a law and order challenge is to enmesh the state in an action-reaction process where violence born out of disaffection and state suppression follow in mutually escalating and destructive steps.”

From the strictly security angle as well, there are issues of concern. Security expert Ajai Sahni, writing on his portal South Asia Terrorism, dismissed standard reactions to Pulwama attack – ‘act of desperation’, ‘dastardly deed’, ‘cowardly act’ – as “nothing more than flatulent rhetoric”.

He said there are a number of elements in and around the Awantipora attack that suggest a potentially major strategic shift.

Combined with the nature, target and scale of the attack, the fact that the Pakistan-based and state-backed JeM almost immediately claimed the attack indicates that it has received clear directives from its Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) handlers to ramp up its visible activities in J&K.

Far from an ‘act of desperation’, says Sahni, the attack likely reflects growing confidence in the Pakistani military establishment as a result of the anticipated outcome in Afghanistan, where Rawalpindi feels that its proxies are now on the verge of victory, with the imminent withdrawal of American Forces (with other allies likely to quickly follow, if not lead, the flight).

This can free up some of Pakistan’s resources, earlier committed to Afghanistan, for an escalation in J&K, particularly in an environment of growing impunity. Believing that they have already defeated one superpower (the Soviet Union), and are on the cusp of defeating the other (USA), the Pakistan Army is likely to reckon that India will be a relatively soft target.

Sahni does not think much of India’s response: “Indian reactions have also been bursting with belligerent rhetoric, threatening vengeance, with Prime Minister explicitly stating that the security forces will be given a ‘free hand’ to deal with the terrorists (earlier statements would have led us to believe that the Forces had already been given a ‘free hand’ many times over) and that those responsible will pay a “very heavy price”. Much of this is nothing more than face-saving bluster in the wake, not only of the devastating VBIED attack, but of the abysmal and abject failure of the regime’s Kashmir and Pakistan policies (if the mischief and floundering of the past nearly five years could even deserve that appellation).”

Military capability

While the Security Forces and the Army will now be pressured to engineer some theatrical operations to construct the necessary ‘optics’ for the ruling party to approach the looming General Election, it is abundantly clear that little real option exists.

While many pro-BJP, pro-Hindutva social media groups have often proudly shared a post about then General SHFJ Manekshaw bluntly telling then PM Indira Gandhi that the Indian army could not go to war without adequate preparation, this is precisely what is not realised in the present context.

Many reports suggest the present regime has done little or nothing to address cumulative deficits that have accumulated over the decades, and annual budgets in these sectors have, in real terms, shrunk from year to year, particularly in the ‘capital expenditure’ category which funds capacity building.

In March 2018, a report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence had observed that 68 per cent of all equipment with the Armed Forces was in the ‘vintage category’, and that the Forces did not have the ammunition reserves to sustain a 10 day war with Pakistan. “The only visible response to this report was that the Chairman of the Committee, Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament Major General (Retd.) BC Khanduri, who earlier served as Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, was relieved of his position,” notes Sahni.

A report of the Parliament’s Estimates Committee headed by senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, and comprising of 16 of the party MPs said in August 2018 that India’s defence preparedness level was “unacceptable” and the situation was “ominous”. The report accused the government of bringing defence preparedness down to the 1962 levels when China virtually steamrolled over India.

The committee said: “…… Today at 1.6% of the GDP, India’s defense budget to GDP ratio has reached the levels we had before 1962. The implications could be ominous.”

The committee notes that capital expenditure percentage has been dropping ever since Modi came to power: “In the years 2012-13 and 2013- 14, the share of capital expenditure was 39% in each year, which in the year 2017- 18 and 2018-19 came down to 33% and 34%, respectively.”

Perhaps there are other things on the mind of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The day the attack happened, he was reportedly busy with a team shooting a wild life documentary film till 7 pm. The next day, he was addressing a rally in Jhansi, talking about the attack and asking people to vote BJP.

What should have put the government in the dock has become a boon for it. It suits the government to keep the public attention focused on this, rather than face embarrassing questions on its other shortcomings.