8 October 2016

Security Trends South Asia » India Defence » Surgical Strikes: A Week After - Options for India

Rahul Bhonsle 
Oct 6, 2016 

Surgical Strikes: A Week After - Options for India

Now that a week has gone past the surgical strike operations by the Indian Army on night 28/29 September, there is a need for reflection and envisage prospective options ahead. There is no doubt that the surgical strikes and demonstrated political will to acknowledge the same as a part of the strategic toolkit in countering cross-border terrorism by Pakistan has sent a strong message to the recalcitrant neighbour as well as the international community.

The willingness and capability of India to undertake such operations have been cleared beyond a reasonable doubt despite the voices of cynicism in the political and some media circles.

Largely the nation has unequivocally supported the government’s decision, so what next?

For after all the surgical strikes are not an end in itself but only a step towards achieving the larger goal of peace and stability in the Sub Continent. The hawks in India tend to believe that dismemberment of Pakistan alone can achieve this objective which is a long shot and is debatable.

Serious thought needs to be given to India’s short to medium term goals of preventing cross-border terrorism from Pakistan.

Short of a punitive “war”, a version of the now discarded Cold Start doctrine which was possibly never on the table post-Uri on 19 September, the window for the same is closed. 7 to 10 days is the maximum time within which such an operation can be undertaken before international pressure kicks in. The signs of the same are already there. The Barack Obama government in Washington in the closing stages of its second leg would not like to be burdened with having to pitch in to keep Indo-Pakistan physical conflagration under control. Thus the message seems to have trickled down with the National Security Advisers in India and Pakistan in touch with each other.

Under these circumstances what then are India’s options to bring Pakistan’s terror export machinery under control. This will have to be calibrated to what Pakistan is likely to do shortly.

A revenge strike by the Pakistani Special Services Group is no doubt likely and may come about on the Line of Control (LOC) in days if not weeks for which India will have to be well prepared. Hopefully, there will be no repeat of the Uri fiasco.

The other alternative of cross-border and LOC firing is already at play; India needs to exercise restraint as this causes a significant loss to the people living on both sides of the border who become victims of the fire. While a tit for tat action-reaction dynamics comes into play automatically in such a scenario, the hot lines of the Director General Military Operations must be activated to prevent escalation and save lives of those who are living on the borders.

Terrorist attacks by Pak supported groups on the army, and central police camps in Jammu and Kashmir have taken a new dimension. The Baramulla strike a couple of days ago and the Handwara attack today (06 October) is enough indication of the way this will pan out in the days ahead. Here again, a mix of protection of the camps and continuing counter-terrorist operations which were disrupted in the past two months is necessary.

Security of convoys, smaller posts and pickets including the most vulnerable J & K Police is also essential. Particular attention needs to be given to beefing up morale and administrative support to the J & K Police who have are going through a harrowing time in the past few months.

Similar attacks could be envisaged in the hinterland that is rest of India and advisories that have been issued for the same need to be acted upon with alacrity to prevent another Mumbai 26/11.

There are indications of improvement in the ground situation in the Valley, restoration of normalcy should be given priority and economic and security support to the Mehbooba Mufti government for the same should be prioritised. In all probability the situation is likely to remain on the boil until end of the month, particularly coinciding with the commemoration of the landing of the first Indian troops in the Valley on 27 October 1947. The healing touch in the form of compensation to the families of those killed in the violence and injured mainly blinded due to pellet gun fire may be the first step.

In the larger perspective, surgical strikes carried out on a single night even if on a broad front is not enough to neutralise the terror infrastructure that Pakistan has nurtured over the years. A two-pronged approach for the same will be necessary.

On the security front, a persistent counter strike strategy is necessary to continue to neutralise the launch pads near the LOC as well as in depth. Given thickening of Pakistani defences fire assaults both on the LOC and in depth, areas may be the answer. Acquisition of accurate information for this purpose is necessary. The Government is expediting induction of the Predator Unarmed Aerial Vehicle (UAV) surveillance version for this purpose. The UAV is unlikely to be inducted in the next year or more, so alternate technical as well as human means of acquisition need to be employed so that accurate information on terror camps is obtained and these targeted by long range standoff land attack missiles and artillery fire as well as Special Forces raids. This would imply that the campaign will be extended and needs to be thought through.

International and regional pressure on Pakistan has worked so far particularly the latter. The opposition in Pakistan has raised serious questions about the failure of the foreign policy of the Nawaz Sharif government in the debate in the National Assembly on 05 October. This is not enough for the agenda-setting in this domain is being carried out by the so-called Deep State in the country – the Army – Inter-Services Intelligence combine. The Deep State should feel the heat for this a shaming and naming campaign within the country alone can achieve results and India will have to adopt a far more sophisticated diplomatic and information strategy than at present.

Noise over Pak as a terrorist state in the Indian media has a very little impact across the border. Forcing a review of the policy of supporting terrorism and adopting the mantle of a positive neighbour within the Pakistani political and military space alone can achieve the objective. The sustainable counter-narrative for this purpose will have to be developed which gel within Pakistan. SAARC led boycott appears to be a practical approach which has to be sustained to the logical conclusion that is a review of Pakistan’s policy towards its neighbours Afghanistan and India and the adversarial approach towards Bangladesh.

A report by Cyril Almeida in the Dawn has also spoken of serious introspection in Pakistan on international and regional isolation of the country and the civil government asking the Establishment to mend its ways.

Strengthening of the political hand in Pakistan despite Nawaz Sharif back flip on Kashmir and weakening military hold over India policy has produced the best results in the past temporarily, how this can be achieved on a permanent basis needs consideration on Raisina Hill.

Further leveraging separatism and human rights in Balochistan may not be as fruitful for it will only unite the political and military class in Pakistan, whereas on the issue of terrorism there is certainly a divide which needs to be exploited to Indian advantage.

Dialogue may be not only too premature but also inadvisable though ultimate objective of the strategy will have to lead up to the same, one in which India can sit at the table with an advantage but avoiding triumphalism. Holding dialogue too early or without substantial give away by Pakistan as a whole will also be inadvisable. Within the span of cross-border surgical strikes and exchange, there are many steps to be traversed some of which have been outlined here. 

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