Covert ops, air attack among India’s options to avenge Pulwama terror attack
India has multiple options to respond to Pakistan for the terror attack carried out by the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in Pulwama, including a sharp reaction using air power, a surgical strike, and a covert operation aimed at key targets, defence experts said.
They said a limited conflict could not be ruled out, and listed other forms of military action combined with diplomatic efforts to pressurise Islamabad to dismantle terror infrastructure in the country, as another possible approach.
Lt. Gen. DS Hooda (retd), who was Northern Army commander when the 2016 surgical strikes were conducted, said the government would be under pressure to take military action against Pakistan. “Not taking military action is not an option. I can’t say what that action could be but it has to take place across the border,” he said.
Former Indian Air Force (IAF) chief, Air Chief Marshal Fali Major, said there are a “million options” depending on what level India is willing to escalate the conflict to.
The IAF can carry out surgical strikes from Indian airspace and destroy targets in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) provided it has accurate, hard and real-time intelligence, he said.
Major was IAF chief at the time of the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and he had given the government the option of carrying out surgical strikes in PoK. He said if IAF was to carry out any action other than surgical strikes, it would have to be in conjunction with the other two services. Hard and real-time intelligence is also needed for a covert operation, as full-scale war is a remote possibility given that the India and Pakistan are nuclear powers.
“Covert action is probable, but there will be political pressure to make it public,” Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) research fellow Colonel Vivek Chadha (retd.) said. He added that while covert actions are the best option, they should not be publicised.
Lieutenant General Satish Dua (retd), who was commanding the Srinagar-based 15 Corps when the 2016 surgical strikes were conducted, said there are a range of military options that can be considered - surgical strikes in a new avatar, a limited conflict, or even a full-blown confrontation, depending on the political will.
“There are several other military options that cannot be discussed keeping national security in mind,” said Dua. He added India’s approach should be three-pronged, involving military, diplomatic and economic measures.
A defence analyst and former official in the armed force said forces do not discuss their strategies in public.
“Some actions are expected, that would depend on international support and political will,” the analyst said, asking not to be named. Experts are convinced that the Indian government is considering all options after Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “A befitting reply will be given to the perpetrators of the heinous attack and their patrons”.
A strong reaction is also expected because the government has to face the people for fresh mandate before May this year. The notification for the general elections is expected anytime next month, experts said, requesting anonymity.
According to experts, Pakistan has invited strong condemnation from major countries, including the US, which India can leverage and put diplomatic pressure on Islamabad to hand over wanted terrorists hiding in the country and dismantle the terror infrastructure in PoK. The White House on Friday cautioned Pakistan and asked it to immediately end support to all terrorists and withdraw safe haven provided to them on its soil.