Return Of The Suicide Bomber – The Looming Danger

– Oliver D’Souza

On February 14, 2019, a 78-vehicle convoy escorting over 2,500 CRPF jawans of the 76th Battalion left from Jammu to Srinagar. Approximately at around 3:30 pm, a Mahindra Maruti Eeco SUV driven by 20 year old, Adil Ahmed Dar of the proscribed terror outfit Jaish-E-Mohammed (JeM), and laden with 30 kilograms of explosives, entered National Highway 44 from a side street at Lethipora near Avantipora town. It overtook the fifth bus in the convoy and violently exploded, blowing the bus to smithereens, killing the bomber and 40 CRPF personnel instantly, with 9 other injured CRPF personnel later succumbing to injuries. This ended the 14-year- lull in suicide bombings in India. The last one occurred on October 12, 2005 at Begumpet at the Hyderabad City Police Commissioner’s Task Force office, killing two people. Since then we’ve had many terrorist attacks, mostly suicidal missions involving fire arms, grenades, rockets and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) targeting civilians in the Indian mainland and security forces in Kashmir and North-East, but none of them involved a human bomber. The last time a suicide bomber targetted security forces was 20 July 2005, in Kashmir, ramming a explosives laden vehicle into security forces, killing three of them and two civilians.

There are specific reasons why a suicide bombing rather than a firearms or IED attack was carried out in Pulwama by JeM, which has claimed responsibility for the attack. One principal reason is the extremely high casualty rates among terrorists at the hands of Indian security forces during other forms of attacks. The security forces have been continuously running anti-terror operations. J&K Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh, for instance, told the media that “as many as 257 terrorists were killed across Jammu and Kashmir in 2018 alone.” Whereas, the number of recruits to terrorist outfits till July 2018 was 130, creating cadre shortages among terror outfits, including JeM and LeT. A suicide bombing conserves cadre numbers by resulting in the death of just one or two terrorists while inflicting high number of casualties. Between, 1981 and 2006, such attacks constituted only 4% of all terrorist attacks globally, yet caused 32% of all terrorism-related deaths (14,599).

Provided they find volunteers, suicide bombings are a prime choice for terrorist organizations also because they are more devastating than other terror attacks, concealment of explosives is easy, the bombers can improvise and it also eliminates logistic headaches such as detonation management and escape plans.

Now that terrorists have succeeded in devastatingly targetting security forces by returning to human bombers, the Pulwama bombing is unlikely to be an off-hand one. The last time JeM did the same was on October 1, 2001 targeting the J&K state assembly, killing 38 people.

Roberte Pape, professor at the University of Chicago and author of “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism.” says “since 1980, there have been 13 suicide terrorist campaigns that have begun and ended. Over seven of those 13 have ended with gains for the terrorist’s political cause. The other six have not.”

Going by Pape’s observation, suicide bombing, along with fidayeen activity will be around until either India hands over Kashmir to the secessionists, something which is never going to happen or the root cause of the conflict and all the players are dealt with conclusively. Terror in Kashmir or for that matter, In India, is not going to die a natural death, especially with external forces persistently stoking the fire.

20-year-old Pulwama suicide bomber Adil Ahmed Dar

Following the rise of the cult of the suicide bomber and its devastating effect, terrorism and psychology experts have expended considerable energies to understand the motivation that drives people to commit such dastardly acts. They have arrived at varying theories, but the general consensus is that there is no single factor at work; rather there are multiple aspects that eventually cause a bomber to strap on a explosive belt or drive a vehicle laden with explosives into a target.

The 20-year-old Pulwama bomber, for example, is said to have joined the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) after being beaten by security forces, making it seem as though revenge was his motivation. But revenge is not a primary reason for his actions that also took 49 other lives with it. Rather, he was taken down the path of suicide through a process that starts with a cause that he was made to believe in.

Pape, who has studied 462 suicide terrorists from around the world since 1980 says “what terrorist outfits all around the world have in common is a specific strategic goal, to compel modern democracies to withdraw combat forces from territory the terrorists prize greatly.”

Similarly, Amos Harel, a well-known terror correspondent, writing about suicide bombers in Israel, Palestinian territories and Lebanon writes in Haaretz: “The main reason for becoming a suicide bomber is said to be a desire to become both a national and religious sacrifice. It is the ultimate way to give your soul for your country.”

Outfits like JeM and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), which are fighting for cessation of Kashmir from India, provide desperate and disillusioned youth with false nationalistic causes, also rubbing in what they term as “Indian atrocities against Kashmiris”. But to get an Islamist suicide bomber to kill himself and others requires more than a political cause as Islam prohibits murder as well as suicide, both of which are prohibited by Islam and are also serious crimes under law.

Mohammed Hafez, visiting professor at the University of Missouri, and author of “Why Muslims Rebel: Repression and Resistance in the Islamic world”, says “What we’ve seen is that some of these terrorist organizations have become very innovative in digging deep in Islamic histories to find traditions, perhaps archaic traditions, to justify the killing of civilians, to justify Muslims killing Muslims, and to justify killing yourself; as an Islamic, you’re strictly prohibited from suicide.”

Once a candidate is convinced of the cause and the religious justification for it, all it takes from thereon is to get materially and logistically equipped for the task. Mia Bloom, author of “Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror”, says “You need to have a series of people who support the bomber, do reconnaissance, provide safe homes, provide the improvised explosive device. And so … you generally will need to have an organization and a fairly sophisticated network in that organization.”

Shockingly, as Mia Bloom goes on to say, when a candidate is all ready for a suicide mission, he is literally trapped from backing out by making a video in which the bomber states his intention, along with the religious justification for it.

In Kashmir, there are genuine reasons that have led the youth into despair and disillusionment. Essentially, the situation for the youth started becoming particularly bad from 1989 onwards, when militancy started in a major way, disrupting education, development, industry and social welfare in Kashmir. A small number of them who could afford it moved to other parts of the country for education, some others for employment, but the massive majority is left behind with empty hands and a very poor quality of life. And they accuse the Indian state for neglecting the welfare of Kashmir for 72 years.

The Hindu reports that in the 2001 census, 64 per cent of the population in the Valley was under the age of 30. The projection for 2011 was 66 per cent, which meant nearly 700,000 people between the ages of 18 and 30. As many as 50 per cent in the 18-30 age group were unemployed despite having high levels of education. According to one estimate, in 2011, Kashmir had 6,000 unemployed doctors and 2,000 unemployed bio-technologists. Over 78,000 people in the 18-25 age group had some kind of computer education but most of them have no jobs. There is a massive histrocial problem of development, unemployment, underemployment and lack of opportunity in Kashmir.
There have also been an increasing number of civilian deaths and severe injuries in counter-militancy operations and in public demonstrations, alienating not just Kahsmiri youth, but also the larger population. Human rights bodies also allege that violations are being committed by the state in Kashmir. As is happening even after the Pulwama incident, ordinary Kashmiris residing in other parts of the country too are often targeted with violence whenever a major terrorist attack takes place in Kashmir. Simultaneously, there is also a highly visible nation-wide anti-Muslim campaign by the ruling BJP, which has caused distrust of the party among Kashmiris.

As far as the Kashmir issue itself is concerned, just as was revealed by a poll conducted in 2007 by the Indian Express, even today, common Kashmiris want nothing to do with either India or Pakistan and want independence. In 2016 massive public protests erupted all over POK, mostly driven by youth, asking Pakistan to shutdown terror camps in POK.

All such factors put together make Kashmiri youth prone to influence by violent ideologies and religious bigots. Some of the youth thus influenced end up either outrightly joining the terrorists, or become hidden sympathizers providing logistical support, information and safe haven for terrorists, going as far as hampering anti-militancy operations.

Statistics show that there has been a massive spike in terror related activity in Kashmir in the last five years, which incidentally is also the time the BJP came to power at the centre on its own, and in alliance with the PDP in J&K. (It remained in power for four years with PDP in J&K, before gaining complete control through President’s rule.)
For instance, during 2009-2014, there were 109 terror attacks, 139 soldiers killed, 563 ceasefire violations and 12 civilian deaths. Whereas, between the years 2014-2019 there have been 626 terror attacks, 483 soldiers killed, 5596 ceasefire violations and 210 civilian deaths.

A 2017, Press Trust of India report says that “According to the data laid on the floor of Parliament in March this year, there has been a steady increase in the number of youth taking up arms in the Valley from 2014 onwards as compared to 2010-2013. Between 2010 and 2013, 114 youth joined militancy while from 2014 onwards, over 443 youth have done so and crossed over to terrorist camps in PoK, many of them returning to Kashmir to wreak terror and get killed in the process. Last year, as reported by NDTV, till July alone, 130 Kashmiri youth had joined terrorist outfits. These figures indicate that in the last five years, Kashmir has entered a particularly escalated era of terrorism.

In all of this, the government also took a hardline approach against civilians seeking independence. This has resulted in more ill-will against India among Kashmiris, especially because it has caused civilian deaths and injuries. In a recent panel discussion on TV, several formal Generals said that India under Modi has no clear policy on Kashmir. They said all governments largely ignore Kashmir and wake out of their stupor only when a major attack takes place.

The political, economic, social and development that have aggrevated the original problems arising out of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan need urgent and effective addressing through political statesmanship and administrative action to bring peace and development to the youth, to prevent them from picking up the gun. Future Indian governments will have to evolve policies that ensure intensive development that would create economic growth, jobs, opportunities and prosperity, all of which the youth in Kashmir do not have. The government will also have to get rid of communal and criminal elements from all faiths that are active in Kashmir, spreading communal poison, as well as anti-India hate.

The Pulwama attack is also a poor statement for Indian intelligence agencies. Kashmiri youth are not becoming terrorists overnight. The Pulwama attack did not happen overnight; it has taken a lot training and trials. The agencies need to start doing their job and start focusing on national interests. Right now they are busy serving internal political interests rather than protect India.


Wing Commander Abhinanad Varthman, who ejjected from his MIG Bison fighter jet into POK was later released by Pakistan

Soon after the Pulwama attack, Jaish-E-Mohammed (JeM) took credit it, while India blamed Pakistan for using JeM to carry out the attack. Thereafter, India bombed two targets in POK and one in Pakistan, following which Pakistani F-16s entered Indian air space, one got shot down, while an Indian fighter jet too was shot down, with its pilot ending up in Pakistani custody.

At the time of writing, statements from both sides, along with Pakistan’s move to quickly release Wing Commander Abhinanadan, indicate that neither side is interested in escalation. The global community too has called on both nations to exercise restrain and not escalate matter. With good reasons too.

Both India and Pakistan are nuclear armed states. Any escalation of armed conflict between the two is a leap into unchartered territory, with the risk of a nuclear conflict alarming nations around the world. The global community’s fear arises from the fact that, as a Rutgers University, University of Colorado-Boulder and University of California, Los Angeles research reports, if India and Pakistan fought a war involving 100 nuclear warheads (between them they have 220), each equivalent to a 15-kiloton Hiroshima, over 21 million people will be instantly killed, around half the world’s ozone layer would be destroyed, and a “nuclear winter” would cripple the monsoons and agriculture worldwide.

Earlier, BJP Rajya Sabha MP, Subramanian Swamy, pointed out 100 million Indians may die in a Pakistani nuclear attack, while India’s retaliation may wipe out Pakistan, but the real costs are much higher.

In India and Pakistan, IndiaSpend says, the first 21 million people would perish within the first week from blast effects, burns and acute radiation.This death toll would be 2,221 times the number of civilians and security forces killed by terrorists in India over nine years to 2015. Another two billion people worldwide would face risks of severe starvation due to the climatic effects of the nuclear-weapon use in the subcontinent.”

It is with these catastrophic consequences of a nuclear war in view that the world has cautioned both countries. It is also with the same concerns that former Prime Minsiter Manmohan Singh said “I do hope that saner counsels will prevail between leadership of the two countries and we will get back to the economic development, which is the basic requirement of India and Pakistan.”

What is the saner counsel? At the root of the entire conflict is the dispute between the two nations over ownership of Kashmir. The conflict also has a military aspect to it. Kashmir is very strategic to India, as well as, Pakistan. For India, the mountain ranges of Kashmir are its first line of defence, whereas, for Pakistan, the mountains are literally insurmountable for any military campaign by it against India.

At the same time, there is the persistent issue of cross-border terrorism. Since the late 1980s, India has face numerous terrorist attacks, with each one invariably found to be linked not just by India but also by other countries, to terror outfits operating out of POK. Pakistan, which has a bilateral agreement from 2004 not to allow any such activity in areas under its control denies any involvement, yet the terrorists keep coming.

A lasting peace between both countries cannot be reached till both these issues are sorted out. Through the air strikes, India has made its point by shifting the paradigm of its response to terrorism in India. The writing on the wall is clear: India has had enough with terror activities in J&K and will respond aggressively. Meanwhile, Pakistan has pleased its domestic constituency by its retaliation to the Indian air strikes. Now, with all the gory negative outcomes of any further conflict between the two countries over a piece of land before us, the saner advice is to sort matters out peacefully, through diplomacy and not through violence.

Instead of investing time, money and effort in military efforts, the two nations, as pointed out by Manmohan Singh, need to focus on the development needs of their people. Both the nations are currently facing enormous problems, Pakistan being worse off. A large number of people in both countries are facing poverty, unemployment and social disturbances which need to be solved. This cannot happen without peace between the two nations.

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, 1945: A small primitive nuclear bomb detonated over these two Japanese cities caused over 250,000 instant deaths and many more from resulting fires and radiation. Pic: Twitter

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