While the Centre is grappling with a crisis in JNU, which it brought on itself through bad handling, and earlier had to tackle violent protests by Jats in Haryana, newer challenges are on the horizon. Jihadi groups are ramping up their anti-Indian rhetoric; these are usually construed as a portent of more violence or an indication that the Pakistani establishment is unwilling or unable to confront terrorist organisations that target India. The Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief, Hafiz Saeed, praised the Pathankot attack this month and warned there could be more.
Perhaps in line with this, Indian security forces battled terrorists at Pampore in Kashmir in a gun battle lasting nearly 50 hours. Three army commandos, including two captains, and two CRPF personnel were killed during the assault operation. The JuD, which calls itself a charitable organisation and disavows any links with the Lashkar-e-Taiba, has notably praised the Pampore attack and castigated Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for his promise to act on terrorists targeting India.
India and Pakistan will be treading in delicate terrain in the days ahead. PM Sharif’s advisor Sartaj Aziz indicated in an interview that national security advisors of both countries were in regular touch about the way forward. The future depends on how both sides handle bureaucratic reservations and charged public opinion. As a confidence-building measure, Islamabad has put Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar under ‘protective custody’ since January 14, but a first information report filed on the Pathankot attack does not name any individual — and it fails to mention a terrorist organisation. Islamabad plans to send a special investigation team to India by early March, according to Aziz, to assemble evidence and build the case against the perpetrators. There is no agreement yet on the terms of reference for the SIT and both sides may yet bicker on the access that visitors will get here. It remains to be seen if New Delhi has the appetite to engage Pakistan without discernible progress on the Pathankot investigation, particularly when the BJP’s constituency and a section of urban audiences are caught up in hypernationalist fervour following the sedition row at Jawaharlal Nehru University. The Centre needs to find a way to balance its domestic political calculation with the imperatives of making bilateral progress, by taking the opportunities that Sharif affords. It also needs to factor in the costs of Kashmiri alienation, expressed through instances of popular support to militants.