The former governor of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K) Satya Pal Malik has recently made headlines for his revelations about the Pulwama attack. While some of the claims by Malik on the Pulwama attack have previously been the talk of the town, in the recent interviews, particularly with Karan Thapar, he brought to the fore some previously unknown particulars thereby helping anatomize the intricate Pulwama puzzle.
According to Malik, several intelligence inputs warned of an attack — a claim corroborated by earlier media reportage. A yearlong investigation by Frontline magazine revealed that eleven intelligence warnings of a major attack were issued from January 2nd to February 13th, 2019. An intelligence tip dated February 13th — a day before the attack — is as specific as to alert of an attack “along the routes of security forces” and recommended security high alert. At least six intelligence inputs shared before February 13th identified Pulwama’s Awantipura area (where the attack took place) as a high-risk zone.
Furthermore, as per Malik, not only the Home Ministry turned down the request for airplanes to airlift the soldiers, but also in contravention of the routine practice, an unusually large convoy of 2,500 CRPF personnel was made to travel via Jammu-Srinagar Highway in 78 vehicles making it a sitting target for the prowling militants.
In addition, as per Malik, not only the route of the convoy was not duly sanitized for security threats, but also none of the 8-10 link roads meeting into the Highway within a stretch of 10 km in the Awantipura area was manned to stop any vehicles from joining the Highway as the large convoy voyaged. One of these link roads was used by Adil Ahmad Dar to ram his Mahindra Scorpio into the convoy killing 40 soldiers.
Even more strikingly, Malik revealed that the explosive-laden Mahindra Scorpio used in the attack kept roaming on the roads of Pulwama for about 10 days but was neither reported by the intelligence nor intercepted by the Indian forces. In the world’s most militarized zone — Kashmir — not being able to intercept an SUV loaded with 300 kg of explosive material for about 10 days does not sound very plausible.
Furthermore, according to Frontline investigation, “actionable intelligence” was shared as early as January 24 that Mudasir Ahmad Khan — one of the alleged masterminds of the attack — and his fellow fighters are active in the Awantipura vicinity and are planning a big attack, but no effort was made to hunt them down. Interestingly, all these fighters were eliminated within a few weeks of the attack.
Given the precise nature and frequency of intelligence warnings, Indian authorities should have airlifted the soldiers or at the very least should have beefed up security along the route, but instead, soldiers were directed to the high-risk zone wherein the guard was lowered and voids were provided to the suicide bomber to join highway and strike the convoy. The systematic array of security gaps and lapses could not be categorized as mere “negligence” or coincidences. Rather it was the Chanakya-inspired Modi regime cunningly orchestrating events to facilitate the attack on the CRPF convoy.
Barely a month after the attack, former Governor of Mizoram Aziz Qureshi and Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav alleged that the Modi government perpetrated the Pulwama attack for electoral gains. Although, neither Qureshi nor Yadav furnished evidence to substantiate their claims, considering the Indian penchant for false flag operations for political gains, the possibility of the Modi regime being the orchestrator of the Pulwama attack cannot be overruled outright. In fact, from the standpoint of who benefitted from the Pulwama attack, the Modi regime and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged are the foremost victors.
In 2014, Modi won elections by craftily selling his Gujrat model of economic success. He promised “ache din” (Good times) by “minimum government, maximum governance”. In addition, Modi vowed to transform the Indian economy and create new jobs for India’s ever-growing youth bulge.
However, going into the 2019 national elections, Modi had outrightly failed to deliver on his economic promises. A sequence of ill-conceived economic decisions, most notably demonetization and General Sales Tax (GST), inflicted heavy setbacks on the Indian economy. Not only Modi failed to significantly boost India’s economic growth, but also the promise of jobs to young Indians was never fulfilled. To make matters worse for Modi, opposition leader Rahul Gandhi was mounting an aggressive campaign employing the slogan “Chowkidar Chor Ha” (Watchman is a thief) for alleged embezzlements in the Rafale Jets deal.
Amidst the highly adverse electoral circumstances, the Modi government facilitated (possibly orchestrated) the Pulwama attack and promptly blamed it on Pakistan. As per Satya Pal Malik, Modi and NSA Ajit Doval silenced him when he informed them that the attack could have been averted had it not been for the security lapses. Malik adds that the subsequent public posturing by the Modi government made him realize that the onus was being shifted to Pakistan. Predictably, Modi and his aides were aiming to divert the focus of the election campaign from the governance and economic performance of their government to anti-Pakistan jingoism and Malik highlighting security lapses could have accorded more credence to the suspicions about the Modi government being complicit in the attack.
Nevertheless, only stirring anti-Pakistan jingoism could not have won Modi elections until he communicates a muscular image of himself — a Prime Minister with the political will to retaliate to attacks blamed on Pakistan. The clever stratagem entailed massive electoral dividends and Modi did not even try to disguise his agenda to exploit Pulwama and its after-events for electoral gains. Later on, while addressing an election rally, Modi brazenly pleaded with the first-time voters to dedicate their vote to the “brave men who conducted Balakot airstrikes” and “to the CRPF men who lost their lives in the Pulwama attack”.
After Modi gave a free hand to the military, it took the Indian Air Force (IAF) 11 days and the requisite cloud cover to avoid Pakistani radars to stage a Modi-sought retaliation. During the wee hours of February 26th, 2019, IAF delivered Spice 2000 bombs inside mainland Pakistan — which, however, missed their targets by a few hundred meters. Pakistan responded the next day by bombing open spaces close to Indian military installations in IOJ&K. In the ensuing beyond-visual-range combat — in which Pakistan Air Force (PAF) established absolute air dominance — Pakistan claims to have shot down two Indian aircraft. One Indian MiG-21 was shot down over Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJ&K), whose wreckage was recovered and the pilot was taken captive. Amidst the “fog of war”, Indian air defenses downed one of their helicopter resulting in the killing of at least six military personnel.
While Indian military planners must have expected a Pakistani response, a helicopter caught in fratricide, the downing of MiG-21, and the capture of a pilot (whose videos in Pakistan’s captivity were circulated on social media) were the inadvertent and rather embarrassing consequences for the Modi regime, which incentivized Modi to further escalate. According to Reuters, India threatened to launch six missiles at targets inside Pakistan. Modi himself spilled beans regarding the missile attack bragging that had the captive pilot received even a scratch, India would have inflicted a “Qatal ki raat” (Night of Slaughter) on Pakistan. According to Mike Pompeo, he was informed by his Indian counterpart that New Delhi was weighing options for escalation. Reuters adds that Ajit Doval informed Pakistan’s spy chief during a phone call that India was prepared to escalate. Meanwhile, Pakistan resolved to respond with “three times over” missile strikes. Pakistan’s then Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi later confirmed the threat of an Indian missile attack and stated that the alertness of Pakistan Armed Forces foiled Indian designs.
Although the Reuters story claims that Indian missiles were armed with conventional warheads, Pakistan did not have a mechanism to verify the conventional nature of incoming missiles. Given Pakistan’s qualms about India’s nuclear doctrine and New Delhi’s flirtation with preemptive counterforce strikes, Islamabad could have judged Indian missiles as the start of a preemptive attack and faced with a “use it or lose it” dilemma, could have responded by launching part of its nuclear arsenal.
There is no evidence to suggest that Pakistan’s prepared response was anything except conventional strikes. However, India also did not have a mechanism to ascertain whether the retaliatory strike is conventional and could have judged Pakistan’s missiles as armed with nuclear warheads and that might have been the start of a nuclear conflagration.
Furthermore, although no information about the choice of targets is available, had the conventional missile strikes inadvertently hit the strategic sites of any of the countries, “inadvertent escalation” was very much on the cards.
Despite having pushed India and Pakistan to the brink of a perilous missile exchange — just to win elections — Modi did not hold back. In a palpable case of nuclear posturing, Indian Navy deployed its SSBN INS Arihant, which could not have come without the node at the highest level of the Indian government. The chain of events that started with the Modi regime orchestrating elements to abet the Pulwama attack escalated to push the two countries to the brink of a nuclear conflagration.
Thanks to the stroke of luck and reported interventions by outside powers, Pakistan and India pulled back from the brink during the Pulwama crisis, but given Modi received immediate electoral dividends (BJP won a landslide victory in the 2019 polls) for his reckless nuclear brinkmanship and international cossetting of India during the crisis, he is unlikely to dissuade from resorting to such reckless behavior again. Provided national elections in India are only months away, Islamabad ought to be wary of its eastern neighbor with a penchant for nuclear brinkmanship for electoral gains.
Research Officer, SVI