Here is my humble attempt to tie and connect various data points (or “dots”) into a big picture of what may lie behind the Pulwama attack. If this is not wildly inaccurate, it may provide a template to springboard from when making predictions for the future.
So let’s take a look at the compulsions and imperatives of various actors involved, leading up to the time of the attacks.
GOTUS at this time has three relevant imperatives:
1) Get out of Afghanistan in a face-saving manner.
This would not only be a huge political win for DT domestically, but it would free up resources for action elsewhere, such as Iran or Venezuela, where DT sees the potential to reap political rewards from intervention.
To achieve this, they’ve been talking to the Taliban in Doha, even in the absence of the Afghan Govt (let alone Indian govt). Obviously, they need Pakistan’s full cooperation to achieve even a temporary face-saving retreat that doesn’t completely go to hell before 2020. That’s why Trump Sarkar brought Robin Raphel out from forced retirement/disgrace and put her in the driver’s seat of the talks along with Chris Kolenda (a former military officer) and Zalmay Khalilzad (a former GWB administration envoy).
Robin Raphel is clearly there as a confidence-building measure to ensure that all representations made by the US will take Pakistan’s interests into account, allowing Pakistan to set the Taliban’s agenda in the talks, and ensuring that India comes nowhere near Afghanistan.
2) In coordination with Israel, KSA, and UAE: set the stage for military action against Iran.
If you notice, DT wants to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan. Yet, on his visit to Iraq in December, he said he has “no plans” to withdraw US troops from there at all! My theory is that these troops will lead (or at least backstop) the “Western Front” of a US-coalition led attack on Iran.
However an “Eastern Front” is needed as well, with lots of manpower in the form of non-state peaceful yahoos as well as conventional and possibly even nuclear forces. Pakistan is the ideal candidate to supply this, whether directly or via a future Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
Now the Pakis have been very skittish about getting involved in the KSA/UAE vs. Iran hostilities; for example, they refused to send ground forces to Yemen. KSA/UAE however are very keen to have Pakistan throw in its lot with the Sunni Bloc as openly and quickly as possible. As a source of strategically-positioned cannon fodder Pakistan is hard to beat.
The US also is pushing Pakistan to enter into increasingly open hostilities with Iran because this would thwart the geopolitical goals of the Chinese and Russians, who see Iran as a critical member of their bloc. Any China-Pakistan tension that ensued as a result would weaken the China-Pakistan subsidiary alliance on CPEC, OBOR, and all the rest of it. So to achieve imperatives #1 and #2,
I believe GOTUS/KSA/UAE proposed the following to Pakistan: We will give you the IMF loan you desperately need (check). We will get you Saudi oil and money (check). We will get you off the FATF list (not happened yet, but might). AND, we will let you Pakis become masters of Afghanistan after we withdraw (the strategic depth is yours for the keeping, as long as you don’t let Afghan-based jihadis target Western interests). BUT in exchange, you have to join our coalition against Iran.
Of course, the Pakis would have salivated at such a proposal; but being what they are, they’d also see this potential return to the good books of the West as their one and only chance to secure the one and only thing they care about: the Kore Issue!
However, I believe GOTUS was not willing to go there. The reason for that is Imperative #3 of the GOTUS today:
3) Contain China.
It has finally sunk in at all levels of the GOTUS establishment that the Chinese are now their principal geopolitical threat. As I write this, the Trade War is failing; Xi-Trump talks have fallen by the wayside and the Chinese are showing no inclination to give in to US demands on tech transfer, patent theft, reciprocity of market openness, etc. Secondly, the US withdrawal from the INF treaty is ALSO a China-specific measure (the ability to deploy intermediate-range missiles will allow America to project threats towards the Chinese coast while keeping their USN assets clear of Chinese ground-based missiles.)
For this all-important purpose of containing China, GOTUS has concluded that India (either individually as part of the “quad”) is an indispensable partner. They have also realized that the Indian reluctance to go all-in as the “linebacker” of the Indo-Pacific front against China has a lot to do with entrenched institutional distrust of American motives in New Delhi. Well-justified distrust, one might add.
The fact that the US has played both sides, more often against us than not, especially with regard to Pakistan has not been forgotten by South Bloc. To get over this distrust and secure our support against China, the US KNOWS it cannot be seen to be taking Pakistan’s side by winking/nodding at LeT/JeM or kicking up the Kore Issue in international circles. Whatever they may feel internally, they need India and cannot afford to alienate her… so the old tenets of DC’s “South Asia Policy” have become (in many circles) taboo.
So what happened? The US made its pitch to Pakistan (along with KSA and UAE). Join our coalition against Iran, and you can have Afghanistan. Pakis of course wanted more… what about the Kore Issue? And the US (probably KSA and UAE too) told the Pakis: “no dice”. We are saving you from bankruptcy and giving you strategic depth on a platter, nothing more for you.THIS is what led to the display of quintessential Paki tactical brilliance we witnessed on Feb 14th.
They wanted to show that they were willing to be US-Sunni-coalition proxies against Iran, no problem; so they sent out the Jundullah yahoos to bomb an IRGC convoy. But they also decided to be very clever and drag India (and Kore Issue) into the same picture by force… hence, the Pulwama attack on the very same day. They are telling the US “you cannot have one if we don’t have the other”.
And of course the tactically brilliant Pakis calculated that the GOTUS’ desire to bring them aboard the anti-Iran coalition (and secure their cooperation for an Afghan withdrawal) would OUTWEIGH the GOTUS’ compulsion to contain China. Surely massa would save them from an a$$-kicking in response to Pulwama, no? If they were going to get help on Afghanistan and Iran, surely massa would lean on India not to retaliate…
Except, the very next day, massa made it clear from multiple angles (State Dept, White House, NSA) that it has no intention of saving Pakistan’s skin. That was when the browning of shalwars began in earnest.
Now I do want to address a further possibility as well. It may be that there exists a faction (let’s call them Hinduphobic Culinary Brass, or HCB) within the US establishment that is NOT on board with GOTUS’ program. They may include people from the Culinary Institute who are still under the influence of people like Milt Bearden and Mike Scheuer; people from the State Dept who are still aligned to the thinking of Robin Raphel; people from think-tanks who still entertain the Kissingerian view of China; and people from the Evangelical Christian front who really, really want to see Hindutva defanged and Modi defeated, so that our souls can be harvested without opposition. It is not unthinkable that the HCB exists in US policymaking circles. We don’t know for now how far up its tentacles reach.
Remember the original State Dept response to the Pulwama attack did not mention Pakistan… it was Pompeo who revised it to condemn Pakistan explicitly. Seems like someone behind the scenes wanted to keep playing equal-equal but got overruled. Someone from the HCB faction.
More sinister is what appeared in the “US Intelligence Threat Assessment Report 2019”: an explicit warning that "Parliamentary elections in India increase the possibility of communal violence if BJP stresses nationalist themes.” The guilty party for any communal violence has been pre-determined and blamed in advance.
The statement is remarkable for two reasons. One, as far as I know, the report does not express similar apprehensions about politically-linked violence confined within the borders of nearly any other country, other than the usual roster of US enemies like Venezuela and Iran. Two, it not only plays directly to the narrative of the Congress/Mahathugbandhan but has been actually cited by Shashi Tharoor to embarrass the Indian government.
That report was presented to the US Senate by
1) Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence: previously a Republican Senator from Indiana for two terms. Indiana in the US is a hotbed of Evangelical crusader-ism; one of India’s longest-standing adversaries in the US Congress, the consistently pro-Pakistan and pro-Khalistan Dan Burton, is another Republican from this state.
2) CIA Director Gina Haspel, who had JUST returned from India (!) at the time of the report’s presentation. What was she doing in India? How did her meetings with GOI go? We know that after Pulwama, NSA Doval’s main point of contact in the GOTUS has been US NSA John Bolton (who did not participate in writing the Threat Assessment). Not Ms. Haspel. Anything to read into there?
3) Christopher Wray, director of the FBI.
4) Robert Ashley, director of the Defence Intelligence Agency.
There may not be anything at all to this. Indeed, there may be no organized HCB in existence (and if there is, its influence may not rise anywhere near as high as the officials who actually presented the Threat Assessment).
However, from what I’ve been seeing in desi news outlets over the last day or so, it looks like there is a very real danger of communal incidents being provoked in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack. There are reports that people (who appear to be) from a particular community have been engaging in deliberately provocative behavior by targeting the spontaneous nationalistic demonstrations that arose after Pulwama in many Indian towns and cities. The intent may well be to take advantage of heightened sentiments and provoke another Godhra/Ahmedabad-type cycle of violence.
If the Threat Assessment ends up being prophetic… would that just be happenstance? Or would that be because they said the quiet part out loud?
Here are a few snippets from the report relating to Indian Subcontinent. Read them again in context of the Pulwama attack. We can’t be sure who knew the attack was about to happen.
The challenges facing South Asian states will grow in 2019 because of Afghanistan’s presidential election in mid-July and the Taliban’s large-scale attacks, Pakistan’s recalcitrance in dealing with militant groups, and Indian elections that risk communal violence. [Really? Those are all equally valid and significant threats to the security and interests of the United States? Only if this report was being prepared with inputs from the INC/ISI narrative... such as what Rahul Gandhi told the US Ambassador... could the third stand mention in the same rank of "threats" as the first two.]
We assess that neither the Afghan Government nor the Taliban will be able to gain a strategic military advantage in the Afghan war in the coming year if coalition support remains at current levels. Afghan forces generally have secured cities and other government strongholds, but the Taliban has increased large-scale attacks, and Afghan security suffers from a large number of forces being tied down in defensive missions, mobility shortfalls, and a lack of reliable forces to hold recaptured territory.
Militant groups supported by Pakistan will continue to take advantage of their safe haven in Pakistan to plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan, including against US interests. Islamabad’s narrow approach to counterterrorism cooperation—using some groups as policy tools and confronting only the militant groups that directly threaten Pakistan—almost certainly will frustrate US counterterrorism efforts against the Taliban. Mild-mannered wording there... "frustrate"... for a degree of backstabbing that has actually caused large numbers of US military casualties and completely thwarted the geopolitical goals of America's war in Afghanistan.
Indian Elections and Ethnic Tensions
Parliamentary elections in India increase the possibility of communal violence if Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stresses Hindu nationalist themes. BJP policies during Modi’s first term have deepened communal tensions in some BJP-governed states, and Hindu nationalist state leaders might view a Hindu-nationalist campaign as a signal to incite low-level violence to animate their supporters.
Increasing communal clashes could alienate Indian Muslims and allow Islamist terrorist groups in India to expand their influence.
We judge that cross-border terrorism, firing across the Line of Control (LoC), divisive national elections in India, and Islamabad’s perception of its position with the United States relative to India will contribute to strained India-Pakistan relations at least through May 2019, the deadline for the Indian election, and probably beyond.
Despite limited confidence-building measures—such as both countries recommitting in May 2018 to the 2003 cease-fire along the disputed Kashmir border—continued terrorist attacks and cross-border firing in Kashmir have hardened each country’s position and reduced their political will to seek rapprochement. Political maneuvering resulting from the Indian national elections probably will further constrain near-term opportunities for improving ties.
Look at the above two headings and associated text carefully. Under "India-Pakistan Tensions" there is a fair degree of equal-equal, where "reduced political will to seek rapprochement" is presented as a "both-sides" phenomenon despite acknowledging the causes as 400% of Paki origin: cross-border firing, BAT terrorism, etc.
By contrast, under"Indian Elections" the narrative has already been set in stone: ANY violence that happens within India's borders will be the doing of the BJP and Narendra Modi. No chance that any other internal actors (Congress, Mahathugbandhan) or external actors (ISI) might have any role or culpability in such violence.
Not only that, "political maneuvering from Indian elections" has ALREADY been pre-ordained as something that will be responsible for making it difficult for Pakistan to "improve ties"... even though it's not happened yet.
Not only THAT... but forgive me, have you EVER heard an American or Western source use the term "Communal Violence"? The terms "Communalism" and "Communal Violence" are never, ever used that way in the English language in any other country. If you say to a Brit or an Australian or an American that "Communalism" is a problem... they will have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. It is ONLY the English-language news media in India, copy-pasting from the English-language talking points of the INC propaganda offices, that have EVER used the term "Communalism" to mean "Religion-Based Identity Politics" (the term you WOULD expect a CIA report to use if at all).
Only in India and Pakistan does "Communal" mean what WE understand it to mean. Everywhere else it just means "belonging to or relating to the whole community, like a 'communal' water source or school".
So who the hell actually wrote this report?
We expect relations between India and China to remain tense, despite efforts on both sides to manage tensions since the border standoff in 2017, elevating the risk of unintentional escalation.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held an informal summit in April 2018 to defuse tension and normalize relations, but they did not address border issues. Misperceptions of military movements or construction might result in tensions escalating into armed conflict.
Take-home message here is that India may not be a reliable member of a China-containment Quad... because Modi and Xi are having talks on the side and making deals we don't know about.
Also, from elsewhere in the report:
The continued growth and development of Pakistan and India’s nuclear weapons programs increase the risk of a nuclear security incident in South Asia,and the new types of nuclear weapons will introduce new risks for escalation dynamics and security in the region.
The Pakis roundly extol what new types of nuclear weapons/delivery systems... tactical nukes, Nasr, etc. they are working on. India, as far as I know, does not. But the equal-equal is in full flow.
Pakistan continues to develop new types of nuclear weapons, including short-range tactical weapons, sea-based cruise missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, and longer range ballistic missiles.
India this year conducted its first deployment of a nuclear-powered submarine armed with nuclear missiles.
And in that sentence may lie the only genuine threat assessment they feel.