Pulwama explosives obtained locally, says Indian commander

WASHINGTON: “It is not possible to bring such massive amounts of explosives by infiltrating the border,” says an Indian military commander, Lt Gen D.S. Hooda.

India blames Pakistan for Thursday’s suicide bombing in Pulwama that killed over 40 soldiers in India-held Kashmir. Pakistan has strongly rejected the Indian claim, urging New Delhi to avoid such “sad and baseless knee-jerk reactions”.

The Indian media reported that the suicide car-bomber Aadil Ahmad Dar used more than 750 pounds of explosives against the military convoy he targeted.

India’s options for putting diplomatic pressure on Pakistan are limited, so are its options for a military response, says report

Gen Hooda, who commanded the Indian army’s Northern Command during a similar crisis in September 2016, told The New York Times on Saturday that “the material may have been taken from stashes of explosives” being used to broaden the Jammu highway where the attack occurred.

The newspaper also noted that India’s options for putting diplomatic pressure on Pakistan were limited, so were its options for a military response.

“Pakistan is largely shielded by its alliance with China, which has used its veto power at the United Nations Security Council to protect it,” said the NYT report while explaining why India did not have too many options for diplomatically isolating Pakistan.

“India’s options for a military response are also limited, analysts say, with the disputed border blanketed in thick snow and Pakistani troops on high alert,” the report added.

Diplomatic observers in Washington pointed out that the United States will also not like to isolate Pakistan, particularly now when it’s playing a key role in US-Taliban talks. A semi-official US media outlet, Voice of America, reported that American and Taliban officials are set to meet in Islamabad on Monday for a new round of direct peace negotiations aimed at paving the way for a political settlement to the war in Afghanistan.

The NYT report also hinted that the bomber might have been motivated by domestic reasons to carry out the attack.

“The nature of Thursday’s bombing suggests the insurgency is adapting and becoming more homegrown, leaving observers to question how deep the links to Pakistan really run,” the newspaper observed.

It pointed out that Dar was from a village about six miles from where the Indian convoy was struck … and the explosives he packed into his car appear to have been locally procured.

The report noted that “an insurgency that was once stoked by Pakistan may have taken on a life of its own, as Kashmiris become more disenfranchised and angry at the central government in Delhi and its use of force”.

Some of Dar’s friends told NYT that he turned to militancy after he was wounded at a protest in 2016, where his leg was struck by a bullet fired by the Central Reserve Police Force, a paramilitary unit. “Many Kashmiris loathe the paramilitary unit, viewing it as an occupying force recruited from across India to suppress them,” the report added.

It also noted that the attack had “prompted new questions about how tenable (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi’s hard-line strategy” in Kashmir was.

India has about 250,000 armed forces in Kashmir, making it one of the most militarised corners of the world. “The armed presence affects everyday life for most locals, whose farmland, homes or schools are overshadowed by the military presence,” NYT added.

Yet, a former White House adviser on South Asian affairs, Joshua White, warned that India could pursue “a limited military action, more useful for catharsis than deterrence”.

“The sad reality is that until and unless Pakistan itself makes a decision to stop harbouring groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad, there is little that India or the United States can do to diminish the threat of these devastating attacks,” he said.

Marvin Weinbaum, the senior most scholar of South Asian affairs in Washington, noted that the ruling party in India was in trouble and therefore “it could see a strong retaliatory action as a way to mustering support”.

Michael Kugelman, Woodrow Wilson Centre, Washington, said: “How exactly India responds will depend on how much risk it’s willing to take on if it chooses to escalate.”

Mr Kugelman also identified some non-military actions that India could take, such as cutting off diplomatic ties with Pakistan or revoking the Indus Waters Treaty.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2019

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