Terror at Pulwama – ‘Game Over’ for Pakistan

 By Rajeev Agarwal

As the news of a suicide car bomb attack on a convoy of security forces on Srinagar–Jammu Highway on 14 February 2019 started filtering in, a sense of shock, dismay and outrage slowly took over the entire nation. In one of the most horrific terror attacks in the history of three-decade-old militancy in Jammu & Kashmir, 43 soldiers of CRPF travelling in a bus within the convoy were hit by an SUV laden with over 300 Kg of explosives at around 3.30 PM. The impact of the explosion was so massive that the bus was reduced to a twisted mangle of metal in no time. Other vehicles in close proximity too suffered severe damages.

The attack has led to unanimous condemnation within the country as also across the globe. While Israel, Russia, UN and most of India’s neighbours and Arab countries have condemned the terror attack, the US has been more categorical in its stance singling out Pakistan. In an official statement, the White House Press Secretary stated that “The United States calls on Pakistan to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil, whose only goal is to sow chaos, violence, and terror in the region”[1].

Teams of NIA have been rushed to the site to carry out detailed investigations, especially to investigate how such a massive quantity of explosives could be mustered by the terrorists; the type of explosives used as also the possible intelligence and operational failures. Meanwhile, the Indian security and political establishment war-games the various options to not only retaliate but also ensure that such incidents do not recur in the future. The outcome could be tricky and fraught with knee jerk reactions due to the political compulsions of rallying public support in an election season.

However, the Indian state is unlikely to be cowed down by such terror attack and collective resilience and courage of the people will prevail. For more than a decade, Pakistan has kept the sword of ‘nuclear misadventure’ hanging over against the threat of Indian military actions across the Line of Control consequent to such terror attacks. It succeeded when India failed to retaliate militarily after the Parliament Attack in 2001 or the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008. However, the bogey was blown over when India carried out the surgical strikes in 2016 after the Uri attack. Whether or not such a surgical strike (or something larger in scope) will be the answer this time, time will only tell. However, the fact that this strike was carried out by a Jaish terrorist, a terrorist organisation rooted in Pakistan, has left no doubts on Pakistan’s support/ involvement.

In fact, while the security agencies were still trying to comprehend the scale and enormity of the attack, Jaish-e-Mohammed came out promptly to take responsibility for the attack and released a video of the suicide bomber, Adil Ahmad Dar alias Waqas Commando, a resident of Gundibagh village in Pulwama district of South Kashmir.  The involvement of Jaish-e-Mohamed in the attack was a surprise because, in the past few years, it had been practically neutralized in the Kashmir valley. Last year, security forces had killed Mohammad Usman, the head of its module behind sniper attacks on forces. Usman was the nephew of Moulana Masood Azhar, the chief of Jaish-e-Mohammad. Earlier, in 2017, Jaish’s operational chief Khalid in Baramulla too was eliminated.

India has been repeatedly seeking inclusion of Jaish-e-Mohammed Chief Masood Azhar, as a designated terrorist under the 1267 Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council, but China has been stonewalling such efforts. With this heinous attack, China may be forced to think otherwise. Already, there have been reports of disconcert between Pakistan and China on various projects of CPEC in Pakistan.

North of Pakistan, Afghanistan President has openly voiced his concern over Pakistan’s support to Taliban, stating that “keys to war are in Islamabad, Quetta, Rawalpindi”[2]. On more than one occasion, Afghanistan has traced terror attacks in Afghanistan to Pakistan. Afghanistan also feels that Pakistan is stopping the Taliban from engaging the Afghanistan government directly in peace talks. Afghanistan was prompt in condemning the Pulwama terror attack and blamed Pakistan stating in a Twitter message that the attack was a “copy-paste of what Pakistan backed terror groups do in Afghanistan”[3].

Towards the West, Iran and Pakistan have had a rocky relationship in the past. Pakistan’s close ties with the US and Saudi Arabia and UAE have always been a constant irritant. The recent attack on 13 February on a patrol of 27 Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) soldiers returning after a routine mission on the border with Pakistan, drew severe criticism from Iran. While accusing the US and Israel of supporting terrorism, Iran President Rouhani asked its neighbours (Pakistan)  to assume their “legal responsibilities” and not allow “terrorists” to use their soil to prepare attacks. “If this continues and they cannot stop the terrorists, it is clear-based on international law that we have certain rights and will act upon them in due time”[4].

The US under President Trump has been overtly critical of Pakistan’s support to terror and had suspended key military aid to Pakistan. In a statement[5] in September 2018, the US announced that it has cancelled US $ 300 Million aid to Pakistan, adding to the US$ 500 Million cancelled by US Congress earlier from Coalition Support Fund (CSF), thus making it to a total of US$ 800 Million of loss to Pakistan. In line with the US announcement of a complete drawdown of military forces from Afghanistan and the subsequent direct talks with the Taliban, there are fears that Taliban with support from Pakistan could again gain upper hand in Afghanistan, one that the US would want to avoid at all costs.

Apart from the US and China, it is Saudi Arabia and the UAE which have extended support to Pakistan in difficult times. In December 2018, UAE announced  US $3 billion aid to Pakistan to bail it out from a severe balance-of-payments crisis that threatens to cripple the country’s economy after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) refused to give Pakistan US $ 8 billion[6]. Saudi Arabia too has come to rescue of Pakistan a number of times, most recently in 2018, when Saudi Arabia agreed to place a deposit of US $3 billion for a period of one year as balance of payment support, in addition to a one-year deferred payment facility for import of oil (up to US $3 billion. However, the blanket support to Pakistan, especially on issues like Jammu & Kashmir is now a thing of the past. In the past decade, both Saudi Arabia and UAE have forged a strategic partnership with India and have condemned terror attacks, especially Uri and Pathankot. While Pakistan may be an issue of solidarity for these countries, failure to learn from the past may finally compel Saudi Arabia and UAE to re-think on their continued unquestioned support to Pakistan.

The time is therefore opportune to squeeze and isolate Pakistan. India enjoys good relations with all the concerned stakeholders and with the proof of such a direct involvement of Pakistan, even countries like China could be brought around. Saudi Arabia and UAE, with whom India has developed excellent ties over the past decade could be convinced to see the real picture and even condemn Pakistan directly. In this context, the forthcoming visit of Saudi Crown Prince to Pakistan on 16-17 February could assume significance. Such a strong diplomatic push from India could achieve what any military surgical strike may not. In addition, a pledge and resolve to demonstrate national solidarity cutting across ideological and political lines combined with a pro-active military strategy in Jammu & Kashmir, instead of merely reacting to attacks, like Uri, Pathankot or Pulwama could be key to the future course of action for India. All these may sound like a ‘Wish List’, but even if some of it comes about, it could well be ‘Game Over’ for Pakistan.



[1] US asks Pak to immediately end 'support' and 'safe haven' to all terrorist groups, The Week, 15 February 2019, https://www.theweek.in/wire-updates/international/2019/02/15/fgn12-blast-us-ld%20pak.html
[2]  Afghan president accuses Pakistan of holding 'keys to war', Reuters News, 30 January 2019, https://in.reuters.com/article/usa-afghanistan-president-pakistan/afghan-president-accuses-pakistan-of-holding-keys-to-war-idINKCN1PO1TS
[3] Russia, Pakistan, US, others condemn Kashmir attack, The Hindustan Times, 15 February 2019, https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/russia-pakistan-us-others-condemn-kashmir-attack/story-qPM8rKKVva87neRErDftcN.html
[4] 27 Iran Revolutionary Guards killed, Kuwait Times, 14 February 2019, https://news.kuwaittimes.net/website/27-iran-revolutionary-guards-killed/
[5] Exclusive: Pentagon cancels aid to Pakistan over record on militants, Reuters News, 02 September 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-pakistan-military-exclusive/exclusive-pentagon-cancels-aid-to-pakistan-over-record-on-militants-idUSKCN1LH3TA
[6] UAE to provide $3 bn to Pakistan to overcome financial crunches, Economic Times, 21 December 2018, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/uae-to-provide-3-bn-to-pakistan-to-overcome-financial-crunches/articleshow/67194331.cms