INDIA is suffering from a disease: it is Pakistan-phobia, which periodically surfaces as war fever. Indian media usually takes the lead in the matter. Inspired by the Indian government, there is a competition between compères and participants of TV debates as to who can spew more poison and hatred against Pakistan. The present BJP government has built its electoral support on a hate-Pakistan platform, and a barely concealed anti-Muslim agenda. Reports suggest that the Modi government is getting unpopular and has lost several recent provincial elections. It faces a general election in a few months and has been looking for an excuse to divert public attention and build up electoral support on its time-tested anti-Pakistan agenda. That excuse seems to have been provided by a suicide-bombing in Pulwama in Indian-occupied Kashmir.
On 14 February 2019, a Kashmiri youth named Adil Ahmad Dar rammed a car full of explosives into a passing Indian military convoy near Pulwama, killing 44 Indian soldiers. He had earlier made a video detailing his plan to carry out the suicide attack. He identified himself as belonging to a militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad, which reportedly released the video. Reports in the Indian and foreign news media identified him as a villager from nearby village Lethipora. His father, farmer Ghulam Hussain Dar, said his son had been beaten up and harassed by the troops about three years ago on the way home from school. This maltreatment radicalized him and he disappeared from his home and evidently joined the militants. Jaish-e- Muhammad was founded by a Pakistani religious militant Maulana Masood Azhar.
However, no evidence has been advanced linking him directly with the Pulwama attack, which was carried out by a local Kashmiri who had his own grievance against the Indian military. A prominent Indian security expert ruled out the possibility that the heavy explosives used in the suicide bombing could have been transported from Pakistan inside Indian-occupied Kashmir. The explosives were local and the entire incident seems to be indigenous. Jaish-e-Muhammad might have a following inside Indian-occupied Kashmir, but Adil Ahmad Dar had no known direct link with the group. It is certainly preposterous to link the Pakistan government with any ties with the Jaish, which was banned in 2002, and later attempted assassination of ex-President Pervez Musharraf. India has listed Masood Azhar as a leading terrorist and has been trying to place his name on UN Security Council’s counter-terrorism sanctions list, a move vetoed by China, which wants to see specific evidence against Azhar.
Surprisingly, the US Administration has issued comments by White House as well as National Security Adviser Bolton, supporting the Indian version on the Pulwama incident. India is even claiming that Bolton supported India’s right to self-defence against cross-border terrorism. This has emboldened India to take a jingoistic stance towards Pakistan. Pakistan has every reason to resent such an unfriendly US stance, which is surprising since the US has been currently appreciative of Pakistan’s help in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. Pakistan should mince no words in conveying its displeasure on such a prejudiced stance taken by Washington.
Prime Minister Modi has said that the blood of Indian martyrs would be revenged. He accused Pakistan of involvement in the Pulwama incident and warned of a dire response. He said he had left it to the Indian armed forces to decide what action to take against Pakistan to respond to the suicide attack. Already the biggest air exercise has been held by India in Rajasthan near the Pakistan border. While much of the war fever is self-engineered, it can sometimes lead to a grave escalation in tensions, because public opinion is inflamed and a retreat is seen as a serious loss of face. Pakistan must not take the Indian threats lightly. India seems to be itching to carry out a “surgical strike” against Pakistan. That could produce a counter-response from Pakistan and matters could get out of control. A specific warning must be given to India of an equal Pakistani military response in case of any Indian military adventure.
So far, Pakistan has responded in a responsible and restrained manner by rejecting Indian allegations and demanding that India should produce evidence to support its claims. If India does so, Pakistan would be prepared to cooperate in the matter and take action against anyone who is involved in such terrorism. In fact, Pakistan must crack down on militants like Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed whose activities can destroy peace between two nuclear powers. They merely provide an excuse to India to link terrorism with the heroic struggle of the Kashmiri people, and thus discredit their resistance movement.
Over a period of time, especially since 9/11, world opinion has turned against terrorism and extremism. The truth of the matter is that the Kashmiri people are engaged in a struggle for self-determination and India has been guilty of massive violation of human rights in seeking to suppress the Kashmiris through the use of brute force. It is utterly shameful that so-called upholders of democracy and human rights, particularly in the West, have turned a blind eye to Indian atrocities. But India has succeeded to some extent to turn world attention away from the real issue by putting a stamp of foreign-aided terrorism to Kashmiri struggle for freedom. Pakistan must not allow India to hoodwink world opinion.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.