International media reported on a deadly attack by Islamic militants against a northern India military base in the state of Jammu and Kashmir last Saturday.
According to reports, the attack was the worst in months. Six personnel on the base, along with the father of one of the stationed soldiers were killed. Women and children were among the additional ten wounded. At least three militants were killed in the ensuing gun battle with security forces, according to Indian officials, bringing the death toll to ten.
Indian officials claim that the heavily armed attackers involved in the weekend attack were members of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militant group.
Indian media quoted the country’s defense minister Nirmala Sitharaman, claiming Pakistan was culpable for the attack, even implying Islamabad had provided active assistance to the terrorists. “Pakistan is expanding the arc of terror... resorting to ceasefire violations to assist infiltration,” said Sitharaman. India’s “intelligence inputs show the terrorists were controlled by their handlers from across the border.” Sitharaman ended her comments stating that “Pakistan will pay for this misadventure.”
Pakistan, for its part, responded by fervently denying any involvement and warning India of infiltrating its borders in any retaliatory raid against JeM. “It is a well established pattern that Indian officials begin making irresponsible statements and leveling unfounded allegations, even before any proper investigation in any incident has been initiated,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
What makes this ongoing episode important, is that it is the latest flashpoint in the ongoing conflict in the Kashmir Valley, a schism which has developed into another point of contention between India and Pakistan. The “Kashmir unrest” as it is often referred to, began in 2016 after Indian security forces killed militant leader Burhan Wani, a prominent member of the Kashmiri Islamist group Hizbul Mujahideen. A long series of violent protests by Muslim activists erupted in the state immediately following Wani’s death that have resulted in dozens of deaths and serious injuries at the hands of Indian police and military. The Islamic Pakistan made its support of the protests known from the very beginning. The movement still sees Pakistan as a patron and has requested that the country use its platform in the UN to advance the cause of Kashmiri separatists.
So is Pakistan directly responsible for the attack as Indian officials claim? That is a complicated question to answer. The claim that the Pakistani government orchestrated this attack using Islamist militant proxies is pretty much baseless. However, this doesn’t mean Pakistan has no liability here. For one, there is substantial evidence that the attackers emanated from Pakistani territory, which already makes it at least in part Islamabad’s responsibility.
Beyond the specifics, last week’s attack is likely another confirmation of the difficult truth when it comes to militant Islam in Pakistan. As discussed in other TrigTent installments, Pakistan, for a long time now, cannot claim to have any substantial control over the militant groups that operate within its borders. The infrastructure that supports and fosters radicals is deeply entrenched in the country and has permeated every level of Pakistani society, from the religious to the political to the military. These elements are essentially able to act without the full consent of central authorities in Islamabad. It is therefore no surprise to find out that these forces in Pakistan organized the Saturday attack, likely in retaliation for India’s ongoing campaign against the Muslim separatists in Kashmir.
The attack and its aftermath may prove to be a tipping point in tensions between the two countries. Time will tell if some rigorous diplomacy, with perhaps a tad of security cooperation to identify the culprits, can stave off an escalation in the region.