The militant attack on an Indian Army base at Uri in Baramullah district in north Kashmir early on Sunday had more casualties than probably what even its planners had expected. This is because of secondary effect: 13 soldiers were burnt to death in their tents and shelters. The incident has impacted the nation’s psyche forcefully, and justifiably so. The call for retribution against Pakistan is intense. It will have to be satisfied as Pakistan’s carefully crafted policy of calibration to avoid crossing India’s tolerance level has gone awry. This happened twice before, after the attacks in Mumbai and on India’s Parliament. Yet, this time the effect on the public has been stronger because of the cumulative impact of the Pakistani-sponsored attacks in Poonch on September 10 and then Uri, and the 72-day-long street agitation in Kashmir, which has paralysed governance and disempowered the political community.
The Uri incident is unlikely to have much effect on the Army’s unconventional task except enhancement of security. The real impact will be in the military-diplomatic relations with Pakistan. For a change, however, both Indian generals and diplomats want action against Pakistan. But they do not want a knee-jerk response but a planned offensive with strategic impact.
The conceptual nature of this response should be hybrid. It can start with a diplomatic one, but it should be energetic enough to make an impact on world capitals. Pakistan attempted this strategy after the Burhan Wani incident but its diplomatic stature is low and so the effect has been marginal.
India’s experienced diplomatic corps has a large number of well-connected, veteran ambassadors and they must be used for this high-energy campaign. The United Nations General Assembly starts today and the platform must be used to name and shame Pakistan. At the very least, sanctions should be demanded against Pakistan. Post-Uri, one fallout is certain: There will be no revival in the peace process or normalisation of relations with Pakistan.
Militarily, there are several options but launching a conventional operation against a nuclear neighbour must be weighed against potential dividends. The escalatory aspects resulting from actions that are lower in the ladder of options could lead to conventional limited or calibrated operations.
Surgical trans-LoC strikes: The Army has the capability to launch and absorb any response but the nation must be prepared for a near-permanent abrogation of the informal ceasefire that has been going on from November 2003.
The impact of this on people living near the LoC will be huge. Between 2003 and 2016, India did little to protect villagers from shelling. Sooner than later, the J&K’s political class will demand stoppage of hostilities. So the will to continue the fight against Pakistan has to remain intact.
Deeper strikes by Special Forces: Such strikes are an invitation for escalation of hostilities to a higher level and so this can only be a standby option.
Unconventional use of 4th Generation Warriors: This has been suggested by Gen Shankar Raychowdhury but it is not easy. Clandestine sub-conventional operations in undetermined areas will need time and energy and such operations have to be planned much in advance. This proxy war in Kashmir will not end soon and so the government must develop capability for such a response.
Hybrid warfare: India is facing this type of warfare and needs to develop a response. Strategic communication and information warfare to target people in Pakistan has become a compulsion.
Whichever is the response of the Indian government, the question that must be asked is this: Is that response something the Deep State has itself desired from its actions? For example, a study must be done to see whether we gain from the abrogation of the ceasefire or it is to Pakistan’s tactical advantage to enable infiltration.
Last, but not the least, the government must take stock of the LoC fencing and surveillance equipment because most of them are more than 15 years old and not designed for daily use. The Centre must tell us when it last procured the thermal-imaging devices. Over the years, we have gained experience but critical audit of such tactical measures must be done regularly.
The Uri attack is a wake-up call for the strategic security community. If push comes to shove, the most robust of options will form the essence of India’s response.
Gen Syed Ata Hasnain is former GOC of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps. He earlier commanded the Uri brigade. He is now associated with Vivekananda International Foundation and Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies
The views expressed are personal