By Syed Ata Hasnain
September 30, 2016
The Indian Army has struck back and handed out appropriate retribution for the attack by Pakistan-sponsored and led terrorists at Uri military base on 18 September 2016. The window for the retribution, just 11 days, is a credible one. The DGMO's earlier statement regarding the response - "time and place of our choosing" was correctly made to elongate and afford a reasonable window even as public pressure mounted. To ensure full success in military operations of such nature, the degree of preparation and intelligence sharing is mandatory. The window was, therefore, apt and warranted.
Briefly, before any analysis, the known facts need to be stated. In as transparent a way that could be revealed, the Army has conveyed the fact that its troops struck terror bases in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir during the preceding night of 29 September and caused large-scale casualties. The operations were carried out across multiple sectors of the LoC, north and south of the Pir Panjal, all well known to harbour terrorist facilities under control of the deep state. There is no need for the Army to reveal anything more and it needs a pat on the back for having regained the slight loss of moral ascendancy which it may have perceived. It's for us to analyse the suitability of the timing, the selection of the nature of operations and the implications.
What gladdens the heart is that, after long, the Indian establishment employed information, alongside its operations, as a prime tool most appropriately. Through information control and management, it parried the public pressure for immediate and knee-jerk operations. The Prime Minister's meetings with the three service chiefs were evidently for coordination of the political, diplomatic, economic, and military response.
Someone obviously correctly advised that when subjected to hybrid conflict you cannot alone respond in the conventional domain. It is in the hybrid domain that retribution lies. Modi changed tack at Kozhikode and lulled the environment with his address to the people of Pakistan. He spoke of economic and social issues challenging them to look inwards to see why they were fighting India. Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj put up a great show in her speech at the UN General Assembly emphasising the diplomatic dimension. As Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) was introduced into the equation for the first time in years, it was evident that mind games were being most effectively played by India. Anyone knows that the waters can only be controlled by an upper riparian state if it has created the infrastructure to do so. In the case of India, we do not even utilise the full quota of waters authorised to us. Thus mentioning the IWT was a smart thing to convey the seriousness of intent and the commitment to go beyond routine response of the past. This must continue to be mentioned as a potential long-term response with a short-term mind effect.
The Indian establishment also projected itself to be in a tizzy while examining everything but the military option. As the DGMO's statement receded from memory, the presence of the Prime Minister in every high-level meeting to take decisions on IWT, SAARC and MFN status confirmed India's obsession with everything non-military. The Prime Minister’s fresh approach met the approval of intellectual circles and commentaries focused on the non-military dimension. While it is correct to surmise that total surprise was achieved in the strikes, a high degree of lulling did take place across the LoC.
Coming to the operations; the hybrid domain offered India a wide spectrum of choice. The diplomatic domain itself had sub choices. Much has been achieved in sensitising the international community. The winning of confidence of the SAARC countries is no mean feat in the process of isolating, naming and shaming Pakistan. However, students of conflict and strategic analysts will agree on one thing; the credibility of a hybrid response is always questionable if there is no military action involved, especially when loss of lives of the quantum at Uri has occurred. At whatever stage the diplomatic and economic campaigns may have been, it is the message from the LoC which takes primacy and energises other responses. The public is enthused; the Army itself regains ego and pride. For the people of India, a serious loss incurred by the Indian Army goes down badly in terms of national morale. A retribution rightly regains that loss.
The long haul is something that India must now be prepared for. There is no peace process to go back to; it’s far from the mind and that helps in being focused on the response. Pakistan has denied the surgical strike thus far. Its unstated response appears in the mould of the Indian DGMO's first statement - "time and place of own choosing". That is what Pakistan is hoping to do as a counter response; it is giving itself an elongated window. The counter response will come at the LoC with a mix of regulars and terrorists, as it always has ostensibly under the garb of an action purely by non-state actors. Deniability will be built into it, as far as the role of the Pakistan Army is concerned. We have not seen the last of the LoC actions but the Indian Army has ample experience in ensuring the sanctity of the LoC and the variety of threats which manifest there.
Is India's military response appropriate? From the list of options in the military domain did we select the right one? Consider the fact that an air strike would have definitely brought about greater escalation. A helicopter-borne Special Forces strike deeper inside PoK or Pakistan would also have led to escalation. Artillery duels on the LoC infringing the 13-year-old unofficial ceasefire would not have met our national self-esteem. Thus surgical strikes by ground troops using foot borne infiltration to distances of 2 to 3 km, or thereabout, offered the greatest chance of success in one night operations. It would also allow for successful evacuation of any casualties if sustained. The Indian Army’s honour code ensures that no casualties are ever left behind and sure enough, the demarche issued to the troops was that no bodies or no buddies would be left behind. None were.
Lastly, the reported selective video graphing of the operations is in the spirit of transparency which will ensure that Pakistan’s denial has little meaning. Thirty-eight terrorists killed is no mean figure and for the moment squarely puts India in the victor’s corner.