On 19 November, four terrorists belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammad were gunned down by Indian security forces in an encounter at Nagrota. This was an unusual occurrence as the terrorists had sneaked into India through a tunnel, built at Samba sector of Jammu & Kashmir. Also, ironically, Pakistan, battling to come out of the grey list of FATF (Financial Action Task Force) in February 2021, is still engaged in sponsoring cross-border terrorism. Pakistan is simply incorrigible. New Delhi has rightly launched a timely diplomatic offensive to put it in the dock. The objective, obviously, is to deny Pakistan an exit from FATF grey list, and to reiterate the charge that Pakistan is the hub of terrorism.
Let’s get the facts on the recent encounter. Four terrorists travelling to Srinagar in a truck were intercepted at the Ban Toll Plaza in Nagrota. A heavy gun fight with security forces ensued and all four were killed. The attempt by security forces to catch one of them alive didn’t succeed. So the information on their whereabouts could be obtained by the things found on their bodies. The forces did a commendable job in tracing their movement and scanning the tunnel.
The underground tunnel was difficult to locate as its mouth was carefully camouflaged with soil and wild plants. The tunnel, 200 meter long, 8 meter deep and 12-14 inches diameter is 160 meters long from the international border and 40 meters long on Pakistan side. According to the BSF spokesman, “It appears that proper engineering effort has gone into making the tunnel, which shows the hand of the establishment (Pakistan).”
True to their valour and sprit, an Indian soldier (Commandant Rathore of 173 Battalion) crawled 150 ft into the tunnel and found packets of biscuits and other food wrappers marked as Lahore-based product with November 17, 2020 as expiry date. With the help of Taiwan-made device, Indian securities agencies have been able to track the exact route the jihadists took. After entering India through the tunnel, they walked nearly 12 kms to the National Highway No.44 to board a truck heading towards Srinagar. On the way, they bypassed an army camp and a railway track. The security forces chased and challenged them near Nagrota.
There is sufficient evidence to nail Pakistan to have sponsored these terrorists. Cement bags used to fortify the route for the terrorists had Pakistani marks. While registering a case in a police station in Nagrota, the list of things found from them consisted of 1.5 lakh INR, wire cutters, Chinese Black Star Pistols and grenades numbering 29, assault rifles, nitrocellulose oil explosives. The forces claim that such explosives were used in the 2019 Pulwama attack. So it appears that terrorists had plans for a major operation in India. Alarmed by the infiltration through the tunnel, the BSF has engaged the special tunnel inspection teams to trawl the international border with Pakistan.
The J&K Police and the BSF are rightly claiming the spotting of the tunnel as a big success. DGP Dilbagh Singht told the press that, “after lot of hard work the Police and the BSF were able to find the tunnel coming from Pakistan’s Chakbura Post within 76 hours of the encounter”. He also asserted that everything recovered from the slain militants, from phones to shoes, to medicine, all have Pakistan’s imprint. Therefore, there is no escape for Islamabad from its involvement in this incident.
Having established Pakistan hand in the infiltration of JeM terrorists, what is New Delhi doing and is it enough? Evaluating the Indian response, one finds that New Delhi has gone on a diplomatic offensive to hold Pakistan accountable. On 23 November, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla, who has been quite active recently touring Europe, Nepal and other countries, briefed the envoys of a few important countries including the US, Russia, France and Japan, with a detailed information docket. The same docket has been sent to Indian Missions abroad for briefing respective countries. Shringla focussed on, “implications of the incident (Nagrota) on security diplomacy and the battle against terrorism.
New Delhi summoned the Pakistan’s Charge d’ Affaires Aftab Hassan Khan on November 21 and warned Pakistan in no uncertain terms. He was told that New Delhi is “committed to take all necessary measures to safeguard its national security”. South Block also demanded that Islamabad abstain from supporting terrorists and nurturing terror infrastructure on its territory. It appears that such briefings will continue to be done. Several secretaries in the Ministry will brief Heads of Missions from countries in their respective areas of jurisdiction.
There are conjectures about the timing and the type of the attack. Vested interests, terror networks and Pakistan are wary of India taking new initiatives in J&K and the State normalising into peace and harmony. The government thinks this was no ordinary infiltration. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called it a “nefarious attempt to target grassroots level democratic exercises in Jammu & Kashmir”. He was obviously alluding to the District Development Councils due to start on November 28.
New Delhi, seeking to apprise the international community, may have a two-fold strategy. The first is to announce to the world that it should acknowledge the grave security risk India is at. It continues to face cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan. The second is to put Pakistan on the mat, especially in the context of FATF reviewing the decision on it and to see if it could be black listed.
However, New Delhi should be conscious that internationalising the issue might invite intervention on the resolution of Kashmir issue. One need not fight shy of such eventuality. The stated position so far is that it is bilateral, as per the Shimla Agreement, and it should be resolved by negotiations between New Delhi and Islamabad. But the dialogue has not gone anywhere, in fact, it has not even started. India insists that ‘talks and terrorism’ cannot go together. Pakistan has to give up cross-border terrorism before it comes to the negotiating table. Islamabad’s ridiculous contention is that it is not involved in any terrorism and is willing to talk.
In all fairness, and as a matter of real politik, New Delhi should agree to talk to Pakistan with the condition that as they talk, not a single bullet should be fired and not a single terrorist infiltrates into Indian territories. New Delhi is dialoguing with China on border de-escalation whereas China has clearly invaded the no man’s land and has been salami-slicing Indian territories. Chinese position is that “we will negotiate but not budge an inch from our occupation”. India need not be so duplicitous as China, but genuinely offer to talk to Pakistan. The other option is to cow down Pakistan by retaliatory attacks as New Delhi has at times done. The China and nuclear angles exist as risks in any military operation. But these risks are over-estimated, and at any rate have to be mitigated. New Delhi cannot go on forever being a responder on Kashmir issue, it has to take the fight into the enemy camp and to a logical end. The present government appears determined and is doing things on the Indian side of Kashmir but the strategy beyond is unclear. It is time that it unfolds.