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Pak Terror in Uri-What needs to be done?

Paper No. 6170                         Dated 20-Sept-2016

By Bhaskar Roy

The Pakistan-based terrorist strike on an Indian army camp in Uri, Kashmir in the early hours of September 18, has put enormous pressure on Prime Minister Modi to retaliate. Seventeen Indian soldiers were killed and around thirty injured, some of them critically.

A  distinctive element of this attack were the arms and munitions the terrorists used. Apart from AK-47 rifles that Pakistani terrorists normally use, they had grenade launchers and incendiary munitions containing highly flammable white phosphorus, which causes devastating fires .The Indian soldiers who were sleeping at that time were burnt to death as their tents and POL dumps caught fire. The arms and ammunition recovered after the terrorists were eliminated revealed Pakistan ordnance factory markings on them. Most of these lethal weapons are used in actual war and are not available in Pakistan’s arms bazaars .Only the Pakistani army controls access to them.

Initial investigations concluded that the terrorist organization that conducted the operation was the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM).The January 2016 attack on the Indian airbase in Pathankot, near the Pak border was carried out by the JEM too. India has been trying to list JEM chief Masood Azhar an international terrorist in the United Nations Committee, but China has put a “hold” on it on “technical” grounds. China’s advice to India semi-officially is to talk to Pakistan, and if Pakistan agrees with the Indian demand, Beijing would have no problem!

A fabulous proposition from China! Aspiring to be a great world power China claims to be a responsible player in the global arena. China shouts from the roof-tops that it is fighting against the “three evils” (separatism, religious extremism, terrorism), and yet supports terrorism that plagues a neighbour but not itself. Sooner rather than later, the Chinese will realize that what goes around comes around. Religious extremist groups such as the al-Qaeda, Islamic State and others are maintaining a log-book of the Chinese establishment’s atrocities against their Muslim citizens. If they cannot hit inside China they will hit the Chinese outside China. And this is beginning to happen.

Back to the JEM. The two major strikes in India by this organization,a strategic asset of the Pak army,were on Indian military establishments. They were planned to the minutest detail, the attackers equipped with GPS so that they did not need local guides-Kashmiri separatists and militants  led by Sayed Salahuddin, head of Hizb-ul- Mujahidin and the United Jihad Council, both based in Pakistan quite openly for the international community to see.

The question in India is  -  were these attacks carried out to provoke the Indian army to retaliate and start a war, or create a war-like situation? The Pakistani army has abducted Indian army patrols,  beheaded captured Indian soldiers and played football with their heads. Even that did not push the Indian government into reciprocal action. Hence this direct assault on the Indian army on Indian soil.

For decades, Indian political leadership of all hues have swallowed Pakistan’s provocations and compromised India’s security interests, to look for a peaceful settlement of Kashmir. The United States pressured India not to retaliate even after the attack on the Indian Parliament. That situation, of India not wanting to react, persists. Former President Pervez Musharraf once quipped that even if the Kashmir issue was resolved, Pakistan would find other issues to fight with India, meaning there could be no peace with India.

The large Indian population who are trying for a better life through hard work and innovation did not invest too much of their time in India-Pak relations. Whenever there was an assault from Pakistan, Indian political leaders would announce that a fitting reply would be given. Even after the Uri attack the same words are being repeated. There never has been a fitting response from India. The Pakistanis are encouraged and see India as a soft state.

The covert offensive capabilities of Indian intelligence agencies have been emasculated over decades by the political leadership. The mantra was whatever they do we must not go down to “their” level. The Indian state became more Gandhian than Gandhi would probably be under the circumstances.

According to a number of former Indian army chiefs, the army has a number of retaliatory options. All professional armies in the world have such alternatives ready. The political leadership has the final word. In 1971 India was under tremendous pressure especially from the USA to refrain from entering the Bangladesh war. They even moved their 7th fleet to the Bay of Bengal in a threatening posture. But Prime Minister Indira Gandhi persisted because she had painstakingly created the platform over seven months.

In reference to the Uri attack, India has lost the element of surprise for a damaging surgical strike in the imminent region across the Line of Control (LOC).There is no standing political clearance to the army as to how far they can go in case of such an incident. There has been fear among Indian political leadership over how such a strike would escalate and to what level, and would it extend to a full scale war.

In the last decade or so a new apprehension has grown. Pakistan is a nuclear armed state, which has deployed tactical nuclear weapons in the field to counter a conventional Indian attack. Nuclear Pakistan has been overstated and overhyped.  Raheel Sharif is not going to stretch out his hand and press the button–the Pak army brass will have to think of the consequences; Pakistan may have more nuclear weapons than India but it is one-fifth the size of India. If it decided to use a nuclear weapon, India would certainly be hurt but Pakistan as a state would cease to exist. The huge radiation fall-out of a nuclear war will affect Pakistan’s neighbours,  including China.

A few years ago the Chinese government alerted its provinces to remain prepared for radiation fall-out .They probably had Pakistan in mind. Not even China which fathered Pakistan’s nuclear weapons will allow it to resort to nuclear warfare. Nuclear weapons today are deterrents rather than weapons of regular warfare. So Indian policy makers should wipe the fear of Pak nuclear weapons  from their minds.

Pakistan is in a very stretched situation with internal terrorism and unhappy neighbours.  A large part of its army is involved in fighting the Tehrik-e-Taliban in its northern borders. The Islamic State is showing its presence, with Taliban factions and others joining it. Economically, it remains in a difficult situation with aid and assistance from the US being tightened.

Prime Minister Modi should re-read Indira Gandhi’s strategy in 1971, isolating Pakistan internationally. Even Mao Zedong refused to open a front against India despite Henry Kissinger’s request. Modi has started this to an extent by referring to Pakistan as a terrorist state, without actually naming it, at the G-20 and ASEAN meets. No country stood up to defend Pakistan at either summit. The Generals in Rawalpindi have started feeling the heat.

What the Indian government, including the Ministry of External Affairs, sorely lack are the “weapons” of  propaganda and psychological (media) warfare. The Ministry of information and Broadcasting is a dud. It has to be tightened and made effective on a war footing–this is imperative. Moral and political support to Baloch and Sindh nationalists and the disenfranchised people of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Gilgit Baltistan should be made even more active, and sustained over a long period of time. The Mohajirs of Karachi may also need support.

Afghanistan must be brought on board effectively. Most Afghans, including the Taliban, do not accept the Durand Line as their border with Pakistan. Afghanistan should be encouraged to reopen the issue and it is sure to get support from the Pashtuns who live in Pakistan occupied territory. Iran will welcome a helping hand, given the atrocities on Shias in Pakistan.

It is not yet certain if Mr.Modi will go to Pakistan to attend the SAARC summit. Given that  SAARC  is a group of countries, India has a responsibility, being its largest member. It is a forum where Pakistan can be exposed – Afghanistan and Bangladesh are both countries affected by Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism. The GHQ in Rawalpindi still hopes for strategic depth in Afghanistan with a pliable government in Kabul. In Bangladesh, Pakistan’s covert influence continues as it waits for the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami to return to power. Nepal and the Maldives also feel  apprehensive. Basically, governments across South Asia feel the threat from Pakistan.

At home, the Indian government has an enormous task – to rebuild its covert and overt capabilities; the covert capabilities were destroyed in the mid 1990s to ensure that agencies did not prick the Pakistani balloon. It was the stupidest decision and has been pursued till date. But an idea that India should set up “fidayeen groups” (suicide squads) is absolutely unacceptable. This idea would be hugely counter-productive – Frankensteins are uncontrollable after a period of time. Pak created terror groups are a prime example.

In a manner, with the Uri attack the die has been cast. There should be no knee-jerk reactions or short term sparks. Action has to be well calibrated, well considered and for the long haul.  “Build your strength, bide your time and strike at a time and place of your own choosing”. This should be the Indian mantra. Strategic restraint is passé. India must declare “open Season” on Pakistan. Many Pakistanis will be happy to be delivered from the army, the jehadis and the religious bigots.

The writer is a New Delhi based strategic analyst.He can be reached at e-mail grouchohart