By Syed Ata Hasnain
September 19, 2016
There is public furor over the failure of the Army to prevent an attack on its forward Brigade HQ garrison at Uri shortly after a similar attempt was foiled at Poonch, very close to another high profile formation HQ. There are demands for immediate retribution against Pakistan which has sponsored this attack. This is justifiable for such heavy losses of life— 17 soldiers were killed, mostly by secondary effect of the fire which engulfed tents and shelters. The detail of the operation is irrelevant. Finding the reason why Pakistan chose to up the ante along the LoC belt and what needs to be done in response is important. Intelligence inputs or none, it doesn’t require rocket science to deduce that it is the LoC belt and the installations there that which would be struck by the planners of the Deep State.
The reasons are hardly far to ascertain. For the last 18 months or so, there had been repeated unsuccessful attempts at Tangdhar because it is far easier to infiltrate a determined group of terrorists 10-odd kilometers and strike at the softer elements in the depth of the LoC which itself is manned by frontline troops. The Pakistan-based terror groups have to keep themselves relevant and their inability to conduct large strikes in the hinterland for quite some time had forced them to resort to this strategy. Such actions in depth requires infiltration through multiple layers, move to reception areas, holing up in safe houses (which have to be changed every night) and only then can a possible strike be launched and be successful. Nearer the LoC, it is far simpler as long as the first layer of counter-infiltration is breached.
Why was it necessary to strike at the LoC belt? Primarily to display relevance, as already stated; and, secondly, to sync these attacks with the ongoing street turbulence in the hinterland, to give the so-called “azadi movement” greater weightage. Ideally, the strikes should have been in the hinterland itself but the terrorist boots on ground there are limited, as are resources due to the proactive and systematic dilution of terrorist capability by the Army, J&K Police and the Central Reserve Police Force. Two ambushes on Army convoys in recent weeks failed to make the relevant impact.
With the Army inducting two of its brigades into South Kashmir, for stabilisation efforts, the intent of the adversaries was to delay the Army’s effectiveness and divert attention— besides keeping the ongoing street movement on track. Usually, the Deep State is careful in the calibration of its operations so as to remain within the ambit of India’s threshold of tolerance. Probably it did not even contemplate the kind of success it achieved at Uri. Yet, clearly one of the largest losses for the Army in a long time is inching it towards losing patience well beyond the threshold of tolerance.
The implications of the Uri attack on the Army’s operations in South Kashmir will be almost negligible except for an enhanced level of security. However, it is not the last operation of the so-called fedayeen kind which we have witnessed. There may be repeats for cumulative effect. Each of these will aim to add to the confidence of the street demonstrators to continue the stir as the Pakistan-backing will be seen to be fully in place. If the reported infiltration (thus far only speculation) in the last few weeks has actually taken place, then some of the infiltrating elements may well be awaiting orders for more such sneak attacks. These sneak attacks, which are suicidal in nature, began in 1999 in the wake of the Kargil operations and lasted in high intensity till about 2004. The Deep State is once again realising the military value of such operations which keep a disproportionately large ratio of troops pegged to defending secure installations.
Much more important is how to deal with a recalcitrant Pakistan whose intent was to time such an event with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly to garner attention for the cause of Jammu and Kashmir. Indian diplomats will probably seek more ways than one to corner, name and shame Pakistan during this session of the UN General Assembly itself. Pakistan has already chosen to go vocal on human rights violations and will employ every way to wriggle out of the position India will place it in. The importance lies in securing full U.S. backing against Pakistan and declaring it a state sponsoring terrorism. Diplomatic victory will also be achieved if we can prevent China from blocking the inclusion of some Pakistani terror groups under the ambit of trans-national terrorists.
A military response is what will be under deep consideration and the range of actions from the spectrum of options will need mix and match. From air strikes against camps in depth to raids by Special Forces teams and abrogation of the ceasefire, we can add many. The Prime Minister (PM) tweeted his opinion, expressing his desire that no perpetrator would get away with this. The opinion of the PM is a desire which the government and the Armed Forces will need to take into consideration while planning a response. Knee-jerk reactions of a tactical nature have been largely shunned by all. The response may be tactical or operational but its final message must be fully strategic, calibrated and sustained over some time.
There is a segment of thought that the time is now ripe to throw caution to the winds and take action. Most who hold this view have normally not considered the response from Pakistan. This is not to perceive that we are in any way incapable of defeating Pakistan’s intent. Air strikes against possible terrorist camps would also invite a response in kind.
The international community would be sensitive to the possibility of escalation but its control over Pakistan’s actions would still be negligible in the face of credible denial—behind which Pakistan has conducted all its actions so far. It would have the diplomatic backing of China and some countries from the Islamic world. It is time, perhaps, to put to test our emerging strategic partnership with the U.S. We may as well examine the extent to which the U.S. will go to support India politically.
The suggestion by former Army Chief General Shankar Roychowdhury that it is time India fought Pakistan the “Pakistan way” by employing non-state actors for retribution, along with full deniability, cannot be simply brushed aside. The world is unwilling to support India’s genuine efforts to peacefully force Pakistan to retract from this dangerous path. If that be the case, all aspects of international image and standing needs to be set aside in order to secure our interests. This is a hybrid war that we are being subjected to and we need to respond in the hybrid domain.