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Editorial: Given the Election Season, Military Action Against Pakistan Looms Large

Port Wings, 27 Feb 2019:

It has been more than a 13 days since a young militant in the district of Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir drove a car packed with 350 KGs of explosives into a convoy of CRPF personnel, killing at least 49 of them.

Since then, situation is politically surcharged and the ruling and opposition parties, after a short spell of unity, started to make more noise against each other. Indian and Pakistani reactions to the tragedy have been predictable. New Delhi blames Pakistan, accusing Islamabad of assisting the Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which claimed responsibility for the attack.

Islamabad denies any complicity, noting that the attacker and his explosives were local products and excoriating heavy-handed Indian security forces for stoking the repressive environment that radicalizes young Kashmiris.

The perpetrator, scale, and timing of the Pulwama attack strengthen the likelihood of a punitive Indian response. A Pakistani terrorist group with ties to Pakistani intelligence carried out one of the deadliest attacks in Kashmir in years—and shortly before an increasingly vulnerable ruling party contests national elections in a country where tough-on-Pakistan talk plays well on the campaign trail.

This new crisis—and the attack that provoked it—should come as no surprise, given two notable trends over the last few years.

First, JeM has been resurging after a period of relative inactivity, along with the public re-emergence of its leader, Masood Azhar. New Delhi accuses him of masterminding an attack on India’s Parliament building in 2001 and helping to plan an assassination attempt on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in 2003. But then he largely disappeared from public view until January 2014, when an anti-India rally in Pakistan-administered Kashmir broadcast a recorded lecture by him. In the next few months, Azhar started issuing public threats—including one to kill Modi if he became India’s next prime minister.

Azhar’s reappearance has coincided with a rise in JeM attacks. These included deadly assaults on an Indian Air Force base  in Pathankot and Army troops in 2016, along with several attacks on Indian security personnel this year (one of them in Pulwama). And then came last week’s Valentine’s Day massacre.

The nature of the insurgency has shifted and become more locally driven in recent years, however, particularly after Indian security personnel killed Burhan Wani, a young and charismatic Kashmiri militant, in 2016. Wani’s death provoked angry protests in Kashmir that led to violent crackdowns, exacerbating long-standing local grievances against Indian security forces that galvanize many Kashmiris today and make them ripe for radicalization—and attractive recruitment targets for the likes of JeM.

The heavy-handed security tactics that animate Kashmiris have also led to angry denunciations from Islamabad and calls for the international community to focus more attention on Kashmir—a plea that has not been received well in New Delhi.

With General Elections few weeks away and the ruling party wants to prove the voters with a decisive action against Pakistan for this mess in Kashmir in the form of public-supported revenge, we can expect more and more uncertain days ahead.

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