Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Focus: Is Hizbul Attack In Srinagar A New Dawn For Jihad?

By M H Ahssan / Srinagar

Even as the army absorbs the lessons of its worst loss of life in Kashmir for five years—and the worst attack its ever suffered in Srinagar—there’s one stark fact which stands out: for the first time since the near-war of 2001-2002, Indian security force fatalities have increased. In the first six months of 2013, India has already lost more police and military personnel than it did in all of 2012, and more than it did in 2011. This is, moreover, the first time that any index of violence has shown an uptick since 2002, when a dramatic year-on-year choking of the Kashmir jihad began.
In December, Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed told members of the secessionist All-Parties Hurriyat Conference that he intended to revive operations once the United States was out of Afghanistan—and if Monday’s carnage turns out to have been carried out by the organisation, as police believe, it will be proof he meant it.

It’s unwise, of course, to draw conclusions on the basis of the numbers alone: one data-point isn’t, obviously, a trend. This year’s high security force fatalities came largely from just three incidents: an attack on unarmed Central Reserve Police Force personnel; a botched cordon-and-search operation in Tral, and yesterday’s murderous attack. Luck always plays a role in all military engagements—and a little luck would have meant three would have had less-lethal outcomes.

Had the grenade lobbed at the army’s truck yesterday landed on the road, no soldiers would have been killed—and the data would have looked different. It’s also important to note that killings of terrorists—in the past, correlated to levels of infiltration across the Line of Control—haven’t risen; neither have killings of civilians, among other things an index of the intensity of jihadist operations.

Yet, it’s also true there’s plenty of reason for worry. For months now, with the withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan looming, jihadi threats on Kashmir have become ever-more express. In February, he warned Indians that just as “America had to run away, then India, you will have to leave Kashmir as well”. In one speech, Saeed even claimed Hindus were in fact the raison d’etre for jihadism: “and what is the reason for jihad? The reason is shirk [idolatry] by Hindus who are the biggest representatives of shirk right from the ancient age…. [The prophet] said that the one who waged jihad in Hind that jihad will be superior”.

Earlier, the Lashkar chief called on Pakistan to set up “ministry of jihad”—and, as INN recently reported, the Pakistan government has responded with massive subsidies to its institutions and infrastructure.

From preliminary investigations into Monday’s attack, police sources have told INN, there’s reason to believe the attack was carried out by the Lashkar-e-Taiba—not the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, a mainly ethnic-Kashmiri organisation which has often claimed responsibility for operations in an effort to give them local legitimacy. Police are seeking Irshad Sheikh, a resident of Padgam village near Awantipora in Pulwama in connection with the attack, as well as a possible Pakistani national known in the area by the code-name ‘Abdullah’.

Even the Hizb, though, has been threatening war: its chief Muhammad Yusuf Shah, who prefers the somewhat vainglorious name Syed Salahuddin, also held out warnings to Hurriyat leaders on their visit to Pakistan. In March, 2010, Lashkar military chief Abdul Wahid Kashmir said “the secret of success and freedom from the oppressor lies in jihad and not at the negotiating tables”.

The superb work of scholar Tufail Ahmad tells us that jihadist groups which are opposed to the Pakistani state—unlike the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has generally enjoyed a cosy relationship with it—are seeking to use the Kashmir issue to bolster their prospects. Last year, Al Qaeda ideologue Ustad Ahmad Farooq claimed that the killings of Muslims in communal violence in Myanmar “provide impetus for us to hasten our advance towards Delhi”. Farman Ali Shinwari, reported to be Al Qaeda’s chief commander for Pakistan, has served in Kashmir.

For an understanding of the full strategic significance of the words and the numbers, we need to go back to 2002—the year India and Pakistan ended the gigantic military standoff on their borders which began after the Jaish-e-Muhammad attack on Parliament House in New Delhi. Even though the prospect of nuclear war appeared to have successfully deterred India from attacking, Pakistan’s military came to the conclusion its country just couldn’t afford another crisis. In addition, the United States—knowing that an India-Pakistan crisis would complicate its own position in Afghanistan—came down hard on Islamabad’s patronage of jihad.

Lieutenant-General Moinuddin Haider, General Pervez Musharraf’s interior minister, told the scholar George Perkovich he had said “Mr President, your economic plan will not work, people will not invest, if you don’t get rid of extremists”.

Haider soon found allies. Former Lieutenant-General Javed Ashraf Qazi said the country’s leadership “must not be afraid of admitting that the Jaish was involved in the deaths of thousands of innocent Kashmiris, bombing the Indian Parliament, Daniel Pearl’s murder and even attempts on President Musharraf‘s life”.

From mid-2002, an extraordinary series of secret meetings and contacts began to explore how future crisis might be averted. The two governments worked out the terms of a ceasefire along the Line of Control, bringing an end to lethal artillery exchanges that had claimed hundreds of lives. Lieutenant-General Ehsan-ul-Haq, the then-Inter Services Intelligence Directorate chief, met with his Research and Analysis Wing counterpart, CD Sahay, to discuss cross-border terrorism. RAW, on one occasion, even supplied communications intelligence to the ISI on a plot to target Musharraf, earning it a thank-you message.

Perhaps the most important axis of secret diplomacy, though, involved the hand-picked special envoys of Musharraf and Prime Minister Singh, SK Lambah, and his Pakistani counterpart, Tariq Aziz.

From unsigned notes I had revealed in 2009, we know the two men agreed to a four point deal: the transformation of the Line of Control into a border, though with adjustments to rationalise access to both countries’ forward positions; free movement across the LOC; greater federal autonomy for both sides of Jammu and Kashmir; phased cutbacks of troops as jihadist violence declined.

It wasn’t quite a done deal: though India was willing to devolve power to sub-regional and regional bodies across Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan said it needed more time to discuss devolution of powers in the Northern Areas—a region Islamabad argues shouldn’t be treated as part of the pre-1947 Princely state. Lambah wanted limited cross-border cooperative management of assets like watersheds, forests and glaciers; Aziz called for a more expansive “joint management” of Jammu and Kashmir. Key questions, like the sequencing of the four points, do not appear to have been discussed—and neither side wanted to go public.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the Kashmiri secessionist leader, was hopeful. “It is September 2007,” he said, “that India and Pakistan are looking at in terms of announcing something on Kashmir.”

They didn’t: Manmohan Singh asked for time until the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections that year to go public; then Musharraf’s political fortunes declined. Then, Pakistan army chief Parvez Ashfaq Kayani backed off, saying he couldn’t afford to be charged by Islamists of treachery.

Now, the wheel’s turning full circle: the United States is leaving Afghanistan, and subcontracting the task of keeping the peace in Afghanistan to the ISI. Pakistan’s own army is besieged—and hopes to win back some of its legitimacy among its old Islamist clients by patronising anti-India jihad.

Put simply, the strategic pillars which have kept the peace in Kashmir are wobbling. Faced with ever-more intense pressure from jihadists operating against it, there appear to be elements in the Pakistan military hoping to turn the storm eastwards.

India has options: to enhance its offensive covert capabilities against jihadists; to support anti-ISI forces in Afghanistan; to find means to pressure Pakistan militarily, short of fighting outright wars which will damage an already-vulnerable economy. There are no easy ways to do any of these things—but the time to start acting on them is now.

For much of his term in office, Prime Minister Singh believed he was within a hair’s breadth of a historic opportunity to make peace. He might have been right, but that time is gone: instead, ten years on, its time to start again preparing for the prospect of war.

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