By Bharat Karnad
The Pakistan army’s being more agile and faster on the draw and initiative means that India will always be wrongfooted. Apparently, the targeted state is far from comatose as defence minister Manohar Parrikar prematurely declared it as anesthetized — a strange metaphor to use. While the Modi government and much of the country was celebrating what media and official circles continue to mislabel as “surgical strikes” when the Sept 28 night attacks were, as I have indicated, in the genre of the normal Special Forces actions the Northern Command occasionally undertakes on the Line of Control where “hit teams” amble out across the line to shoot up-blow up things on the Pakistani side, amble back to safety behind own lines. There’s mutual deniability. Whence Pakis denied any SF operation had taken place.
Hearing the media commentariat go bonkers and our politicians ballistic — besides Parrikar, Home Minister Rajnath Singh self-satisfyingly saying India had given — this being UP political lingo — a “muh tod jawab”, what will all these parties do now that the attack by suspected LeLT/JeM jihadis on the Rashtriya Rifles camp in Baramulla did not fetch any kills of the intruders?
They need to shut up and think of what next to do.
It seems likely that ISI activated a sleeper cell already inside the Srinagar valley, because the alternative explanation that the Pakis risked another infiltration so soon after the last one suggests that the army and BSF, despite being on heightened alert, still did not police the LoC with sufficient diligence.
It is doubtful GOI had prepared to deal with an attack so close in time after the one that created so much ruckus. But that’s doing the unexpected and Indian forces, predictably, mostly reactive by habit are trying now to quell the disturbance, rather than, jointly with the BSF and armed J&K Police and with local intelligence handy, sanitize the border zone with door-to-door searches and, grid-wise, combing operations in areas close to LoC with a history of being hospitable to cross-LoC jihadis. In the absence of such measures, we have the present situation of GOI, apparently, once again caught unawares. And a Hindi TV program rightly wondered whether India would be engaged in “serial surgical strikes” on PoK targets in response to serial terrorist attacks on Indian military targets?
It emphasizes the need for a permanent system of automatic and instantaneous retaliation I have previously mooted, and which should — two decades after Hizbul Mujahideen under Salahuddin (who decamped for PoK) after New Delhi clumsily rigged state elections and he was declared a loser — have been in good functioning order, had someone thought of so basic a set-up.
Should such an organization for coordinated intelligence assessment, operational planning, and prompt action be established as is desperately required to be done, it will have to wrestle with precisely such situation as unfolded in Baramulla.
There has to be punitive action — there cannot now be a break in the action-reaction sequence initiated by the Indian counter-strike.
There’s no doubt about this. Not responding will convince Pak army and ISI that India has no stomach for a sustained fight. This cannot be allowed to happen. Instantaneous anything seems beyond the ken of the government and the armed forces. What’s the second best option? A genuine “surgical strike” on targets deeper in PoK rather than on the LoC where targets will now be hard to find as the Pak army, per news reports, have moved the terrorist training camps, etc to hinterland areas, such as Nowshera and Jhelum.
While readying the armour and mechanized fleets, as is supposedly happening to dissuade possible Paki reactions is fine, the fact is Pak GHQR will not do anything as foolish as to get into a general war with India and start a conventional military affray south of Gurdaspur (and across the international border), meaning it will not respond to an Indian punitive strike by crossing the delineated India-Pak boundary. Even less will Raheel Sharif consider even remotely the nuclear option — something more people — with no idea of what they are talking about — are doing here than on the other side, Khwaja Asif and that lot of foolish Paki pols excepted.
But whatever else they do, the Indian media and politicians need to pipe down, not indulge in escalatory rhetoric, which is almost as bad as the real thing in mucking up matters. Kuttayuddha is necessarily silently prosecuted without all the Sturm and Drang. Part of covert warfare is the absolute necessity for greater surveillance of the Kashmiri population, whether it likes it or not, to identify those families/households potentially giving comfort to the LeT/JeM fighters as prelude to weeding them out.
Bharat Karnad is a senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.
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