|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
After security forces gunned down two terrorists in Bandipora are of J&K last month, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) issued a statement on September 23 that chemical weapons were used to kill these terrorists. Abdullah Ghaznavi, spokesperson of LeT was quoted in saying, “The Indian army has crossed all limits. The use of chemical weapons and destroying the houses is strongly condemnable. It is the worst kind of human rights violation. It was due to the chemical weapons that the bodies of both the martyrs were completely destroyed. Not only this, but the army further damaged the bodies apart with weapons, which is unquestionably the worst example of war criminality”. Ghaznavi sought intervention of the international organizations towards “such clear human rights exploitations” by India, and added that those resigning from police are welcome: “They must keep their resignation letters with them as proof.”
The regional newspapers in J&K have picked up the story and one should expect the social media and segment of national-level print and electronic media aligned with Pakistan to show Indian security forces in bad light to pick up the thread and keep highlighting it. The Indian Army does not possess chemical weapons so the question of these being used doesn’t arise. It is significant to note that while terrorist organizations like LeT issue statements almost instantaneously after any action, in the instant case the two terrorists were killed on September 20 and the LeT statement was issued on September 23 - full three days later, indicating it is an afterthought.
There can be many possibilities why the statement has been issued. It could be reaction to India rejecting Imran Khan’s proposal for foreign ministers of both countries to meet on the sidelines of the UNGA meet in New York. The purported mutilation of the bodies has been brought in as sequel to the abduction, torture and killing of BSF Head Constable Narendra Kumar with his throat slit. Raising human rights issues and showing Indian army in bad light is routine whenever killing of Pakistan-sponsored terrorists takes place. But this late-reaction statement could be linked to the visit of António Guterres, UN Secretary General, to India next month. It could also be to influence hearing of the affidavits by 756 army officers in the Supreme Court against filing of FIRs. Pakistan has been using chemical weapons in Balochistan for decades, which has not been highlighted in Indian media despite enough available evidence from open sources. Now that there is some pressure on Pakistan for inadequate measures to curb terrorism, Pakistan may like to build a narrative that India too is using chemical weapons in J&K, which would also help internationalize the J&K issue more. But the most dangerous possibility is that Pakistan may arm terrorists with chemical weapons. The mating of a radical Prime Minister with a radicalized military is a dangerous mix. If Pakistan issues commemorative stamps for terrorist killed in J&K as heroes, she is quite capable that chemical weapons have been procured by ‘freedom fighters’ in retaliation to India army using such weapons. Even during the Kargil Conflict during 1999, Pakistan army’s RPG-7 detachments were equipped with chemical rounds and gas masks. Bodies of two of our soldiers killed in action bore signs of chemical attack. Because of its economic mess and various pressures, Pakistan should be expected to seek desperate diversions - introduction of chemical attacks in J&K being one form. Sporadic chemical attacks have happened in the past even in countries like Japan and the US but a century after World War I, chemical weapons have become the new normal in West Asia, particularly Syria where ISIS has been using chlorine mortar bombs.
Use of chemical weapons by terrorists implies that the ‘psychological’ quotient of the terror attack goes up exponentially especially if troops are unprepared for a deadly gas strike. The government and the security sector needs to examine such contingencies rather than dismissing them since they haven’t occurred yet. When it does happen, the Pakistani propaganda machine y can be trusted to put the entire blame of use of chemical weapons on Indian security forces. Terror attacks in J&K have become more focused after the new government in Pakistan has taken over. The LeT and Hijbul Mujahideen (HuM) have been active along with other terrorist groups. The Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) that had carried out the terrorist attack on the army base in Uri in September 2016 is likely to be back in J&K in major way with firm indications it is expanding activities in Pakistan under tutelage of Imran Khan. Targets for chemical attacks could be population centres and military installations for maximum psychological effect but their holding and storage is likely to be in the five odd radicalized districts which are witnessing most violence including abduction and killing of army personnel and policemen even on leave. The fear psychosis is working with men and women in police quitting their jobs, even as government may like to not say much about it. Terrorists are continuing to build pressure, as may be seen from the abovementioned LeT statement asking those who have left service to keep their resignation letters with them. It is security situation in these five districts that must receive more focus for local elections to be held peacefully and more importantly the follow up to decentralize power to the ground level. Concurrently, we must gear for the possibility of chemical attacks.