As expected, Pakistan minister Fawad Chaudhry has backtracked on his claim in the National Assembly that the February 14, 2019, terror attack that killed 40 CRPF personnel in Pulwama was an ‘achievement under the leadership of Imran Khan’. After the uproar in India and his own country came the ‘clarification’ that he was in fact referring to the ‘strong response’ of Pakistan after the airstrike from India on February 26. An open admission of guilt or misinterpretation, the damage has been done. Prime Minister Modi has termed it an acceptance of truth. More than Islamabad, his target has been the Indian Opposition, which questioned the timing of the attack just before the Lok Sabha elections last year and the purported Intelligence failure, saying ‘the real face of such people has been exposed’.
The PM hits the nail on the head when he says the country could have done without the ‘unwanted statements’ given after the Pulwama attack. However, the blame cannot be selective and subjective; the entire political class — the ruling dispensation and the rivals — needs to introspect. A united, bipartisan national response to any terror attack demands a political resolve to refrain from publicly raking up issues that undermine the working and ethos of the security and strategic affairs establishment. That’s an unrealistic expectation. A perpetual election cycle makes it more so. Even the Pakistan minister’s bragging followed a poking reference to the glaring weaknesses of the Khan government by an Opposition leader.
The Pulwama attack has remained at the centre of policy, security and analyses, but driven more by the polemics of nationalism. There is still not complete clarity on the how and why of it, despite the voluminous NIA chargesheet. It has named JeM’s top leadership, all based in Pakistan, as the masterminds. Any forward movement from New Delhi’s perspective, as in the 26/11 case, is not on the cards. The debate should centre on taking Islamabad to task after its self-goal. Internal politics only dwarfs the larger issue of dismantling the terror infrastructure in the neighbourhood.