Kashmir: Indian home minister challenges whistle-blower Satya Pal’s account of Pulwama attack

IOK - Indian Occupied Kashmir Jammu & Kashmir

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has nothing to hide concerning the Pulwama terror attack that killed dozens of paramilitary troops in India-held Jammu and Kashmir in 2019, India’s home minister Amir Shah has said.

His comments come days after former Indian-held Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik said that Modi hid key facts from the public about the incident.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Wire earlier this month, Malik — who was governor during the Pulwama attack — said that he immediately realised that Modi wanted to use the attack to blame Pakis­tan for the benefit of his government and the BJP.

Malik said the Indian prime minister was “ill-informed” and “ignorant” about IIOJK, and that he had told Malik not to speak about the home ministry’s lapses, which led to the devastating incident.

He revealed that the attack on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy in Pulwama was a result of “incompetence” and “carelessness” by the Indian system, specifically the CRPF and the home min­i­­stry.

Malik also gave details of how the CRPF had asked for aircraft to transport its personnel but was refused by the home ministry.

More importantly, he said all of these lapses were raised by him directly when Modi called him from outside Corbett Park, shortly after the Pulwama attack. He said the prime minister told him to keep quiet about this and not tell anyone.

Malik also said that National Security Adviser Ajit Doval also told him to keep quiet and not talk about it. Malik said he immediately realised that the intention was to put the blame on Pakistan and derive electoral benefit for the government and BJP.

Earlier this week, The Wire reported that Malik had been called in by India’s apex investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), “for questioning” on April 28.

Commenting on the claims, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah, speaking in a roundtable discussion on an India Today TV programme a day earlier, said the credibility of Malik’s comments needed to be questioned.

“I would surely tell the people of the country that the Bharatiya Janata Party government has done nothing that needs to be hidden,” he said.

“The issue should not be discussed in a public forum. If he had information about irregularities, he should have spoken during his tenure. Why is he making such claims now? This calls for a credibility check,” Shah added.

His comments are the BJP government’s first response to Malik’s allegations.

Pulwama attack and Operation Swift Retort

The attack in Pulwama on Feb 14, 2019, surpassing one in 2016 when 19 soldiers died, saw explosives packed inside a van rip through buses in a convoy of 78 vehicles carrying some 2,500 members of the paramilitary CRPF.

Two blue buses carrying around 35 people each bore the brunt of the explosion around 20 kilometres from the main city of Srinagar on the main highway towards Jammu.

The next day, Modi said his country would give a “strong response” to the Pulwama attack. The “blood of the people is boiling” and forces behind the act of terrorism would be definitely be punished, he was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times.

Modi didn’t name Pakistan but went on to say: “If our neighbour, which is totally isolated in the world and thinks it can destabilise India through its tactics and conspiracies, then it is making a huge mistake”.

The situation heated up when Indian military planes violated the Line of Control (LoC), intruding from the Muzaffarabad sector. “Pakistan Air Force immediately scrambled” and Indian aircraft went back, the ISPR had said in a statement.

The intrusion in Pakistani airspace by Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft had happened for a second consecutive day, as one of its planes had to release payloads in the Balakot area while being chased away in the early hours of the day. The Pakistan military spokesman had then promised “surprise” for India in response to the IAF aggression.

A day later, the IAF jets entered Pakistani airspace after the PAF strikes on the other side of the LoC from Pakistani airspace for, what the Foreign Office and Army had described as, a demonstration of Pakistan’s “right, will and capability for self-defence”.

The PAF strikes across the LoC were first announced by then FO spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal via a tweet. “PAF undertook strikes across LoC from Pakistani airspace. The sole purpose of this action was to demonstrate our right, will and capability for self-defence. We do not wish to escalate but are fully prepared if forced into that paradigm,” he had tweeted.

Shortly afterwards, the then Pakistan military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor announced the shooting down of IAF aircraft. He had tweeted, “IAF crossed LoC” after the PAF strikes in occupied Kashmir.

“PAF shot down two Indian aircraft inside Pakistani airspace. One of the aircraft fell inside AJK while the other fell inside IOK. One Indian pilot arrested by troops on the ground while two in the area,” he had stated.

Abhinandan Varthaman was the Indian pilot captured. He was handed back to India in a goodwill gesture shortly after.__Dawn.com