The Uri attack and its aftermath…How to live with Pakistani terror groups
On September 8, 2016, early in the dawn, a group of four heavily armed intruders launched a grenade attack on a large army unit in Uri, a small town in the Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir. It was a very deadly attack that resulted in the death of 19 soldiers and maiming of some 30 others. The fact that this attack was launched successfully on a heavily guarded brigade headquarters was deeply distressing for the Indian side.
The attack took place at around 5.30am when a change of duty was going to take place between the incoming Bihar Regiment who were taking over from the Dogra Regiment. The Bihar Regiment soldiers were asleep in tents pitched close to the outer wall of the army compound. The tents were made from normal tarpaulin as against the fire-retardant fabric that is mandatory under such circumstances. The intruders lobbed hand grenades that set the tents alight making an easy target of the soldiers inside.
In the fire fight that ensued, the four intruders were shot dead. Their arms and ammunitions carrying Pakistani marks were seized. The Indian government first blamed the Jaish-e-Mohammad for this Fedayeen type suicidal attack, but later said the Laskar-e-Taiba was the perpetrator.
The nation seethed in anger and resentment at this attack, and clearly saw a Pakistani hand behind it. Prime minister Modi had to respond adequately to demonstrate his government’s determination to act against terrorists from cross the border.
The counter attack – the Surgical Strike .
Just after 10 days of the Uri attack, a group of Indian army’s elite commandos sneaked into the Pakistani side at about midnight. They went between 0.5 to 2 kilometers inside Pakistan-Occupied –Kashmir (POK), and inflicted heavy casualties on a group of would-be terrorists who had gathered there to enter Jammu and Kashmir soon. In the raid, some facilities of the Pakistan army were destroyed also. All the Indian commandos returned successfully after the brief operation.
The strike was first of its kind by India during peace time and clearly signaled India’s resolve to retaliate if more Uri type incursions occur. The government, the Army and the common people rejoiced at the revenge India had extracted, with no loss of life. Prime minister named it the operation ‘Surgical Strike’. A lot of chest-thumping, speeches, and publicity followed. Even a film has been made to portray the successful foray of Indian Special Forces into Pakistan.
Did the ‘Surgical Strike’ achieve its objective? The answer is both Yes and No.
Indian army gained some confidence in its capacity to inflict tit-for-tat damage on Pakistan. It was a morale booster for the soldiers. It also signaled to Pakistan that intrusions into Indian side by terror groups would meet suitable reprisals in future.
But, the ‘Surgical Strike’ failed to achieve its intended objective of deterring terrorists from coming in and mounting repeat attacks.
Within a few weeks after the ‘Surgical Strike’, terrorists from across the border launched two more daring attacks on Indian army units. One was in Baramulla and the other was in Handwara. The terrorists wanted to prove that the Surgical Strike had not affected them at all, and they would continue their forays to harass our troops. Expecting a single surgical strike to break the backbone of the terror groups was , therefore, naïve, and foolish.
The moot question is why India continues to suffer from terror attacks from Pakistani side. Pakistan has quite a few militant outfits going by the names like Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Laskar-e-Taiba etc. They are all violently anti-Indian groups, and are fanatic Islamists. Over the years, the Pakistan Army, through its intelligence wing – ISI — has nurtured them with arms, military training, religious indoctrination, money, and logistical support. They serve Pakistan Army’s strategic interests in Jammu and Kashmir, and in Afghanistan by launching guerrilla attacks on targets assigned to them by ISI. At times, they themselves choose their targets with no specific instruction from their masters, the ISI.
The Pakistan Army finds these outfits very handy, because it is quite cost-effective to maintain these un-official fighters, and unleash them on India, at will. After a terror incident, Pakistan can easily deny its involvement in the terror attack staged by these groups by saying the perpetrators are disgruntled Kashmiris, fighting against Indian rule.
Quite intriguingly, although these groups draw their sustenance from the Pakistani Army, but they do not obey the Army’s instructions explicitly always. Particularly, the Jash-e-Mohammad is notorious for its whimsical ways. At times, this group turns on the Pakistani Army also. However, the fact remains that if Pakistan Army so desires, it can neutralize these militant outfits easily. But, it’s a very tempting proposition for the ISI to have such dedicated fighters at its beck and call. They can readily volunteer for suicide attacks that a regular army soldier will hesitate to do. Most importantly, the maintenance of these outfits costs so less.
The Indian intelligence agencies are well aware of such a diffused militant structure operating from inside Pakistan. So, hitting back at the Pakistani Army does not affect these groups. In fact, they relish a confrontation between the Indian and Pakistani Army. Before a major peace initiative between India and Pakistan, they stage an attack to vitiate the atmosphere and derail the talks.
The invisible cost of these groups to Pakistani society is worth examining. It is not that having these groups is a win-win situation for Pakistan. The fighters frequently switch sides, join hands with the many small Taliban factions, and mount attacks on Pakistan’s police, civilian, military installations. Even, they don’t hesitate to attack schools and kill children. In the last twenty years, Pakistan has lost nearly 70,000 lives, both military and civilian due to the intermittent violence unleashed by these violent, fanatical groups. Pakistan’s economy has stalled, and its global reputation has taken a heavy beating. The United States is convinced that Pakistan has played a sinister and duplicitous role in Afghanistan to weaken the American army there. Pakistan’s covert links with the Taliban have been highlighted by many experts. Pakistan has lost the goodwill of the Americans, and the western nations due to its penchant for militarism.
Then, how does India stop such attacks? India has to learn to minimize such attacks through shrewd means.
India has to undertake surgical strikes periodically, but must not make much noise about these forays. Hyping up the success of such covert operations in the media is self-defeating. Hyperbole and ultra-nationalistic jingoism in the TV channels does two things bad for us. Firstly, it makes the militant groups more determined to launch repeat attacks to humiliate us. Secondly, a nation of 1.3 billion people rejoicing wildly over the success of a minor military offensive invites international ridicule. It shows the country’s political leadership in poor light.
What can India do … India has to act on multiple fronts to limit Pakistan’s ability to hurt India. The first and foremost is to somehow calm the internal situation in Kashmir, so that the Pakistan-based terror outfits do not get local support easily. A bold political initiative is needed for this.
Secondly, India must step up its diplomatic offensive to isolate Pakistan diplomatically. The whole world has turned its face away from terrorism, and exposing Pakistan’s role in nurturing terror organizations should form the cornerstone of our diplomacy.
Thirdly, India can use its economic muscle to deter countries from siding with Pakistan. India is a huge importer of crude oil, and so many other commodities. India can use its buying power to reward those countries who support India by increasing imports from them. Aid diplomacy in Africa is also an option to win friends there.
Lastly, India is a fast-growing economic power. Let’s stay focused on accelerating our economic growth and solving our internal problems. That’s the way to gain international respect. Our enhanced clout can deter Pakistan from its adventurism.
Uri, Pulwama, and Dokhlam are distractions. They deflect the nation’s creative energy towards wasteful ventures. India and Pakistan were at par economically and militarily just about two decades ago. Now, India has left Pakistan far behind in almost all parameters. The gulf is going to get wider in the coming years. Pakistan has begun to see this asymmetry already. It has also seen that the global community sees it as a permanent mischief maker in India, Afghanistan, and Iran. Each terror attack pushes Pakistan a few notches down in the global ranking of stable, peaceful nations. So, let us not lower our guard militarily, increase our intelligence gathering capability through Israeli help possibly, and integrate Jammu and Kashmir into the mainstream. Prime minister has done a very laudable work by seeking Israeli assistance in areas of eavesdropping and anti-insurgency warfare. At the same time, let us not get too agitated by such attacks. For the foreseeable future, Pakistan will either covertly or overtly patronize the terror outfits. Like steroid, these fanatical gangs launch spectacular forays into India. This provides them and Pakistani ISI good propaganda material, but little does Pakistan realize that such daredevilry wins it few admirers globally. In fact, the opposite happens.
All that Pakistan does through these terror outfits is inflict minor cuts and bruises on India’s body. In the last 72 years since independence, Pakistan has failed to snatch even a single square inch of Indian territory. So, let’s not overreact. Let’s fast-track our economy, and emerge as a rival to China in science, technology and other areas of soft power. That’s the challenge, not being obsessed with Pakistan’s militant groups.