In August 2013, there was one small flaw in the case that the United States and European Union were building to bomb Syria for crossing Barack Obama’s ‘Red Line’ on the use of chemical weapons.
This was the absence of a motive.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was winning the war against the rebels, and was only too aware that using these in inconsequential attacks on civilians would mean writing his death warrant.
They called off the attack two days before the D-Day after Porton Down, Britain’s chemical and biological weapons research centre, told PM David Cameron that the Syrian army could not possibly have prepared the Sarin that was used in the Ghouta oasis earlier that month.
Those who are concocting a ‘return of Ikhwani terror’ in Kashmir theory to explain the six mysterious killings at Sopore since May 25 face the same problem that Obama faced in Syria: Why would the Mufti government, which has won a resounding poll victory and is committed to bringing peace to the Valley, want to write its own suicide note by doing so?
The allegation is equally absurd when made against Delhi.
When mobile telephony has become the main channel through which the government receives information on the militants, why would it get two workers charged with its upkeep killed?
And why would Delhi pick up a few inconsequential ex-militants and sympathisers of the Hurriyat (G) when it is doing all it can to keep SAS Geelani in good health?
There are two other, more plausible, explanations: The first is that the killings are the work of a breakaway group within the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) who feel that neither Geelani nor Salahuddin in Pakistan are radical enough for their taste.
The second is that Pakistan has a hand in what is happening.
It is common knowledge in Kashmir that there has been a rift in the Hurriyat (G), mirrored in the cadres of the HM, with a younger, more radical group gravitating towards Masarat Alam, in Kashmir.
This seems to have surfaced when, shortly after his release from prison, Alam led a small group of young men into the reception for Geelani, wearing green headbands and waving Pakistani flags.
Delhi’s and the Indian media’s over-reaction to the flag-waving gave the group a heady sense of power but heightened the tension between them and the older cadres.
Alam’s re-arrest left them high and dry within the Hurriyat.
This group seems to have broken away and formed the Lashkar-e-Islam. The killing of a telephone tower proprietor, a close friend of Geelani’s, seems to have been triggered by the removal of communication devices the HM had attached to them by the police but wrongly ascribed to the proprietor.
But the second telephone worker killing and the rampage that followed in June was clearly intended to establish the new group’s dominance over the Hurriyat (G) through a reign of terror.
This is a plausible explanation, but it is not complete.
It does not explain why the group should have chosen this moment to rebel, and why its June rampage was also in Sopore.
Most important of all, it does not explain how the Lashkar-e-Islam intends to sustain its revolt.
To do so, it needs money, sanctuary and moral support. It is more than likely that Pakistan has begun to supply all three for it has the strongest of motives for bringing down the Mufti government.
Islamabad is aware of the BJP’s long-standing opposition to a special status for Kashmir.
Since coming to power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not missed an opportunity to let Islamabad know that Kashmir is no longer negotiable.
A disturbed Pakistan, whose leaders, from General Pervez Musharraf to Nawaz Sharif, had been looking for a solution ‘with izzat’, let that ride till it became apparent that a BJP-PDP coalition was on the anvil in Kashmir.
To Islamabad this must have looked like the kiss of death, for its success will not only write finis to the militancy in the Valley, but invalidate the two-nation theory upon which its own existence is predicated.
The proof of Pakistan’s involvement is the barrage of phone calls that members of the Hurriyat (Mirwaiz) received in the weeks before the new government assumed office to reunite with the Hurriyat (G), the threats made to Sajjad Lone to stop him from joining the coalition, and the warning that his brother Bilal had been put on the United Jihad Council’s hitlist.
But the clinching proof was 18 phone calls to Masarat Alam from across the border (47 minutes) that the Intelligence Bureau and allied agencies intercepted.
So long as the killings were confined to Sopore it remained possible that they were products of a single burst of anger and revolt.
But a blast inside the Army camp in Baramulla on Monday shows not only a substantial capacity to penetrate security barriers but also that Sopore is only the beginning of an attempt to provoke an Indian government over-reaction in Kashmir.
The BJP’s reaction to the Sopore killings has been all that Pakistan could have wished for. Defence minister Manohar Parrikar’s ill-considered remark that India will fight ‘terrorists with terrorists’ has given credence to the Ikhwani revival canard, and given Pakistan the moral justification it needs to ramp up its campaign.
Even if this does not lead to another spontaneous insurgency in Kashmir, it will complete the discrediting of the Mufti government as a quisling of New Delhi.
The PDP knows this and is preparing itself for an early departure. One wonders whether Modi knows it too, and if he does, whether he understands what that will lead to.
(Prem Shankar Jha is a political commentator and senior journalist. The views expressed are personal.)