New Delhi: At 3:15 pm on February 14, 2019, Jammu & Kashmir witnessed its worst terror attack ever since terrorism showed its ugly face in 1989 when a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden SUV into a CRPF bus on the Srinagar-Jammu highway in Pulwama district, killing 40 CRPF troopers and leaving India and its security establishment stunned.
Pulwama changed the way India perceived terrorist attack on its soil emanating from Pakistan and aided and abetted by its all-powerful military and intelligence apparatus.
The airstrike on Balakot was also a signal to the world that New Delhi was not willing to go ahead with its old approach of dealing with a country which had acted as a laboratory and breeding ground of terrorism and terror groups.
Radicalised J&K youth behind the attack
The devastating attack was carried out by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) which released a video clip of the suicide bomber who was a commander identified as Adil Ahmad Dar and claimed responsibility for the ghastly attack on the Indian security forces.
Dar’s family last saw him in March 2018, when he left his house on a bicycle never to return.
During the initial investigation, it was revealed that Dar was radicalized after he was allegedly beaten by J&K Police. It was further reported that between September 2016 and March 2018, he was reportedly arrested six times by Indian authorities only to be released without any charges.
The suicide bomber-driven SUV came along the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) bus when a 78-vehicle convoy carrying 2,547 security personnel was heading towards Srinagar from Jammu transit camp.
So devastating was the attack that the CRPF bus was left completely mangled.
This audacious attack not only stunned India beyond disbelief but also altered the doctrinal aspect of India’s stand towards terrorism emanating from Pakistan and the reaction of the security forces and the Indian leadership.
After receiving intelligence inputs, a joint team comprising of 55 Rashtriya Rifles, CRPF and Special Operations Group (SOG) killed two terrorists and two supporters in an anti-terrorism encounter operation in the early morning hours of 18 February.
Abdul Rasheed Ghazi alias Kamran, a Pakistani national and considered the mastermind behind the Pulwama attack was killed in the operation. Apart from this, a local JeM recruit Hilal Ahmed, along with two sympathisers who provided shelter to Ghazi and Ahmed were also shot dead in the encounter.
India’s decision to launch a high-precision airstrike was bolstered by the fact that in the wake of imminent danger, a pre-emptive strike was the only option.
Indian intelligence agencies had warned of Pulwama-like airstrike following which the Narendra Modi-led NDA government decided to carry out a pre-emptive airstrike on Pakistan’s Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
At 3:30 am, in the early morning hours of February 26, 12 Mirage 2000 fighter jets crossed the de-facto border in the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and drop 1,000 kg Israeli-made SPICE 2000 bunker buster bombs at JeM terror camp at Balakot, Chakoti and Muzzafarabad.
This was perhaps for the first time since the India-Pakistan war of 1971 that fighter jets from both sides crossed the Line of Control.
Pulwama terror attack was also the worst attack carried out by terrorists after the attack on Uri Army camp on September 18, 2016, which left 19 soldiers dead – forcing New Delhi to launch ‘surgical strikes’ on PoK-based terrorist camps.
Wing Commander Abhinandan and his ‘giant killer’ MiG 21 Bison
In retaliation, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) conducted a retaliatory airstrike in Jammu & Kashmir and during the daytime dogfight on February 27 an Indian MiG-21 Bison warplane was shot down. However, before his fighter jet crash-landed, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman brought down a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet with Vympel R-73 air to air missile.
After landing in Pakistan the Wg Cdr was taken prisoner by the Pakistan military only to be returned on March 1 by Imran Khan as a “peace gesture”.
To honour the fallen martyrs, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) will pay homage on Friday by dedicating a martyr’s column to the memory of the jawans who laid down their lives in the line of duty.
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