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Uri attack: How can India respond in the sub-conventional conflict emanating from Pakistan

By FnF Desk | PUBLISHED: 19, Sep 2016, 15:23 pm IST | UPDATED: 19, Sep 2016, 15:25 pm IST

Uri attack: How can India respond in the sub-conventional conflict emanating from Pakistan New Delhi: Suspected Pakistan-based terrorists attacked an Indian Army camp near the border town of Uri in Jammu & Kashmir in a pre-dawn strike on Sunday, leaving 17 soldiers dead and another 23 wounded.

Writing for the Business Standard, Ajai Shukla described the attack as the "heaviest blow" the army has suffered in a single such incident since the insurgency began in the Valley in 1990.

According to reports, the army has said that the four terrorists killed in the attack in Uri were foreigners and belonged to the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed outfit, which has also been held responsible for the attack on the Pathankot airbase in January this year.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his part condemned the "cowardly" terrorist attack and said that those who were responsible would not go unpunished.

However, with the Pathankot base attack and now the attack in Uri, what options does India really have?

India must impose a cost on the adversary

New Delhi's strategy against Pakistan since the inception of the proxy war in Kashmir has been "tenaciously defensive", writes Society for Policy Studies Director C Uday Bhaskar in his opinion piece for the Indian Express.

Bhaskar calls the posture "disadvantageous and costly" in operational terms and says that the last 26 years have demonstrated that. He reasons that while an adversary engaging in an "audacious offensive" needs to have a smaller margin of success to claim victory, having a zero margin of error in defending against terrorist attacks is not possible.

However, Bhaskar advises that the government must not fall under the pressure to act immediately and should conduct an "objective cost-benefit operational analysis".

Bhaskar concludes by writing that India needs to acquire the wherewithal to increase the cost on the adversary and develop political consensus on such issues.

Combination of policies required

Writing for The Wire, Observer Research Foundation Distinguished Fellow Manoj Joshi says that a combination of policies is required.

According to Joshi, the defensive system meant to counter infiltration must be "hardened" along with the perimeter security of camps and outposts.

Secondly, he advocates building and strengthening covert capabilities in Pakistan's restive province of Balochistan and the Gilgit Baltistan region of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Joshi does not see these capabilities being aimed at causing secession, as much as being used to exert pressure on Pakistan's military.

Joshi's third point talks of a diplomatic offensive against Pakistan. Citing UN resolution 1373, which was passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attack in the US and has been adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, Joshi argues that India should convince member states of the UN to apply this resolution to Pakistan. However, he admits that given the interests of countries like the US and China, such moves are unlikely to yield results.

Political will and the right assets

In an interview with the Business Standard in January this year, in the aftermath of the Pathankot airbase attack, defence expert C Christine Fair said that India did not need a huge standing army for countering Pakistan's proxy war. Instead, it needed "special operators to conduct hot-pursuit missions into Pakistani territory without detection".

Further, she said that India's lack of a Chief of Defence Staff or “jointness” among the different branches of its armed forces for seamless interoperability was hampering it, a problem which is not shared by Pakistan.

Lastly, but most importantly, Fair said that there needs to be the political will to use these assets as and when required.

Using special forces and intelligence agencies in conjunction

Prakash Katoch, a veteran lieutenant-general of the Indian Army, writes for the Firstpost that it is important for India to understand that a conventional response cannot be used as a counter to asymmetric warfare.

Katoch says that diplomatic pressure to isolate Pakistan, conventional strikes on select targets using precision guided munitions, and using the cross border trade at the LoC as leverage can all be employed to strike back.

He, however, stresses on taking a proactive approach – exploiting Pakistan's "faultlines" – instead of operating exclusively on the defensive within our own territory.

Katoch argues that special forces and intelligence agencies must be used in conjunction to exploit these faultlines. They must be used, he adds, for gathering strategic intelligence continuously, shaping the circumstances and environment within Pakistan to India's benefit, and for executing "politico-military actions at the strategic level".

Reason, not rage

The Indian Express, in its editorial, calls upon the government to give up on bluster.

Remarks emanating from various leaders play well with the crowd and across media, but the generals in Pakistan have not bought into them yet, the editorial adds. Strategic restraint on India's part will not be easily done away with, it argues.

Under such circumstances, the nationally daily says that while attacking and shelling Pakistani forward positions across the border will not prove to be sufficient deterrence, targeting leaders of terrorist organisations within Pakistani territory might yield better results. However, it warns that such a move is likely to spark retaliation and that Indian agencies and the police have not yet been trained to handle such a scenario.    

Full-scale conflict, the editorial says, will lead to an uncertain conclusion. It concludes by calling for "...reason rather than rage".