Srinagar: A day after a suicide attack by a local militant in Pulwama on a bus carrying CRPF jawans, killing at least 49 of them, Kashmir was reeling under the political impact of one of the biggest terror strikes in the past few decades.
Even as the tensions are high in Jammu, which saw some incidents of violence against Kashmiris, there is a growing feeling among the political observers that the only way out is a dialogue to save the Kashmiri youth from getting further alienated, and getting sucked in by the militant groups.
On Friday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh arrived in Srinagar to discuss the security situation in the Valley, and also participate in the wreath-laying ceremony at the CRPF camp in Budgam district. He was briefed on the security situation by the senior officers of Jammu and Kashmir and central intelligence agencies, J&K police, army and paramilitary forces.
Later, at a press conference, he said that some elements in Kashmir had links with the ISI and terrorist organisations, adding that he had asked the state administration to “review the security cover provided to these elements”.
Commenting on the communal attacks on Kashmiris in Jammu and other parts, the home minister said that he had instructed the J&K administration to ensure communal harmony.
On February 14, 2019, a group of 2,500 men of Central Reserve Police Force divided in almost 78 armed vehicles were returning from leave, and were headed towards Srinagar from Jammu.
The Srinagar-Jammu highway, which is almost 268.8 kilometre long, remains mostly closed during the winter season due to heavy snowfall which causes landslides.
The highway had opened only three days ago after remaining closed for last six days, leaving more than 6,000 vehicles stranded. It is the only road that connects Kashmir to the rest of the country.
This highway has also become the main stretch for targeting government forces since 2013 when a Pakistani militant, Abu Qasim, had attacked an army convoy in which Border Security Force (BSF) had lost 11 troopers.
The men who were travelling on February 14 belonged to various battalions: 92, 17, 54, 82, 61, 21, 98, 118, 76, 45, 03 and 176 of CRPF.
As per sources, at around 3:30 pm, when the convoy reached Lethpora, Awantipora, an area of South Kashmir’s Pulwama, which has become the hotbed of militancy in Kashmir since the killing of Hizbul Mujahedeen’s commander Burhan Wani, an IED-laden car travelling on the left side of the convoy overtook the first vehicle, turned backward and rammed into the armed vehicle. Both the vehicles were blown into pieces.
Locals said that the impact of the blast was felt up to a radius of 20 km. The number of casualties, according to sources, rose to 49 by the evening, as the injured troopers succumbed to their injuries.
NewsClick spoke to a few locals. An autorikshaw driver (wishing anonymity) said that he was carrying a few passengers on the same route, and although was about 10 kilometres ahead, he could hear a loud bang, and also felt the impact of the blast. He said that he turned back to see what had happened, and claimed that he heard gunshots soon after the explosion.
Read more: Pulwama Attack: Nearly 12 Injured as Clash Erupts in Jammu City
Was it a suicide attack?
Minutes after the explosion, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) issued a statement to a local news organisation Global News Service in which they claimed the responsibility for the attack, and named the person behind it.
The person named was a 19-year-old local militant identified as Adil Ahmad Dar alias Waqas Commando, a resident of Gundibagh Kakapora area of Pulwama district. As per sources, in 2016, Adil had participated in almost every post-Burhan protest in his area. He was a 10th class dropout, and was working as a mason. He is said to have joined the militant ranks in April last year.
Born in a middle class family, Adil is survived by his father Ghulam Hassan Dar who sells clothes on his cycle from village to village, his mother and two brothers.
JeM released a pre-recorded video in which Adil is seen wearing an armed vest and ammunition in the large quantities can be seen around him. In the video, the boy can be heard terming the attack as “revenge”. He claimed to be a part of the Afzal Guru squad of JeM.
“By the time this video reaches you, I will be in heaven,” he can be heard saying.
History of suicide attacks in Kashmir
Suicide attackers are known as fidayeen, which is an Arabic word, and means the one who sacrifices oneself. Among the forces, fidayeen are known as Balidaan Toli.
On April 19, 2000, a suicide bomber tried to enter the main gate of the army base camp in a high security zone at Badami Bagh Cantonment in a car loaded with explosives to destroy the headquarters of the Army's 15 Corps. The vehicle blew up near the gate when the guards posted at the gate tried to stop it. In the attack, three heavily-armed militants, the Army PRO Major Purshottam and six others were killed.
Another suicide car bomb attack in which the first Kashmiri blew himself was by Afaq Ahmad Shah, a class 12 student, who blew himself in his Maruti car in the base camp.
All the suicide attacks in Kashmir since the 1990s have been allegedly carried out by JeM, which is headed by Pakistan-based militant Maulana Masood Azhar.
He is the same man who was arrested in Kashmir in 1990s, and was released, along with two others, in December 1999 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in exchange for passengers of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 that was hijacked and taken to the Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Jammu and Kashmir Governor Sataya Pal Malik on Thursday admitted that the security forces failed to act on the intelligence inputs, and termed it a security lapse (Laparwahi).
While speaking with The Indian Express, Malik said that the Pulwama attack was partly a result of the intelligence failure and negligence. He further said that there had been no intelligence inputs regarding the attack.
“The fact that we did not know that there was a Fidayeen among them is also part of the intelligence failure. I can admit that. This man (identified as Adil Ahmad Dar) was very much on our list of suspects. But due to the pressure they were under, no one was giving them shelter in their homes. So he must have escaped to the jungles or the hills and got lost. We knew about him but could not trace him. This was just a chance thing, and he was the rare one who got away. The rest have been getting killed,” he said.
Political Analysts for Dialogue
Speaking to NewsClick, political analyst Gowhar Geelani said, “To see a Kashmiri boy involved in such a massive suicide car bomb attack could signify two things: one that it is an act of desperation due to ‘operation all out’ and top militants being killed. It could be to inflict or escape violence, and the absence of any political dialogue or engagement since 2014 when the BJP came to power at the Centre.”
He further said that the institution of dialogue had been discredited, and the only dialogue being conducted was through violence reflected in the ‘Doval Doctrine’ of 4Ds, namely, deny there is a problem, destroy a perceived enemy, defend yourself, defeat and deny. There is no Kashmir policy of the government.
“It’s the timing of the attack, which helps the BJP to play the victim card as many analysts were predicting a Congress comeback, and had put BJP on the backfoot since all the policies adopted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, including demonetisation, had not shown any results on the ground in the last five years,” he said.
Talking about wooing votes, he said that with Ram Mandir not getting any traction, BJP can depend on the new narratives of ‘cow’, ‘Kashmir’, ‘Pakistan’ and ‘Musalmaan’. “Already the violence in Jammu has started in the Gujjar Nagar and other areas where BJP had started losing seats. The tensions are so high that the regional and religious divide has become evident again. So, there are many implications of this attack,” he said.
Read more: Kashmir: 45 CRPF Personnel Killed in IED Blast in Pulwama