Strategic Perspectives

Suicide Attacks a Paradigm Shift in Terrorism in Kashmir

Author: Brigadier Narender Kumar, SM, VSM (Retd)

Period: Apr - Jun 2019


The misplaced notion of “Dying to Win”[i] is a coercive strategy that has roots in the radicalisation of the Muslim society by those who support the ISIS and Al Qaeda ideology. They have been advocating suicide as a strategy of the weak to gain momentum whenever the losses of terrorists rise and public support shows sign of weakening. The Pulwama suicide attack is a well thought out strategy since the terror outfits were suffering huge losses. They had to do something that was spectacular to restore the morale of the terror cadres and hit back hard at the security forces. It had instantaneous impact on the morale of the terror organisations and gave them a misplaced perception that ‘Dying to Win’ has the potential to turn the balance in their favour. Al-Qaeda & ISIS were advocating for long that suicide attack is a legitimate act in Jihad as long as it eliminates Kafirs & Takfirs. One must look at suicide attack as a strategic shift in cross border terrorism in Kashmir. The Islamic State graffiti on walls and IS flags in downtown Srinagar have slowly grown into more overt demonstrations of IS allegiance during the funeral of slain terrorists in the last couple of years[ii] and is contributing to the growing perception of the dying to win mind-set. The suicide attack on the CRPF is a manifestation of rapid radicalisation and Wahabization of Kashmir. Otherwise, suicide is prohibited in Islamic law according to evidence from the Qur`an, Sunna, and the consensus of Muslim scholars; a Muslim is obligated to fight injustice to the best of his ability but not through deliberately killing himself.[iii] He is not commanded to commit suicide to escape afflictions. The ideology of using terrorism as a tool to achieve political objectives and understanding and study of suicide attacks as a weapon in the terrorist arsenal requires appropriate analytical capabilities to distinguish motivations, ideologies, and tactics[iv] especially when the impact of suicide bombing makes it a strategic weapon.

Analysis of Objectives of Suicide Attacks in Context of Pulwama

To dissolve the roots of this new weapon of terrorism, India needs to examine a counter strategy by letting this war be fought collectively by the State and the citizens. This requires introspection and analysis. It is prudent to examine these issues so as to build a mechanism to counter this strategy physically and ideologically. Suicide attacks come at a time when terrorists are suffering huge attrition. This is what was happening in the Valley for some months now. At the same time intelligence agencies had also put immense pressure on over ground workers, separatists and money launderers. The attack could be aimed to achieve following objectives:-

  • A Suicide attack as a tool of terrorism is strategic in nature. This attack should not be considered as an isolated act of individual madness, but, such attacks may occur at frequent intervals as part of a larger campaign to achieve specific objectives. The Pulwama target was carefully chosen with a view to garner support of the section of population or create a perception of “we are succeeding”.
  • The ISI objective in the Pulwama attack was to coerce security forces and law enforcement agencies to break the momentum of offensive actions against terrorists. It was also aimed at conveying a message to politicians and policy makers that they could also be targets in future if they pursue a muscular policy.
  • The terrorists are aware that the impact of a successful suicide attack is severe and immediate. They can achieve what a large armed group can’t achieve.
  • Suicide attacks also indicate that those who oppose them can also be punished through this strategy. Damage can be medium to high depending upon the degree of punishment to be meted out. Probably this message was embedded in the current attack.
  • The objective of the attack besides disrupting counter terrorist operations was also to impede unrestricted movement of security forces within the Valley.

Impact of Suicide Attacks

It is important for the Kashmiri society to introspect catastrophic impact of suicide attacks. It may have pleased separatists and disaffected population, but it will prove to be fatal for Kashmiri society and future generations. It will be difficult to erase the perception of the people in other parts of India that every Kashmiri youth is not a terrorist. In addition the tag of terrorism on innocent youth will further alienate them even globally. Alienation of population in the rest of the country is bound to happen if this lethal tactics to strike at security forces and minority community in Kashmir is carried out. Some other likely ill effects could be polarisation between three regions of J&K, harassment of Kashmiri worker and traders may increase and students studying outside the Valley may face greater scrutiny. Trade and tourism will be severely affected, as a consequence unemployment and source of earning may shrink further. The trust deficit will widen and the Kashmiri people may even face harassment internationally. Therefore, the Kashmiri society, religious leaders and political parties must come together to denounce such acts of terrorism.

Measures to Prevent and Pre-empt Suicide Attacks.

It is imperative to deny targets to suicide attackers by making it difficult for terrorists to reach the desired objective. Every suspect is required to be kept under surveillance so that attacks are prevented and terrorists neutralised before they could execute attacks. The most effective weapon to defeat suicide attacks are intelligence agencies backed by sound electronic, surveillance and human intelligence. As part of the defensive mechanism there is a requirement to have layered security to vulnerable targets including installations so that even if the suicide bomber is able to penetrate one layer he is not allowed to breach another. Needless to say that it is extremely difficult for the security forces to provide layered security to a moving convoy. Therefore all prophylactic means have to be utilised. Thus it would be now almost mandatory for the security forces to deploy aerial surveillance. A soft strategy to hostile acts should be simultaneously explored. Perhaps the most pronounced aspect surrounding the adoption of suicide bombing is the role of religion.[v] The religious teachings denouncing suicide attacks must be spread through social media and regular prayer sessions. In addition, there is a need to impress upon youth that hostile measures are unlikely to benefit future generations and society at large, and that such acts of violence rarely produce few clear victories.[vi]


Robert A. Pape, in his book “Dying to Win- the Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism” wrote that the most promising way to contain suicide terrorism is to reduce terrorists’ confidence in their ability to carry out such attacks on the target and the society. States that face persistent suicide terrorism should recognize that neither offensive military action nor concessions alone are likely to do much good and should invest significant resources in border defences and other means of homeland security.[vii] It is again reiterated that sound human intelligence backed by technology is the only weapon that can defeat the idea of “dying to win”.


[i] Robert A. Pape, Dying to Win- The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, Random House, 2005.

[ii] Namrata Biji Ahuja, Arrest of 2 militants unravels silent rise of Islamic State in Kashmir, The Week, September 09, 2018.

[iii] “What is the ruling on committing suicide?”, Dar Al- Iffitay Al Missiriyyah,

http://www.dar-alifta.org/Foreign/ViewFatwa.aspx?ID=7149. Accessed Mar 28, 2019.

[iv] Dipak K. Gupta, Kusum Mundra, Suicide Bombing as a Strategic Weapon: An Empirical Investigation of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Terrorism and Political Violence, Volume 17, 2005 – Issue 4.

[v] Michael C Horowitz, The Rise and Spread of Suicide Bombing, Annual Review of Political Science

Vol. 18:69-84 (Volume publication date May 2015)

[vi] Andrew Radin and Raphael S. Cohen, Russia’s Soft Strategy to Hostile Measures In Europe, War on the Rocks, February 26, 2019. Accessed mar 20, 2019 from https://warontherocks.com/2019/02/russias-soft-strategy-to-hostile-measures-in-europe/

[vii] Pape, N 1. Page 344.

@ Brig Narender Kumar, SM,VSM (Retd) is a Distinguished Fellow at the USI of India.

(Article uploaded on 01 Apr, 2019)

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the USI.


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