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J&K: Complacency and Loss
  • suicide bomber
    suicide bomber
At least 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed when a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden SUV into a CRPF bus on February 14, 2019. The bus was part of a 78-vehicle convoy moving some 2,500 personnel from Jammu to Srinagar. The attack happened near Lethpora, on Srinagar-Jammu National Highway (NH-44), in the Pulwama District of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), and is the worst in terms of Security Force (SF) fatalities since terrorism began in the State in 1988. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)-backed terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which operates out of Pakistani soil with complete impunity, has taken responsibility for the latest attack in Pulwama.

The worst attack previously recorded was on May 23, 2004, when at least 30 persons, including 19 Border Security Force (BSF) personnel, six women and five children, were killed in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosion at Lower Munda, near Qazigund, on the same highway (Srinagar-Jammu National Highway). 

The worst ever attack in terms of fatalities of Army personnel, was on September 18, 2016, when at least 17 soldiers were killed and another 19 injured as terrorists stormed the administrative base of one of the units of the Indian Army near the Line of Control (LoC) in the Uri town of Baramulla District. Four terrorists involved in the attack were also killed. 

The worst attack targeting the J&K Police was recorded on March 2, 2001, when 15 police personnel and two civilians were killed in an ambush at Morha Chatru in Rajouri District.

The first Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) attack in J&K to be claimed by JeM took place on December 25, 2000, when a powerful car explosion triggered by a Fidayeen, followed by firing at the headquarters of 15 Corps near Broadway Cinema in the heart of the Srinagar, resulted in death of nine persons, including four army soldiers, four civilians and a militant. 

The very first VBIED attack in the State, however, was recorded on April 19, 2000. Two soldiers were killed in the attack at the Army headquarters at Badamibagh in Srinagar. Between April 19, 2000, and February 13, 2019 (prior to Pulwama attack and including the April 19, 2000 attack), Kashmir has recorded at least seven VBIED attacks resulting in 88 deaths. 

The last of the VBIED attack, preceding the February 14, 2019, attack was executed in the Nowgam area of capital Srinagar on November 2, 2005, resulting in at least 10 fatalities. JeM has taken responsibility for three of the seven attacks, including the one on November 2, 2005.

Though no VBIED attack was recorded after November 2, 2005, till the latest incident in Pulwama, there have been specific warnings that terrorist formations including JeM, were preparing to use VBIEDs. According to a report dated February 12, 2018, Security Forces were put on high alert following an input that JeM was trying to carry out fidayeen attack in Kashmir Valley and that they could use an explosive-laden car to carry out the attack. Most recently, on February 8, 2019, an alert had said: “Before occupying your place of deployment please sanitize the area properly as there are inputs of use of IEDs..” The intelligence input was sent on behalf of the Inspector General of Police, Kashmir.

Despite specific intelligence Security Forces were not been able to detect the movement of a vehicle laden with over 100 kilograms of explosive on a road which should have been completely sanitized for the sizeable (and routine) troop movement. Despite improving intelligence flows on terrorist movement in the Valley, the agencies also failed to detect the entire process of acquisition of explosives and other materials, and the assembly of the VBIED, processes that would have required significant expertise and coordination, as well as the participation of an elaborate network.

It is useful to recall that JeM had formed the ‘Afzal Guru Brigade’ after the February 9, 2013, hanging of the Parliament Attack (December 13, 2013) case convict Mohamad Afzal Guru in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail. On numerous occasions in the past, JeM had threatened to avenge the hanging and to ‘commemorate the sacrifice’. Though no major attack (involving three or more fatalities) claimed by the JeM has occurred in J&K in the month of February between 2013 and 2017, on February 10, 2018, the outfit had carried out a fidayeen (suicide squad) attack on Sunjuwan Military Station, close to Jammu City in Jammu District, in the early hours of February 10. Three terrorists who executed the strike were killed during the gun battle with the Army. Again, on February 12, 2018, a CRPF trooper was killed and another injured as JeM fidayeentried to storm the 23rd Battalion headquarters of the CRPF at Karan Nagar in Srinagar. JeM terrorists had also carried out the assault on the Indian Air Force (IAF) Base at Pathankot in neighboring Punjab through January 2, 2016, and January 3, 2016, killing six SF personnel, including one Air Force commando. Five JeM terrorists were also killed.

Though SFs have inflicted major losses on all active terror formations, and particularly the JeM which has lost its top active leaders in the recent past, terrorism in the State has been on the rise. Only a detailed inquiry can identify the specific deficiencies and failures that culminated in the incident of February 14, 2019, but it is clear that a measure of complacency contributed to the tragedy. 
Ajit Singh Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management