A day after the Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility for killing dozens of India’s paramilitary forces in Southern Kashmir, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a free hand to the military in giving a befitting reply to the terror group and Islamabad.
Attending a function in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on Friday, Modi said security forces have been given permission to choose the timing, place and nature of their response to the terrorist attack on Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy on the Jammu-Srinagar highway near Pulwama.
While it is not clear how many terrorists were involved in the Pulwama operation, JeM identified the local suicide bomber as Adil Ahmad.
However, the terrorist group did not name others who kept Ahmad updated on the approaching CRPF convoy. The Jaish bomber could not have carried out the attack without their logistics support.
Amid the public outrage over the Kashmir carnage plotted by JeM chief Masood Azhar and his close associates with the support of Pakistan military and intelligence agencies, rights groups in India and overseas remained silent over the incident.
It was as if the lives of the paramilitary personnel and the sorrow of their families did not matter to them at all. But they make hue and cry when young Kashmiri terrorists like Burhan Wani are killed in encounters.
Their only concern now seems to be how the military is going to deal with hard core Kashmiri terrorists like Ahmad who enjoy Pakistan’s patronage. Their narrative that these youths are freedom fighters stands exposed after the Pulwama incident.
The timing of the attack has landed India in a difficult situation. It comes just three months before the general elections.
The country’s economy is racing ahead at 7.2% growth. If the current growth rate is maintained, India will soon overtake France as the fifth largest economy.
While Pakistan with a weakening economy has nothing to lose in case of a conflict, the stakes are quite high for India.
A limited conflict like a surgical strike will send a strong message to Pakistan that India’s tolerance has a limit. But there is an inherent risk in the act as it may escalate into a war which India may not like to be pushed into.
The military will be walking a tightrope while trying to respect the sentiments of millions of Indians crying for revenge over the Pulwama attack.
Amid the outpouring of grief, some opposition parties started blaming Modi and the federal intelligence agencies for the bomb attack. For them, votes matter. In three months, the country will be witnessing one of the most bitterly fought elections. The opposition parties have formed an alliance to oust the Modi government.
Although opposition parties support the Modi government for now over punishing JeM and Pakistan, their narrative may change if India wins or loses a war.
If India wins, the opposition will call it an opportunistic act by the Modi government to win more votes to retain power. If India loses, they will blame the government for wading into a “senseless conflict” instead of listening to their longstanding demand of engaging Pakistan in talks to resolve conflicts in the Kashmir Valley.
On the diplomatic front, India has already started the offensive by isolating Pakistan internationally. Its Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale held talks with envoys of the five permanent members of the UN, and some 20 major Asian and European countries on the need to list Azhar as a global terrorist.
On Friday, Gokhale summoned Pakistan envoy Sohail Mahmood to express India’s strong protest over the terror strike on the CRPF convoy. He told Mahmood that Pakistan must take “immediate and verifiable action” against JeM.
In another big blow to Pakistan, India withdrew the most favoured nation (MFN) status granted to it in 1996.
The Pakistan-sponsored attack in Pulwama should serve as a wake-up call to India’s opposition who had taken a soft stand on Islamabad over the past four-and-a-half years and kept blaming the Modi government for nor initiating talks with separatists in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Pulwama incident proves Modi was right in not holding talks with such divisive groups who do not regard Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part of India and have no respect for the country’s Constitution.
On Feb 3, a day before Modi’s visit to Kashmir, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi taunted India by calling up Kashmiri separatist Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
Two days later, Qureshi provoked India again by speaking at an event in the UK House of Commons complex expressing solidarity with Kashmiris seeking independence from the Indian Union.
Rubbing salt into the wound, the Indian media was not allowed entry into the ‘open’ conference.
Incidents of ceasefire violations by Pakistani military had gone up on Jammu and Kashmir border after Modi became prime minister in 2014. They peaked after Imran Khan was inaugurated as the prime minister of Pakistan in August last year – 2,140 ceasefire violations left 14 soldiers dead and 53 injured.
JeM and Pakistan, which encourage such breaches, committed an unpardonable crime for which they deserve a befitting punishment.
India’s military will decide the quantum of punishment and how and when it should be given.