The rage over the attack on an army camp at Uri is palpable in this town on the India-Pakistan border that isn’t unfamiliar with the spectre of terror. A bunch of marauders had attacked the Indian Air Force Base here on January 2 this year. It took a long gun battle to eliminate them.
A few months earlier, in July 2015, a police station was similarly attacked in nearby Dinanagar that’s part of Gurdaspur bordering Jammu and Kashmir. As news trickled in of the armed assault on the army camp, the residents here were livid, seeking retribution; the refrain being that Pakistan be given a taste of its poison.
The sentiment matched with that of Ram Madhav, the BJP-RSS points person for Kashmir. Amid reports of high casualties in the camp near the line of control in Baramulla, he said “the days of strategic restraint are over....”
But experts with whom I spoke on phone from here advocated equanimity in the face of the grave provocation. A veteran Kashmir watcher associated with the government in Srinagar had more questions than answers from New Delhi’s standpoint: “How’d they respond to it? If they don’t, they’d embolden the aggressors and their anti-India audience in the Valley. If they do, it will be akin to fighting fires within and on the border.”
The gravity of the crisis is at once a throwback to Mumbai’s 26/11 and the 2001 attack on Parliament that had resulted in massive troop buildup on the Indian and Pakistani side.
The 1999 Siachen war triggered by infiltration from the other side remained localised. “That wouldn’t be the case if we resort to a full scale military response to avenge Uri,” cautioned an official who held key positions at the time.
As Uri has been orchestrated in the run up to the United Nations General Assembly session starting later this month, a wise option for India could be to stick to the line taken after a high-level review of the Uri attack. “Pakistan is a terrorist state. It should be identified and isolated as one,” said home minister Rajnath Singh.
Ostensibly aimed at inflaming north Kashmir that has been relatively calmer, the Uri episode is evidence of the military dimension of Islamabad’s proclaimed moral, political and diplomatic support for the Kashmiri “right to self determination.” Its tactical value for Pakistan is in showing the protesting youth as its puppets, making a political engagement with them more difficult for New Delhi in terms of its popular acceptance in the rest of India.
Nawaz Sharif will undoubtedly raise the valley’s internal turmoil at UNGA to show it as a pending dispute; a human rights issue requiring international intervention. But his country lacks today the traction it once had with the global community on Kashmir, perceived as it is as an exporter of terror across countries. Uri will affirm that image of Pakistan, fetching India an empathy it would’ve missed in the backdrop of recent excesses in Kashmir.
“Whatever decision is taken should be thought through calmly,” said India’s former High Commissioner to Pakistan Satinder Lambah. In previous wars including the one in Siachen, Islamabad sought to project Kashmir as a nuclear flashpoint in South Asia to draw world powers into the dispute India describes as bilateral.
“Waging a war isn’t an option. It’ll make us walk into that trap,” argued another diplomat. “The best way forward is to seek sanctions against them. That alone will bring on their knees the perpetrators of terror and their patrons in the Pakistani establishment.”