Thursday, 29 September 2016

Uri, Diplomacy and Surgical Strikes.

With the DGMO's(Director General of Military Operations, a really senior Army officer) announcement of the Indian Army launching surgical strikes against terrorist launching pads across the Line of Control, I think we have seen among the strongest responses by India to Pakistani aggression in the recent past. In this piece, I will try to explain this decision, and its possible outcomes.

On 20th September, 2016, a number of terrorists attacked an Indian Army Brigade Headquarters(HQ) in Uri, in the Baramulla district of Kashmir. These terrorists were well trained and well equipped, and caused 18 Indian casualties before they were killed. The Jaish-e-Mohammad(JEM) took responsibility for the attack, an organization which is supported and funded by the ISI, a part of the Pakistani Army. Now, Pakistan has been using terrorism as a weapon against India for decades in an attempt to de-stabilize the Indian presence in Kashmir as well as to reduce the effectiveness of the Indian Army.

From 2004 to 2014, India faced various terrorist attacks under the Manmohan Singh led government including the 26/11 carnage in Mumbai in 2008. However, the Indian response was always muted and diplomatic. Even following the Mumbai attacks in 2008, the governmental response was purely diplomatic and no real action was taken against the accused. Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the attack, still enjoys immunity in Pakistan(and makes anti-India speeches).

Narendra Modi, during the 2014 election, promised stronger action against terrorism. However, he has been accused of doing nothing following the Pathankot attacks of January 2016.
The Uri attacks had been dealt with on a diplomatic front till yesterday(28th September). Sushma Swaraj has spoken out strongly against Pakistan at the UN General Assembly where she not only raised the issue of the cross border terrorism but also atrocities committed by Pakistan in Balochistan. India also withdrew from the SAARC summit to be held in Islamabad. Pakistan has faced a limited amount of diplomatic isolation with the SAARC summit facing cancellation. A bill has been tabled in the US Congress to label Pakistan a terrorist state.

Most notably, the DGMO today announced that the Indian Army has launched surgical strikes against terrorist launch pads in Pakistan. Reports suggest 5-7 sites have been attacked and burnt to the ground, some which are 3-5 Km inside Pakistani territory. This is the first time in more than 2 decades that such a high ranking officer has openly admitted to India crossing the Line of Control. This is also among the very rare times India has opted for a military solution in the recent past.

Pakistan has reacted in confusion to this. The Pakistani military claims no such attack happened. However, their Defense Minister has admitted to the death of 2 soldiers, and 9 others suffering casualties. Pakistan has a tendency to under-represent their losses and we can expect the real figures to be much higher. Nawaz Sharif, the Paki Prime Minister has come out and condemned India, calling the attack "Naked aggression".

Now, what happens after this attack remains to be seen, however there are a few major take backs from the surgical strikes, the DGMO's statement and the reaction following the same.

  1. The Indian Army crossing the LoC, and admitting to it sets a precedent. This is a direct challenge to Pakistan saying "You hit us, we hit you back." Although unlikely to cause any major change in Pakistani policy immediately, it does seem to be bringing the fight to the ordinary Pakistani soldier for the first time. Also indicating to Pakistan that it has crossed a line and the Indian Army is ready to apply a military solution.
  2. Attacking the terror launching sites in itself is not very significant tactically, considering it will only hamper the militants for a limited time period.
  3. India has cleared out villages which are up to 10Km from the border in Punjab. This shows India is expecting some amount of retaliation from Pakistan, and is indicating to Pakistan that this retaliation is expected and we are prepared for it.
  4. There seems to be a major shift in the policy towards terrorist attacks, with the Army being given a freer hand at dealing with enemy aggression. This is likely to bolster the morale in the Armed Forces, at least for a short term.
  5. Diplomatically, Pakistan has reduced its available options significantly by denying the Indian attack. We can expect the Indian government to continue applying pressure diplomatically. Chinese and American reaction to this will be very interesting.
  6. Politically, this seems like a master-stroke. The government has not only silenced critics demanding more action, but also been supported by the CPI and the Congress. With UP going to polls in 2017, this move will definitely win the party some favour.
A major fear at this point however, is escalation of the conflict. Both India and Pakistan cannot really afford a war at this point, and official statements from India suggest that the government does not plan on further escalation. The DGMO stated that we do not plan on more attacks like this in the near future. Even Modi has spoken about going to war against poverty and illiteracy first. Pakistan, having denied the attack will find it difficult to justify a significant escalation. However, one can expect an increase in ceasefire violations as well as diplomatic moves like cancelling the Most Favoured Nation status and/or other trade agreements by both countries.(The Retreat ceremony at Wagah stands cancelled).
On the whole, I congratulate the government and the Indian Army on carrying out a long overdue operation.