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Why hot pursuit of militants across LoC may not be a viable option for India

UriTerrorAttack Updated: Sep 20, 2016 01:42 IST
Uri terror attack

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with home minister Rajnath Singh at a meeting in the wake of the Uri attack, in New Delhi on Monday.(PTI)

The suicide strike on an army base in Uri that left 18 soldiers dead has reignited a debate over how India can respond.

The idea of hot pursuit gained traction after India’s Special Forces conducted cross-border raids on insurgent camps in Myanmar last year, five days after 18 soldiers were killed in an ambush in Chandel. The insurgents had fled to their camps in Myanmar after the attack.

South African forces were known for carrying out revenge raids against rebels operating out of Angola in the 80s, but the hot pursuit of militants across the Line of Control may not be a viable military option for India, military officers and experts said on Monday.

Shallow surgical strikes and covert action to advance national interest may be better alternatives, they suggested. However, deep surgical strikes could trigger a full-blown confrontation, military officers warned. Covert operations linked with deniability and a tough posture along the LoC could work, they said.

Read| Uri attack: India’s response must not be to resort to punitive counter-assault

Experts said Pakistan seemed to be inclined towards drawing India into a confrontation by upping the ante in Kashmir.

Strategic affairs expert Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak (retd), said, “The Pakistani PM is at the mercy of his army chief, who is nearing retirement...If you employ force across the boundary, you are falling into General Raheel Sharif’s trap.”

A senior army officer said, “The militants don’t flee back to havens in PoK. A classical hot pursuit can’t be conducted.”

“We can’t allow a rogue state to bleed us. There’s an entire spectrum of options but discussing them openly will rob the military of surprise,” former army chief General Bikram Singh (retd) told HT.

This is not the first time military options are being discussed. Every major terror strike stirs up the debate. After the 26/11 Mumbai strike, a top IAF officer famously said India had identified 5,000 high-value targets in Pakistan.

Strategic affairs expert Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (retd) said Special Forces could be used for surgical strikes across the LoC.

“Blow up a bridge, strike an ammunition dump, attack an army base. But the depth of the strike can’t be more than eight to 10 km as it has to be an overnight raid. It’s doable,” he said.

Read| 5 things India needs to do after Kashmir terror strike

Experts say India needs to be able to punish Pakistan or attack non-state actors at a threshold below full-scale war.

“You don’t use military force emotionally. You employ it the way you did in Kargil. We have to be clear about our political and strategic aims,” Kak said.

If India opts for a cross-LoC raid, it will not be doing so for the first time.

Read| Uri attack: Can India launch a covert operation across the border?

Kashmir watchers recall one such raid that took place after 26 Hindus were killed in Parankote and Dhakikote villages in Udhampur in April 1998. “Intelligence inputs suggested that the massacre was carried out by the Lashkar terrorists. We retaliated,” said a former IB official on condition of anonymity.

He, however, did not specify the exact nature of retaliation.

But a few weeks later, Pakistan claimed 22 people were killed when unknown gunmen attacked its Bandala Seri village. A Los Angeles Times report of May 27, 1998 claimed that the gunmen left leaflets behind with messages such as Vengeance Brigade and One Jaw for a Single Tooth. India denied involvement after Pakistan accused it of carrying out the attack.

Full Coverage| Uri terror attack