Instances of terrorism in India followed by patriotic rallying and military saber rattling, often timed alongside or preceding state or national elections, have consistently characterized the tenure of the Modi administration. This pattern has led numerous politicians from opposing factions to raise concerns about the strategic timing of these events. On the first anniversary of Pulwama, Congress leader Udit Raj stirred up a hornet’s nest when he remarked that “there can be another Pulwama-like attack ahead of the 2024 general elections.” The possibility cannot be ruled out as there have been various instances in the past where India has used false flag operations ahead of elections for political point scoring. Relations with Pakistan are a sensitive and often contentious topic in Indian politics.
Some political parties, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of Modi, have adopted an assertive and belligerent stance towards Pakistan to appeal to nationalist sentiments among the electorate.
India’s aggressiveness and desire to remain engaged in an unstable and hostile relationship with Pakistan by trying to create a new normal of the so-called surgical strikes is manifested in various political and military leadership statements. For instance, just a few months prior to the Pulwama attack, the then and now-deceased Indian Army Chief Bipin Rawat, in an exclusive interview in Sep 2018, said, “I believe there is a need for one more action (surgical strike). But I will not disclose how we intend to go about it.” The Pulwama episode was later used to achieve favorable outcomes in the 2019 elections. This was further vindicated in a recent interview of Satya Pal Malik, Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) governor during the Pulwama attack of February 2019, where he revealed that the attack on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy in Pulwama was a result of the “incompetence” and “negligence” of the Indian system. Modi repeatedly cited the Pulwama attack to mobilize voters in the 2019 general elections, in which he returned to power with a larger majority in parliament. Malik’s disclosure demonstrates how the Indian leadership has habitually used the bogey of terrorism from Pakistan to advance its sham victimhood narrative and the Hindutva agenda, clearly for domestic political gains.
India has consistently engaged in finger-pointing politics aimed at Pakistan, with the Indian government implicated in orchestrating disruptions to the negotiation process between the two nations.
The 2016 incidents at Pathankot and Uri catalyzed India to halt Foreign Secretary-level talks and delay the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit. These occurrences in 2016 provided the Modi administration with an opportunity to employ anti-Pakistan discourse, contributing to electoral victories in Gujarat in the subsequent year. The anti-Pakistan stance continues to hold significance within domestic Indian politics.
By deliberately fanning the flames of war rhetoric against Pakistan, India’s leadership, with leanings toward Hindu extremism, is jeopardizing peace in the region and risking the potential for a full-scale conflict between the two nations, both of which possess nuclear capabilities. There is a need for the global community to be vigilant about India’s propaganda campaign aimed at Pakistan, a campaign driven by self-serving political motives that rely on falsehoods and deceit. The allegations of purported cross-border terrorism and efforts to discredit the struggle of Kashmiris for freedom are also being brought to light. India’s bellicose policies toward a neighboring nation equipped with nuclear arms have placed regional stability in a precarious position.
Pakistan, in contrast, has consistently displayed restraint and accountability to prevent escalations that could heighten the risks associated with nuclear capabilities, carrying extensive consequences for both the region and the world. India would benefit from relinquishing this perilous strategy and redirecting efforts toward a more comprehensive and peaceful vision for regional political dynamics. Although Pakistan has pledged to take reciprocal steps for peace in response to India’s single action, it seems that the Indian leadership is more inclined towards achieving immediate benefits rather than establishing long-lasting harmony and stability in the region. Peace in the region is held captive by Indian leadership’s pride and reluctance to settle ongoing conflicts amicably. This includes utilizing terrorist incidents to further their specific political goals, contributing to an environment of narrow self-interest rather than pursuing comprehensive peace.
The author is a Senior Visiting Research Fellow at Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Islamabad, and a Former Visiting Fellow at Atlantic Council Washington, DC.