Pulwama massacre: India grapples with security threats from 3 directions; Fidayeen in the north, Khalistanis in the west, China in the east

Thursday's attack in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama by a Jaish-e-Mohammad operative on a bus of CRPF personnel claimed lives of 40 Indian jawans. The attack also signifies the return of suicide bombing on Indian soil. It has also brought back the immediacy of the threats posed by India's borders on the North, East and West. From each of these three directions, India, now, has to contend with renewed efforts to either separate or secede or occupy.

While in the north India faces the apparently unsolvable problem of Kashmir, Punjab in the northwest is riddled with a gradually resurfacing Khalistani movement. In the northeast, India faces the advancing footsteps of a very insistent China.

The North:

Kashmir today stands as the one of its most lingering worries for India, a problem without a solution. When it comes to Kashmir, India not only contends with ceasefire violations and firing from Pakistan, but also the fidayeens, who have made the state a hotbed of insurgency. While arguments have been made in the vested interests of both India and Pakistan in keeping the unrest in the Valley alive, the violence unleashed in the state has now become a daily affair, leaving families fractured, security personnel dead and normal life perpetually suspended.

Pulwama massacre: India grapples with security threats from 3 directions; Fidayeen in the north, Khalistanis in the west, China in the east

Soldiers stand guard near the site of explosion in Lethpora in south Kashmir's Pulwama district on Thursday night. Reuters

More far reaching than direct firing from Pakistan has been the country's implicit support to Kashmiri insurgents who want to join Pakistan. While the Valley has never seen complete peace, it did see significantly less violence between Independence and the year 1987. That year saw a state Assembly election in which the distinctly Islamic political parties complained that the polls were rigged against them and in favour of the Farooq Abdullah-Rajiv Gandhi alliance. A militant movement began, spearheaded by Muslim leaders and (as India has avowedly maintained) egged on by Pakistan.

Through the nineties, several outfits grew in strength, with the support of Pakistan's ISI. While some wanted independence from both India and Pakistan, others demanded an union with the latter. Among the most visible are Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami, al-Badr, Hizbul Mujahideen, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front and Thursday's attackers, Jaish-e-Mohammad. The non-secular and Muslim fundamentalist nature of the movement was driven by the arrival, in the 90s, of large numbers of Islamic Jihadi fighters who had fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union in the 80s. The word fidayeen may refer to a Muslim fighter but the organisations that the "converted" men were fighting for have sustained deeply political interests.

Since the turn of the century, India's clampdown on Kashmir has also dealt a serious blow to the freedom of its politically uninvolved population, many of whom have taken to pelting Indian security forces with the only weapon readily available to them: stones. While the lines between stone pelters and those in the armed movement are blurred, recent years have seen a concentration of the insurgents' efforts to draw more from the civilian fold into the militant one. An example of such quick conversions is the perpetrator of Thursday's attack, Adil Ahmad Dar.

While the Jaish has a firm base in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, the group, along with Lashkar have been trying to set up a strong network in north Kashmir since last year. More students and young men are attracted to the movement than have ever been before.

The deadliest terrorist attacks in the state have ranged from the 1989 kidnapping of Mufti Sayeed's daughter to the 1998 massacre of Kashmiri Pandits living in Wandhama. In recent years, terror strikes have grown in significance, with Narendra Modi's government at the centre using the defence prong in many of its public announcements. Barring Thursday's attack, the maximum number of Indian soldiers killed at once in a Kashmir attack by the fidayeen have been 19, in the 2016 strike in Uri, which led the government to orchestrate a surgical strike to avenge the dead soon after.

The Northeast:

A map of the disputed Doklam area. Google Maps

A map of the disputed Doklam area. Google Maps

In 2017, attempts by China to begin construction of a road that would extend to the Doklam plateau near the Doka La pass in Bhutan brought to fore the country's attempts to make literal inroads into territory historically managed by India. As many as 270 Indian troops armed with weapons and two bulldozers marched to Bhutan to stop China, beginning a standoff that extended beyond two months. The conflict soon swelled into one of the worst border disputes between the two countries in decades. India claimed it was acting on behalf of Bhutan, but both India and China had little to hide their own territorial ambitions.

The tussle over control over a narrow "chicken neck" strip of Indian territory which connects India's central mass to the states in the North East reflected India's concerns that China could cut off the corridor, cutting crores of people off their government centre.

As threats and counter-threats were exchanged during the standoff, leading to not much other than international tension, India's northeast is still exposed to China's brazen attempts to gain control.

Many have said that China's eventual abandonment of plans to construct the road through Doklam could be reflective of a more sinister act, a decision to strike again when India's wherewithal in the area is at a low, rendering the area a constant source of worry for India.

On 26 March, 2018, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Doklam belongs to China and India should have learned lessons from the stand-off last year.

The Northwest:

Bloody wars are no novelty in India, but few homegrown movements have seen as much concentrated violence in a short period of time as the Khalistani movement in Punjab. The movement aims to form a separate nation state called Khalistan.

What began in 1971, saw the assassination of a Prime Minister and the bombing of a plane carrying 328 people, has now resurfaced as a new brand of Sikh militancy with social media offering impetus to a brand of men who eschew the traditional markers of Khalistani warriors. No longer are men in the movement sporting long beards or swords, the new Khalistani insurgent is clean shaven and probably reports to a mastermind abroad.

These new-age militants have no trace of any Khalistani activity in at least three generations of their families. None of them are from households that suffered during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. They also have no links to victims of Punjab’s violent insurgency in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Young Sikhs are increasingly being recruited, presumably by Canada masterminds, to kill specific targets now, reported The Hindustan Times, which spoke to Punjab police on the recurring threat of the revived movement. "They are using a new way to spread terrorism. Pro-Khalistani forces are radicalising people using cyber space…" state director general of police Suresh Arora said.

In late 2017, police arrested five men for shooting Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh members in Ludhiana, Dera Sacha Sauda followers and a Christian pastor.

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Updated Date: Feb 15, 2019 12:50:51 IST

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