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The worst terror attack in Kashmir struck on 14 February 2019, when an explosive laden SUV rammed into the CRPF convoy moving from Jammu to Srinagar, near Lethpora. At least 40 CRPF personnel from different battalions deployed in Kashmir were martyred. This reportedly includes two CRPF jawans deployed in a picket for securing the highway.
According to Jaish-e-Mohammad, the terrorist outfit that claimed credit for the attack almost immediately, the fidayeen attack was executed by Adil Dar, 19 years old, hailing from Kakapura, approximately 10 km from the location of the attack. JeM’s message is: a local Kashmiri terrorist has used techniques resembling what’s happening in Syria to cause the highest number of fatalities in a single attack in Kashmir.
The place of the attack has been chosen by the perpetrators with much deliberation. It’s deep in the hinterland, about 20 km south of Srinagar.
The timing of the attack too has been crafted with cunning. The attack was launched soon after the highway between Jammu and Srinagar had opened after days of closure due to snow. The size of convoy was therefore large, the volume of civilian traffic too was bound to be much higher. The Army convoy was also following not far behind. For the road opening parties (ROP), to identify a rogue vehicle from a mix of civilian and military vehicles moving on the road would not be easy. The terrible weather due to western disturbance also complemented the perpetrators of proxy war from the West. Besides, the timing of the attack clearly had in view the Parliamentary and Assembly elections due in a few months.
There has been tremendous outpouring of grief from across the country. There’s intense national outrage, Prime Minister Modi has reacted quickly to state, “The sacrifices of our brave security personnel shall not go in vain.”
There has been widespread international condemnation of the dastardly act. Pakistan has expressed concern too, with a caveat that the Indian media and government should not be pointing fingers at Pakistan without investigation. Curiosity prevails on China’s reaction, as they have shielded Azhar Masood, JeM Chief from being blacklisted by the UN several times in the past.
Intensive investigations have already commenced. Various facets of intelligence, standard operating procedures, command and control will be examined threadbare again to seek lessons for the future. The nation’s commitment to security in terms of technology, timeliness and funding will be reviewed.
The question upper most in most minds is ‘what next?’
Diplomatically the options would range from getting the JeM chief finally blacklisted to make Pakistan pay an economic price for nurturing, harbouring and employing JeM. The impending visits of the leaders from Saudi Arabia and UAE would be good opportunities.
Would diplomatic response by themselves be adequate, given the extent of the loss?
The prevailing emotion is, ‘more and swift’!
A decision for military response is not easy. There are a multitude of factors to be considered: morale of the forces, mood of the nation, potential escalation of conflict, and possibility of casualties. Unlike the Uri attack of September 2016 which was on the line of control, this is deep in the hinterland and the terrorist is local.
The range of options are not unlimited. The response has to be well considered. Objective(s) should be based on quality intelligence. Direct or indirect attack, the effects to efforts ratio must be of a very high order. In responding militarily, we must prepare for the worst, while hoping for the best. Any response has to keep in mind the complexities, challenges and opportunities.
(Lt Gen Subrata Saha is a member of the National Security Advisory Board. He retired from the Army as the Deputy Chief of Army Staff.)