On 20 April, an Indian army truck carrying armed forces personnel was ambushed in Poonch, Jammu & Kashmir, by People’s Anti-Fascist Force (PAFF), killing five soldiers. Initially thought be an accident (caught fire in a lightning strike) by the government, the incident was later confirmed to be a terrorist attack as hours passed by. Meanwhile, PAFF, in its first message which claimed responsibility for the attack, mocked the Indian government stating: “there was no hail storm, there was no lightening, there was no heavy rain… we shall give proof of that.” Again, on 25 April, PAFF released body cam footage of the truck from one of its attackers, just before being attacked and followed up with a 2.5 minutes video of the attack on 8 May. In the intermittent period, on 5 May 2023, another five Indian soldiers who were hunting these terrorists were also killed in the firefight with this PAFF module, deep in Rajouri forests. PAFF in another one of its messages showed a picture of the Indian army truck burning, writing “that seems to be one hell of a lightening strike, and if it can reach Poonch can it not reach the G20 Avenue? (sic).” The message mocks the Indian government’s initial response to the attack and at the same time threatens to attack the proposed first-ever G20 Tourism Group summit scheduled to be held in Jammu & Kashmir between 22-24 May.
These two attacks represent the worst terrorist attacks in Jammu & Kashmir in terms of casualties for the India army, after a relative lull in attacks since last year. The sudden escalation in violence was not unexpected, given Pakistan’s opposition to India holding the first ever G20 summit in Jammu & Kashmir, which Pakistan claims is a disputed area. Pakistan has been vehemently opposed to the G20 meeting in Jammu & Kashmir via diplomacy, political activism, and presumably its proxy terrorist groups in the area as well.
To begin with, Pakistan’s foreign office has come out with a statement condemning India’s proposal to hold G20 summit in Jammu & Kashmir. Pakistan has stated “India’s irresponsible move is the latest in a series of self-serving measures to perpetuate its illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir in sheer disregard of the UN Security Council resolutions and in violation of the principles of the UN Charter and international law.” Again, on the side-lines of the recently concluded Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Goa, India, Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto threatened India with an “unforgettable response” over India holding the G20 summit in Jammu & Kashmir. Additionally, Pakistan is believed to actively be engaging with G20 members such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia on the issue. Moreover, groups such as the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which is active in the UK, have started issuing propaganda directed against the G20 event.
Further, on the ground, terrorist groups such as PAFF have been ramping up their propaganda and threats against this G20 summit. The seeds of this opposition for the G20 summit appear to have been sown almost a year ago, when PAFF released two videos of its leaders threatening to target the Indian security forces if the G20 summit was to be held in Jammu & Kashmir.
During mid-2022, PAFF released a video in which one its unidentified members spoke of targeting the Indian army if India goes ahead with the G20 summit in 2023. With a Smith and Wesson magnum in the background, he fumes, “it has come to our notice that India is trying to organise a G20 summit in the Indian-occupied Kashmir… We are saddened and angry that the international community has chosen to stand with our aggressor in legitimising the occupation of Kashmir… This step of the international community will only radicalise people and we all know that desperate people are bound to take desperate steps and peach will never prevail” (sic).
Shortly after this, PAFF released another 1.24-minute video featuring what appeared to be the head of PAFF who again is not identified. In this video, this person with a Heckler and Koch assault rifle (HK 416) in the forefront, refers to the previous video, warning “with Rajouri operation, we begin the process and god willing we will gradually calibrate it the such a level so that the international community will come to know that Kashmir is still an occupied land and a war zone. We are very very determined to not allow India to conduct any G20 meetings in Kashmir and we will do anything and everything to achieve that” (sic).
Given the threats, there is bound to be an escalation in terrorist attacks in Jammu & Kashmir. While the PAFF has targeted the Indian security forces, it would not target international participants directly which may become counter-productive for them. Interestingly, PAFF leaders in both the above videos confirm the same thing, maintaining clarity on not targeting the international community or participants from other countries, and mentioning that the international community needs to be engaged by the Kashmir diaspora.
India at this moment appears to have been caught in a quandary. On one side, New Delhi conducting this summit will be a win for India politically, as this could be claimed as a tacit acknowledgement from the international community of India’s sovereignty over Jammu & Kashmir. Yet India cannot escalate kinetically against Pakistan for fear of falling in Pakistan’s trap of internationalising this issue. Moreover, given the possibility of more terrorist attacks before the G20 summit, the challenge for India would be stop these attacks. Any spectacular attacks at this juncture are bound to draw undue publicity, which would only end up internationalising the Jammu & Kashmir issue – precisely what Pakistan wants. It has now been reported that at least 12 well trained members of this terrorist group are active in Jammu & Kashmir, who may be possibly planning an attack of the likes of 26/11 Mumbai attacks, which drew huge international attention at that time.
In the end, both India and Pakistan are trying to ride the G20 wave. On one hand, Pakistan has been openly opposing G20 summit diplomatically, yet it has also seemingly chosen to activate terrorist groups on the ground who have mounted high casualty attacks in recent weeks, threatening even more graver ones before the G20 summit. India on the other hand, appears in an unenvious position for not being able to mount attacks immediately on terrorist launchpads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, as it had done on previous occasions such as the surgical strikes in 2016 and Balakote airstrikes in 2019. An attack on the terrorist launchpads and camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, now by India before the G20 summit, may escalate into a full-fledged conflict between India and Pakistan, given the current uncertain position of Pakistan’s army after the arrest and release of former prime minister Imran Khan. Such an escalation is bound to draw unnecessary international attention to the Jammu & Kashmir issue, which would work in Pakistan’s and in its army’s favour, which India would ideally like to avoid. However, any further attacks in the coming days by terrorist groups may unshackle the chains of the self-imposed restraint of India.
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