Uri Incident And Indian Response
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It is indeed sad that 19 brave soldiers who were deployed at Uri in J&K to carry out the national duty of protecting the territorial integrity of the country were martyred in a surprise pre dawn attack on September 18. The role of Pakistani ‘deep state’ (the army and ISI) in planning, coordinating, supporting and executing it covertly is not in doubt, given their policy of bleeding India with ‘a thousand cuts’ in the ongoing proxy war in the state which they started in 1989.
The period post this deplorable attack saw the media, both electronic and print, going to town in trying to outdo each other in debating ways and means to retaliate and punish Pakistan. The TV channels, in their efforts to improve TRP ratings spewed venom and meaningful debates gave way to shouting down Pakistani panellists. Political parties tried to outshine each other in brandishing their nationalistic credentials to gain popular support. During all this cacophony, the national leadership and the military worked hand in glove to fine tune an appropriate response.
The precise, well calculated, meticulously planned and finely executed response by the Indian Army in the form of a series of surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LOC) in the early hours of September 29 surprised Pakistan and caused extensive damage. The Indian Army needs to be complimented for this commendable action. Pakistan’s reaction, as expected, was to retreat in to the denial mode, its usual pastime!
While the dust is still settling down on both these incidents and electronic and print media are in high gear debating future contours of the turn of events, we need to introspect why the Uri incident and its response were inevitable.
The proxy war in J&K has been cyclical in nature. Right since its start in 1989, every spurt in terrorist activities has been followed by ascendancy of the security forces wherein the terrorists, having suffered substantial casualties, have been forced to lie low resulting in relative peace for a few years. Thereafter, a fresh spurt has taken place with full support of the Pakistani deep state in terms of fire power, foreign militants, enhanced infiltration, increased funding, prolonged exploitation of communal fault lines and series of coercive actions. Thence, stepped up operations by security forces have brought the situation again under control after a few years.
The intense insurgency period of 1989-1997 was followed by a relatively peaceful time between 1998 and 2002. Post that, insurgency intensified up to 2005, only to be brought under control by 2007. This period also saw shrinkage of the insurgency to areas North of Pir Panjal Range, predominantly covering the Srinagar Valley. Up to 2010, situation was stable when the stone pelting brigade took over to create unrest. The security forces stabilised the situation by 2012 and since then peace flourished till it was rudely disturbed post Burhan Wani’s elimination in July 2016. To exploit the turbulent situation in the Valley and start trouble afresh, it was axiomatic that the Pakistani deep state engineers a strike against security forces at an appropriate place of their choice.
From the above, it also emerges that Pak Army is very keen to keep the Kashmir cauldron boiling, come what may. Continuous support to the proxy war enables Pak army to maintain and sustain a dominant position within the Pak polity by projecting it as the sole institution capable of fulfilling the Pakistani dream of wresting back J&K from India. Thus, irrespective of the regime in power, it is the Pak army which calls the shots in dictating Pakistan’s India policy.
Secondly, there was a need for Pakistan to show support and solidarity with the agitations in the Valley. A major successful
strike against the Indian Army was required. In the two weeks prior to the Uri incident, there were five consecutive attempts at infiltration in different sectors with the aim of causing casualties but all these were liquidated. Of the places tried, Uri fitted in well with their plans. Uri town is located just 10-15 km from the LOC and can be approached from POK through multiple directions i.e. from Hajipir axis, Salamabad Nala and Chakothi-Uri axis. It is possible to infiltrate, traverse the distance and launch meaningful attacks in and around Uri town within one night. Incidentally, Uri has been on the receiving end many times since onset of proxy war, including shooting down of the then commander Uri Brigade in 1995.
Thirdly, there was a linkage between disturbances in the Valley and the Uri incident. The strike at Uri was designed to depict a picture of chaos and total breakdown in J& K to the world at large. This suited Pakistani attempts to internationalise the Kashmir issue afresh conjointly with their diplomatic push.
Fourthly, compared to other parts of the Valley, Uri and its surrounding areas are by and large pro India. The relief and succour provided to the inhabitants by the security forces post the October 2005 earthquake is still talked about in glowing terms. In fact, they agitated for Indian Army rather than the state government to distribute the earthquake relief material. Their above average turnout during successive elections since 1989 is clearly indicative of their support for the Indian Union. By targeting Uri, the Pakistani deep state was trying to strike at this support base in an attempt to use coercion to convert them.
Similarly, the Indian response to the aggression at Uri was inevitable. A number of times in the past, whenever our soldiers became victims of such unprovoked acts, at the local level in a limited area, the Indian Army has launched punitive strikes in retaliation. Such actions are essential and important along an active LOC to keep the morale of the troops high in maintaining a dominant stance. It is a matter of regimental ‘izzat’ not to let the adversary get away without retribution.
However, it is to the credit of the current dispensation that this time the Indian Army’s response to the Uri outrage in crossing of the LOC at a number of places along a wide frontage of approximately 250 km had the firm approval and backing of the government. This is unprecedented and has buoyed up not only the army but even the public at large, some of whom still cannot believe it. People recall that crossing of the LOC was not even permitted during the Kargil War in 1999!
Aside from the punitive angle, there was also a pre emptive aspect to the Indian Army’s response. The response was designed to strike at those terrorist launch pads along the LOC in POK where a large number of terrorists had been gathered for infiltration in to J&K to carry out terrorist acts. By launching pre emptive strikes against seven of these launch pads, the Indian Army was able to prevent massive death and destruction within the country.
Few other aspects made the surgical strikes qualitatively different. One, after being executed, Pakistan and the international community were informed about them unlike clandestine terrorist acts carried out by the Pakistani deep state where perpetrators take recourse to deniability post occurrence. Two, for the first time formally crossing the LOC, the Indian Army has shifted from a purely defensive posture to an ‘offensive defence’ stance. This has resulted in enhancement of its options enabling it to carry out the fight to the adversary’s territory in self defence. Three, a synergistic approach adopted by the current dispensation combining military, diplomatic and economic power of the nation has exposed the chinks in the Pakistani armour and isolated it regionally and globally. Terrorism and nuclear ambiguity have generated a degree of distrust about Pakistani claims of it being a peace loving and responsible nation.
For far too long India has bled by the policy of ‘a thousand cuts’. The end of proxy war is nowhere in sight. A change of strategy was overdue. Thus, if Uri was inevitable, the response it has generated is equally inevitable. It signals a paradigm shift in our thinking on how to deal with such situations in the future.
The basic question on everyone’s mind is what would happen next. After all, the action reaction syndrome can keep going up the escalatory ladder and create further problems since both are nuclear powers. India, having given a professional response, has maintained dignified silence. The ball is in Pakistan’s court. It can take heed and stop the proxy war. Or it may resort to retaliation for which we in India need to be prepared.
Retaliation can be either along the LOC in J&K or in our hinterland where a major city may be targeted. The Indian Army is quite capable of responding to any aggression in J&K. Terrorist attack at Baramulla and our response on October 3 are indicative of our resolve to defend ourselves resolutely. For meeting a threat to our hinterland, the intelligence agencies as well as police and paramilitary forces have to work harder and coordinate their efforts with the military.