What effect will threats by India’s leadership to Pakistan over the suicide car bombing in Pulwama on 14 February have on reducing conflict in Jammu and Kashmir? Little, or none. And, that’s the problem.

A so-called surgical strike in retaliation will reclaim for India—and its Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government—some face. Strikes alone won’t stop future terror attacks. Take the surgical strike of September 2016 in retaliation against the terrorist attack on the Indian Army’s brigade headquarters at Uri earlier that month.

As security analyst and Kashmir watcher Manoj Joshi pointedly observed, terrorists struck “two months later on Nagrota, the HQ of 16 Corps”.

In the mind of the government, or the BJP, and the so-called Sangh Parivar at any rate, it has long ceased to be about Jammu and Kashmir per se. The state has remained under President’s Rule since 19 December, following six months of Governor’s Rule from June 2018, which in turn followed the dissolution of a rocky three-year coalition of the BJP and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The slide in security affairs that started with the storm after the killing of Burhan Wani, a militant commander, in mid-2016, and the political and human rights—or the “pellets incident”—fallout from the crowd reaction and government counter-reaction hasn’t stopped. Militant recruitment is up. So are terrorist incidents, as the government admitted in Parliament. It has all happened on the BJP’s watch, as a muscular response against civilians in Kashmir went disastrously wrong and never recovered. Pulwama has offered the BJP an opportunity to discount that troubling reality.

So, it’s clearly not about the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which lost at least 40 troopers in the attack on its convoy. CRPF is India’s paramilitary prophylactic and cannon fodder rolled into one, a halfway house between the Army and police that has less cushioning than the Army and more rootlessness than any local police force. CPRF troopers could be in Chhattisgarh one month, “sanitizing” assembly or parliamentary elections, somewhere else the following month, and off to Kashmir the month after.

While the incident will be rehashed and leveraged, the CRPF itself will be off media headlines in another week, and is already absent from political speeches that have begun to diminish CRPF for the bigger public relations score of leveraging its deaths with an eye on impending elections to the Lok Sabha. An Indian Army major and four of his colleagues were killed in Pulwama earlier this week, fighting Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorists, including one believed to have controlled the suicide attack. They’re already off the news.

And it’s not even about Masood Azhar, whose JeM claimed responsibility for the Pulwama attack. Pakistan’s establishment protects and encourages JeM and its chief Azhar. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan asks for “actionable intelligence” against Azhar, even as ironclad proof about previous actions by JeM—including the one at Uri—and other organizations have gone unacknowledged.

China prevents Azhar’s blacklisting through United Nations agencies to protect its regional interests. Besides keeping India insecure, such interests include the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which begins at the Balochistan port of Gwadar. The northern end of that corridor is the Karakoram highway, which runs through Gilgit-Baltistan (which India claims along with Pakistan-controlled Kashmir) over the Khunjerab Pass to Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang province.

During a visit to Pakistan on 17-18 February, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman signed a $20 billion aid and investment deal with that country. Pulwama naturally escaped a mention. India needs Saudi oil, Saudi gas, Saudi employment of its citizens and Saudi investment. Prime Minister Narendra Modi embraced the prince when he arrived in India the next day.

Beyond grand geopolitical constructs and byplays, it’s really about Kashmir and those of its people who feel systematically, and deeply, alienated. How will India deal with that, elections or not? More next week.

Originally published in Livemint