India is seething about Sunday’s attack at Uri , where 17 soldiers lost their lives. The Narendra Modi government is contemplating its strategy. There is a measure of febrile anticipation about what a BJP-led regime in Delhi will do.
The Prime Minister and BJP general secretary Ram Madhav said the attack will not go unpunished — the latter even added that “restraint in the face of repeated terror attacks betrays inefficiency and incompetence”.
This is a serious moment in India-Pakistan ties. Every step — and mode of signalling — will have a bearing on whether the situation escalates or defuses. There are five things that the government can do in a crisis situation like this.
1 Avoid the crowd. Frenzied reactions on social media that call for a hardline response in line with the establishment’s instincts can be heady and gratifying, but they can also be misleading and often not in the country’s interest. A descent into instability is not what India needs, not least its economy.
2 Understand the strategic consensus that there are no easy military options. Measures like surgical airstrikes on militant camps, covert action and lining up troops on the border are either difficult to execute or run the risk of escalating conflict, not a sight that the international community or financial markets will respond encouragingly to. It’s worth noting that even conservative Indian hawks who push for immediate reprisals are not very forthcoming about specifics.
3 India is better off focusing its energies elsewhere. It will need to unravel the forces responsible for the attack and continue efforts to rally international opinion against Pakistan. The diplomatic and institutional battle to project Pakistan-based terrorists as threats to global security is an ongoing process and Delhi will need a set of deliverables that the international community can work towards in order to exert more pressure on Islamabad. These will be more effective in the long-term than merely condemnatory statements at international fora.
4 There is no getting away from the fact that Uri was a serious security lapse . How a camp so close to the Line of Control was so vulnerable must be examined and questions asked about steps taken at military installations after the attack at Pathankot.
5 There is, not least, the crisis in Kashmir to attend to — which is the context in which Uri happened. The Centre needs a strategy that protects security forces from militants and it needs a political strategy that addresses the ongoing unrest. There is an inordinate emphasis nowadays on the need to be aggressive in our response to challenges. In the process of being muscular, India must not lose sight of its equities and squander its strengths.