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DC Edit | Don't let J&K hit on Army play spoiler at SCO meet


Published on: April 23, 2023 | Updated on: April 23, 2023

An Army truck was attacked with armour-piercing bullets and grenades. (Photo: PTI)

Last week’s terrorist attack close to the Line of Control in the Poonch-Rajouri region of the Jammu division of the Union Territory of J&K is another reminder of the gap that exists between the reality on the ground and the official claims, made on a frequent basis from the highest levels in New Delhi, about decline in terrorism since the dilution of Article 370 of the Constitution in August 2019.

An Army truck was attacked with armour-piercing bullets and grenades. Five jawans of the Rashtriya Rifles, a formation of the Army charged with counter-terrorism, were killed and one injured. If this was an ambush in a forested and especially vulnerable area, then signs of intelligence failure cannot be ruled out. The National Investigating Agency has taken charge of the investigation.

There have been eye-catching attacks earlier in this sector. On January 1 this year, seven civilians were killed and 13 injured in indiscriminate firing by terrorists. In October, 2021, nine Army jawans were killed by terrorist action in the same forest zone. This part of the UT forms the corridor in the Pir Panjal range that leads on to the southern part of the Kashmir valley, which has seen terrorist action on a regular basis in the past ten years, notwithstanding government claims of a change in atmosphere in the UT after the reading down of Article 370.

Under its chairmanship of G-20, India is to host a meeting of the grouping’s Working Group on Tourism in Kashmir next month. Also in May, the meeting of the foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is to be held in Goa. Pakistan foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is slated to attend. In fact, the April 20 attack on our Army truck occurred shortly after the announcement was officially made by Pakistan. This has caused speculation whether the assault has cast a shadow on Mr Zardari’s scheduled trip.

While it is unlikely that New Delhi will allow the G-20 meeting to be derailed by the Poonch strike, it would be a pity if the Pakistan foreign minister’s visit is affected. Since 2016, when Sartaj Aziz, then Pakistan PM’s adviser on foreign affairs came to Amritar for the Heart of Asia Conference to a cold reception, high level trips have been absent. Mr Zardari’s is also not a bilateral visit. Given that consideration, it doesn’t make sense for Pakistan to cancel. The question is, will India be in a mood after the terrorist hit to utilise the space provided by the Pakistan foreign minister’s visit to broach matters of bilateral interest and concern?

A mature country would not be thrown off balance by a terrorist attack. In the past such nasty events have been weathered in the mostly fragile state of India-Pakistan relationship. Even today, trade and travel ties stand ruptured and there has been no representation at the level of high commissioner between the two countries. Nevertheless, the ceasefire agreement has held since February, 2021 and back channel consultations are not disrupted. This is positive in an otherwise extremely fraught relationship.

A complicating factor cannot escape notice. Former J&K governor Satyapal Malik has lately revealed that the Pulwama attack took place because CRPF jawans were refused five aircraft to ferry them to Kashmir Valley, and when Mr Malik took up the matter with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he was asked to lie low as other considerations were in the mix. Shortly after, India’s Balakot airstrike took place to avenge Pulwama, and this was made a propaganda point by the government party in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. We may hope that the Poonch attack does not open the doors for such temptations.