Pulwama: verify the facts

Published March 7, 2019
The writer is a former foreign secretary.
The writer is a former foreign secretary.

WHILE the armed forces on both sides remain in a state of high alert and are distrustful of each other’s intentions it does seem that some back channels contacts have brought acceptable assurances and permitted the resumption of bus and train services, and of contact on the Kartarpur Corridor.

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Proving himself to be a statesman, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the release of the Indian pilot that Pakistan had captured after his plane was brought down and, in my view, facilitated the de-escalation that sane people on both sides desire and that had been the consistent endeavour of the major players of the international community.

Inflammatory rhetoric may remain part of the election campaign in India for another few months but, hopefully, it will not be allowed to get out of hand and will not provoke similar rhetoric in Pakistan.

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Many may argue that it is too early to expect objectivity but I believe it is now time for officials in both Pakistan and India to look closely at what actually happened in Pulwama on Feb 14. They must see who the perpetrator was and how an organisation in Pakistan took it upon itself, in its various publications, to take credit for what, in terms of the language associated with militant incidents, was a ‘lone wolf’ operation by a Kashmiri freedom fighter/militant/terrorist.

Both Pakistan and India know that if there is to be economic development and stability in the region, then a reasoned approach has to be adopted.

Going by press reports, it would appear that an individual named Adil Ahmad Dar, with the help of local Kashmiris in India-held Kashmir, procured a Maruti van, packed it with 30 kilos of explosives (RDX) and rammed it into one of the vehicles of a convoy of military vehicles carrying personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force, killing himself and 40 CRPF men in the process. In a video recording released shortly after, he is said to have said that he was associated with the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).

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A report in the Kashmir Times of Sept 10, 2017, had reported that one militant named Adil Ahmad Dar had been arrested and had been termed as a Hizbul Mujahideen fighter. Was this the same Adil Ahmad Dar who carried out the suicide attack or was there another Adil Ahmad Dar? If this was another Adil then the police in India-held Kashmir should be able to say that the man arrested in 2017 is still in their custody and let him be interviewed. If, on the other hand, he is the same man who was arrested in 2017, one has to ascertain why he was released and why he was not under constant surveillance.

In either case, it seems that as of Feb 19, 2019, the US State Department relying presumably on its vast intelligence network was of the view that only the perpetrator had named himself as a JeM member. No Pakistan-based JeM connection was apparently known to the State Department. Instead, the spokesman said, “As far as Pakistan goes, we’ve been in contact with Pakistan on this issue. We urge Pakistan to fully cooperate with the investigation into the attack and to punish anyone responsible”. He did this after emphasising “we have a close, cooperative relationship with India, a security relationship, and that includes counterterrorism operations”.

It is certainly true, as a perusal of the JeM publications after Feb 19 shows, that they claimed credit but this is exactly what Al Qaeda and the militant Islamic State group and other terrorist organisations repeatedly did when attacks were carried out in their name. They even claimed attacks that had not been explicitly associated with them. Still, that was to be expected and should have been recognised as such rather than leading to an assertion in virtually every report that the JeM’s claim of responsibility was established and provided the justification for a violation of Pakistan’s sovereign territory.

Pakistan must, however, take this element into account as it examines the dossier on the JeM that it has belatedly received from India. We must do so also if we are to make our National Action Plan fully operational and if we are to rectify the shortcomings pointed out in the recent deliberations of the Financial Action Task Force within the given time frame.

In one of his dispatches, this paper’s Delhi correspondent Jawed Naqvi talked of “truth being the first casualty” in times such as we have seen over the last three weeks. That has certainly been established by the nature of the coverage Pulwama and its aftermath have received.

And yet both sides know that if there is to be economic development in the region, if there is to be the sorely needed connectivity in the region, if there is to be the stability in the region that every potential investor — both domestic and foreign — is going to look for, then this has to change and a more reasoned approach adopted.

Pulwama was a tragedy but it should be seen not as JeM terrorism; rather it is a stark indicator of the total alienation of the Kashmiri people not just with the Indian occupation forces but with India itself. Recent attacks on Kashmiris in mainland India suggest an equal alienation of the Indians with Kashmiris.

The Kashmiris will see this as India wanting the land of Kashmir but not the people of Kashmir, an add-on to the extremist Hindutva view that Indian Muslims really belong in Pakistan. India — even Modi’s India — must recognise not only what this will do to the polity in India but also the polity of the region. Talks are necessary between the three parties — the Kashmiri people, India and Pakistan and cannot be delayed for too long.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2019



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